Rosemary Wilkins set the tone for her perceptive daughters—the late Cassandra Wilkins and Ericka Wilkins—to spread motherly love to youth just as she has faithfully done over the years with her husband’s support. Rosemary’s journey to call Annapolis home began around 1957. She and her husband, Willie have been married for 53 years. Before COVID-19 hit, the Wilkins’s driveway was rarely empty.
The door constantly opened and shut as people of all ages walked up a few steps to ring the doorbell and receive a dose of Wilkins’ love that is rooted in Christianity. Rosemary started working with kids in the community because she wanted to see them have a better life.
The journey included 12 years as a foster parent and weekly Bible study lessons at the Wilkins’ home, often around a large dining room table. But along the way, the Wilkins family endured the unexpected loss of Cassandra.
Many in the community are currently struggling with the loss of the well-liked woman who suddenly passed away on March 17, 2021. Cassandra was in the process of becoming an ordained minister at Mt. Olive Church. To Barnes, Cassandra was like a sister and “partner in crime.” The duo experienced everything together from attending events and shopping excursions and 7 a.m. Starbuck runs.
The City of Annapolis recognized Cassandra posthumously. The Annapolitan was known for demonstrating that God’s love has no boundaries, as mentioned in the citation. Cassandra was a key organizer of the City of Annapolis’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Parade.
She directed a youth choir. At Mount Olive Church, Cassandra could be spotted supporting youth, taking them on retreats, trips, and college tours. She gave money for scholarships and became a trusted, non-judgmental listening ear.
Rayonah Foote, a 7th grader who attends Annapolis Middle School, met “Ms. Cassandra” at church. “She made me feel very comfortable. I could tell her about anything,” Rayonah said. The mentee still looks back on the old text messages sent by “Ms. Cassandra.” Sometimes, she still plays a voicemail to hear her voice.
“Really, anybody can be like a mother,” Rayonah said. “And Miss Cassandra, even though she didn’t have kids, she was always there for us. She treated us like her own.” Rayonah added that she would encourage caring women in the community to continue volunteering, because “you never know if a kid is having a tough time and needs someone.”
Ericka Wilkins is keeping her sister’s legacy alive to continue the family’s legacy of teaching others to conquer adversity through causes Cassandra held dear to her heart. Ericka picked up the baton to volunteer when she was about 17 years old and has not looked back. She initially conversed with young people who entered the family beauty salon and hair supply business. Then she started volunteering, too.
“I always would talk with the young adults about their goals and dreams. I always had an interest in making sure they knew they had some options and possibilities that they might not have been aware of. I always felt as though the story was always told for the youth in a way that it didn’t look like it had much hope, so wanted to give them another side of life,” Ericka said.
She has been helping youth through Washington, D.C.- based Super Leaders for nearly 30 years. The group targets children who could use assistance. Although Ericka doesn’t have biological children, she routinely imparts motherly values.
“I just feel that sometimes you’re drawn in a certain direction. Family is not only biology. It is basically love, caring, respect, patience and kindness. Just showing love to someone can make the difference of somebody feeling their worth or not, or living up to expectations versus living down to stereotypes,” Ericka said.
Before COVID hit, Ericka could be spotted walking through the halls of Annapolis High School wearing her signature smile, investing in youth where she was once a student. But for her, volunteering led to life-long relationships. Some youth are now family. Tymiesha Barnes is one of Ericka’s “daughters.”
Tymiesha has known them for at least 13 years now. She is now a mother herself. Barnes credits the Wilkins for grounding her in God, teaching her compassion, how to be a lady, and learning to take her education seriously.
“They used to come to my house and drag me to school,” Barnes said. “They were really persistent. It got to a point where I really didn’t have a choice. Like they just became… my family. Ericka became my mom and just kind of blended. It’s like that tough love.”
The Wilkins women prove that some mothers are connected to children by blood, while others are earned through the beauty of love.