Thelma Banks Cox, HistorianWhen Thelma Banks Cox...


Thelma Banks Cox, Historian

When Thelma Banks Cox retired from the Baltimore City school system eight years ago, she could have basked in her accomplishments: ascending from teacher to assistant superintendent, serving on the State Board of Higher Education, being the first black president of the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland.

Instead, she decided to pursue a lifelong interest -- local black history.

Two years ago, Dr. Cox formed the African-American Heritage Society and, with the help of 105 members, has created self-guided tours of black landmarks in Baltimore, researched the 36 city schools named for famous blacks and chronicled these findings in two pamphlets.

"I'm really dedicated to the survival of the heritage of African-American people," says Dr. Cox, 62, who lives in Ashburton.

She and 20 other African-American women will be honored for their contributions to Maryland at 2 p.m. today at the Enoch Pratt Free Library.

"I feel a sense of quiet accomplishment about my life," she says.

Married for 42 years to a former Bethlehem Steel laborer, she says that having a common interest -- music -- has helped keep them happy.

"I listen to all kinds," she says with a laugh. "Take me from Mozart to rap and I'm comfortable."

Her motto in life is a simple one: Have black belt, will travel.

And that's pretty much how life has been for Sharon Sirkis since the nurse got her black belt in kenpo karate seven years ago.

Today, she travels around the state giving self-defense seminars -- and around the country attending competitions, including an international championship several years ago in which she beat 18 men for first prize.

But the sport's appeal, she says, is more mental than physical. "For women, it gives more self-confidence," says Ms. Sirkis, 34, who lives in Columbia.

She took up the street-oriented style of karate after being frightened when walking to a parking garage alone at midnight.

Rather than succumb to that fear, Ms. Sirkis, who is 5 feet 2 1/2 and 140 pounds, took a karate class. Six years later, she had her black belt and opened the Universal Kenpo Karate studio in Millersville with a partner.

Besides job satisfaction, there's been another perk to her new-found career. She met her current boyfriend and business partner Barry Price when she was a white belt and he was a brown.

"And, no," she says answering a question that everyone asks, "we don't hit each other."

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