Charleston’s strength doesn’t come in numbers; it comes in the city's diversity. Black or white, food or art, music or wildlife—the pieces of the population’s cultural identity are what keep this city #CharlestonStrong, as the popular hashtag adopted this summer goes.
We asked six notable locals what makes the city strong, and here's what they had to say:
Angela Stoneworth’s grandmother taught her how to make a sweetgrass basket when she was 5 years old. She keeps that art form alive as an adult, selling baskets through her business, DNA Baskets, at the Charleston City Market since 2009, in addition to many days on Highway 17 North in Mount Pleasant. “It also stands for our ancestral DNA from Africa that originated this art form,” she said. Her strength is a design she likes to call “the Princess Leia basket,” which features ears on the side, plus an “s” handle. “When we make our baskets, it's coming from our hearts," she said.
Lee Pringle is a music man. He has a background in corporate financial services—and singing in Carolinas' choirs. “I was able to parlay those backgrounds to make my entry into starting an orchestra,” he said. He took that step three years ago to establish and become artistic director of Colour of Music, a festival that features classical musicians, vocalists and composers of African descent. “The world gets a chance to learn about the contribution of musicians of black ancestry,” he said of the festival, which features shows at various local venues Oct. 21-25. For Charleston visitors, he also recommends Gullah Tours: “It gives people an understanding of how black people built the city of Charleston.”
Mickey Bakst, Charleston Grill’s general manager, is a people person. He has been in the restaurant business for 42 years. “I fell in love with making people smile,” he said, noting that he has honed that skill as the manager at Charleston Grill for 12 years. No matter who gets served by chef Michelle Weaver, he said, “You give them a moment of magic.” The Grill features items from crab crakes to foie gras. While Bakst said his strength is the ability to connect with people, he recommends visitors also connect with the city: “Take a harbor cruise and see Charleston from the mouth of the ocean. It’s so spectacular.”
Charlotte Jenkins, the owner of Gullah Cuisine Catering and author of a cookbook, Gullah Cuisine: By Land and by Sea, maintains the Gullah culture she grew up knowing. “My greatest strength is to keep the tradition alive,” she said. She fills special orders through her catering business, with dishes like shrimp and grits, red rice and okra gumbo—what she describes as Southern food with a twist of African influence. By hosting intermittent cooking classes this fall, she plans to give people an idea of how the tradition is done. As for what else visitors should experience in Charleston, she said, “The history … there is a lot of beauty.”
Kelly Thorvalson’s secret spot is the basement of the South Carolina Aquarium. That’s where the sea turtle rescue program manager nurtures wildlife in the sea-turtle hospital. “My passion for protecting the natural world is my greatest strength,” she said. She revealed that, for a small fee, guests can see this space. “It’s a really rare opportunity to come face to face with these animals,” she said, so take it. “We need to live in harmony with nature not only for the health of the natural world, but for our own well-being and for future generations.”
Teil Duncan’s studio at Redux Contemporary Art Center is filled with art supplies for painting, a futon for sporadic naps and a snack-filled mini-fridge. As for inspirational fuel, that often comes from light and social interactions. “This town calls for lots of social activity that I like to celebrate,” she said, “especially in the form of a relaxed coastal setting. … My greatest strength as an artist is my ability to see color and to create dimension.” As for visitors, she hints that she has about a million food recommendations. “And if you feel like squeezing into a bathing suit after that,” she said, “Shem Creek paddleboarding is always a fun adventure.”