Continuing the legacy

Bringing new voices to the pages of The MV Times.


Last Wednesday, June 19, a less recognizable red, white, and blue flag was raised at the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs in honor of Juneteenth. Juneteenth, which is also known as the Emancipation Day of enslaved African Americans in the U.S., became a national federal holiday in 2021, a long 156 years after we got our freedom. I was about 16 years old the first time I ever witnessed a flag raising ceremony for our emancipation. I flew down to Virginia with my grandmother and little brother to celebrate Juneteenth, and to commemorate the memorial of a relative of ours who was a sergeant in bringing our people to freedom. 

As the flag inched closer to the sky, with deep respect to our ancestors I began to stand up straighter with pride. I returned home from this trip changed forever, as my spirit has continued to be filled with resilience from those who forged this path to our present. Juneteenth serves as a reminder to the world that freedom and equality have always been difficult to achieve. However, the Island raising this flag represents our ability to work together toward a more inclusive future. 

Just last month The MV Times did something we’ve never done before. We devoted the early summer edition of Vineyard Visitor magazine, the Island’s longest-running tourist guide, to celebrating Islanders of color. This initial step is just the first of many toward being more inclusive to all Islanders who live in this beautiful community, and this feature page, the first in a monthly endeavor, is one more commitment to represent and highlight Islanders of color.

The Vineyard has made such a deep impression on my life that I want to share it in a designated space for the community to learn more about the Black, indigenous, and people of color who help shape the community. This monthly space will allow me to introduce these individuals to you through storytelling and conversations that you may not read anywhere else. It will feature stories about people of color and their family histories on the Island, business endeavors, initiatives, and more. Often, Black and brown communities can be underrepresented, especially in the media, so I want to give exposure to my people to not only celebrate us, but provide opportunities, debunk stereotypes, eradicate discrimination, teach about legacies and traditions, and add positive perception to the world view. 

My family’s roots began on the Vineyard in 1965 when my grandparents, Keith and Elizabeth Rawlins, a.k.a. The Rawlins, started summering with their son and daughter, Paul and Pattie. The Tyners, who were close family friends, owned a house in Oak Bluffs, and invited my family to visit them in the summer. My grandparents instantly fell in love with the beautiful Island and its wonderful community, and after a few years of visiting, they bought their own property, a gingerbread house in the Campground. In 1976 they purchased our forever home on Dukes County Ave., which will remain in our family for generations. It is a true testimony to be able to build generational history and wealth, especially within the Black community, and I will be forever grateful to my grandparents for beginning our ties to the Island. 

When reminiscing with my mother about her experience spending summers on the Vineyard, she said, “Growing up in Hingham, which was predominantly white, meant that from a young age it was abundantly clear that I stood alone when it came to people of color, and often experienced racism. Spending my summers on the Vineyard was always my escape. In my generation of growing up on the Vineyard, there were hundreds of other families of color, and kids from all over the United States who were just like me. We all looked forward to seeing one another each year, and the Islander kids would be happy to have us there too! My best memories are from being on the Vineyard. From childhood, the Vineyard was always my paradise, and I knew I wanted to retire in our family home, just as my parents did.” 

While listening to my mother’s recollections I felt the same warmth in my heart from my own adolescence and beyond. My mother, Pattie, raised my brother Keith and me as a single parent, working two jobs to provide for us. With grandparents who retired in Oak Bluffs in 1992, it meant that we spent most of our school vacations in their care, building an unbreakable bond with both them and the Island. Some of our favorite memories are beating our grandparents and their friends in Rummikub tournaments, learning how to properly set the table for family dinners while learning Nana’s secret recipes, and putting on our Sunday best to visit Trinity Episcopal Church — the same church I was baptized in in 1994 — every Sunday, followed by brunches at Lola’s. 

I have the fondest memories of the Vineyard from growing up, but it wasn’t until 2017, at the age of 22, that the Vineyard became truly irreplaceable in my heart. The year prior I encountered the toughest battle of my life, fighting and beating cancer. When I finally entered remission, I couldn’t think of a better place to embark on my healing journey, or a better person to spend time with. So I moved to the Vineyard year-round to stay with my widowed grandmother, who was also a cancer survivor. I could never quite find the same solace I found on the Island, and I cherished the infinite hours I got to spend with my Nana, as she passed down her wisdom in immeasurable ways. Although my whole family has always been close-knit, since the day I was born I have always had a special bond with my grandmother.

During her long career in education, my grandmother was known for addressing racially sensitive issues and making an impact on her students of color. My grandfather and my mother also dedicated their lives to making a difference; they both were social workers in the Boston area. Once retired, my grandparents continued being trailblazers in both the on- and off-Island communities they were a part of. Both served until their last days on earth, and were an inspiration to all.

With even more accomplishments to mention, my family has always been known for being trailblazers in the black and brown communities, striving to make the world a better place for our people. This has always inspired me to do some sort of community service and social justice work with my fashion brand, bySharisse, which I founded in 2010, my sophomore year of high school. I continued running my brand while earning my bachelor’s degree from Lasell University, and studying abroad at London College of Fashion. However, my brand became what it is today after I went on to obtain my MBA from Howard University. After graduating in 2020, I moved back to the Island again to help my grandmother during the pandemic, and to carefully curate the next levels of bySharisse. 

When my grandmother passed away in February of this year, my mother and I sat down to write her obituary, and were overwhelmed with the amount of public service she contributed to not only the Island, but to the world. It was at this time Voices bySharisse was born. I knew that Martha’s Vineyard would never be the same in my grandmother’s absence, especially with my grandfather already being gone, so I wanted to create a way to continue our legacy for generations to come — and leave my own influence on both the Island and the world. 


  1. Thank You MV Times for making the effort to include Brazilian voices and finally voices of Color and Diversity!

  2. Your dear grandmother would be so very proud of you (as she always was). Looking forward to more of your writing.

  3. Elizabeth (Betty) Rawlins was my first friend on the Martha’s Vineyard Community Services Board of Directors when I joined in 2011. Attending my first meeting via conference phone (a pre-Zoom device that largely inhibited participation), Betty’s was the wise and welcoming voice that drew me in. Meeting her in person was better, and serving with her was a gift.

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