The 5th annual Baltimore Reunion Expo will take place Sept. 9, at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture. One of the key players behind the success of the Expo and other Baltimore events is Shelonda Stokes, a Baltimore native who has used the grit she learned growing up to find success.

This year’s Expo features performances by neo-soul diva Angie Stone, and Baltimore (specifically Park Heights) native Meshelle, “The Indie Mom of Comedy.” Also part of the line-up is fitness guru Charles “Chizel It” Harris and Marsha Jews, host of WEAA’s, “Keep It Moving,” is the Expo’s host.

Sean Yoes (Courtesy Photo)

The Expo is being presented by Visit Baltimore and Greibo Media. Stokes is the owner of Greibo and she recently spoke exuberantly about her hometown on a breezy Sunday afternoon at the Mt. Vernon Marketplace.

“Once people come to Baltimore, what we know is that they love it…it’s just getting them here, with the negative media stories and all of that, people fear it,” Stokes said. “So, what the festival (African American Festival or AFRAM) did and what the Expo does…it gives people a reason to come and taste it and enjoy it and experience it…and their like, `Oh my God, it’s not what I thought, it’s even better.’”

Stokes and her company Greibo, which she founded in 2001, have been the force behind the Baltimore Reunion Expo for the last five years and AFRAM from 2010 to 2016. Yet, they are just two impressive clients among a sparkling phalanx of companies that have utilized Stokes’ media acumen that include: Under Armour, Columbia Pictures, Walt Disney Pictures, Discovery Channel, BWI Airport, the Smithsonian Institution, Morgan State University, Royal Caribbean International and the USDA, among others.

Her ever burgeoning list of successes over the last several years has placed the charismatic Stokes in the rarified air of some of Baltimore’s very exclusive rooms. She sits on the boards of some of the city’s most prestigious and powerful organizations including the Downtown Partnership and Morgan State University’s Board of Regents.

“Being on some of these boards has opened up doors…but how do we expand it?”  asked Stokes who graduated from Polytechnic High School in 1990 and Morgan State University in 1995. The former electrical engineer worked for major companies like Hewlett Packard and General Electric, before she started Greibo and experienced what she described as “exponential growth” of her company.

However, there seems to be an untraversable gulf between her current reality and Stokes’ hardscrabble, transient East Baltimore childhood.

“So, for me I grew up… I was that poor but fun (kid)…and you didn’t really realize that you were that poor. But, it was at times…my brother and I  would watch, and we’re sitting at the table and my mom is not eating and I’m trying to figure out why she’s not eating and she’s like, `Oh no, I’m not hungry.’ But, you know that she has to be, because we’ve been together that whole day. And it’s not until you get older that you realize that you didn’t have enough, so she was making sure her kids were good,” Stokes added before talking about the demise of her father.

“My father and four of his brothers have died from a heroin overdose. So, when you talk about that kind of background…when I talk about that grit and that resilience it’s also one of those things that I believe, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” Stokes said.

One harrowing night in 1991, during her freshman year at Morgan State University, truly put that philosophy to the test. After a dispute with a male classmate in her dorm room, a physical altercation between the two led to Stokes being dangled from a balcony by her ankles, until several classmates from her all female honors dorm rescued her.

However, it was men from Stokes’ old neighborhood who later came to Morgan’s campus determined to make sure the young man that attacked her would never attack anyone else. Ultimately, because of intervention by Morgan’s administration the young man who attacked Stokes was not harmed.  “To my community, I was that chick,” Stokes said. “And my community rallied around me.”

More than twenty-five years later, that seemingly outsized display of community continues to connect Stokes to the disenfranchised community she emerged from and never forgot.

“What I love about Baltimore and our people…is we have like this fighting grit and resilience. We’re going to make it happen and what it is, is relative…to who your are.”

Sean Yoes is the AFRO’s Baltimore editor and host and executive producer of AFRO First Edition, which airs Monday through Friday 5 p.m.-7 p.m. on WEAA, 88.9.

Sean Yoes

AFRO Baltimore Editor