Friday, November 26, 2021

Hometown Hero: Marie Hester

Who said you can never go home again? Marie Hester has come home—and is bringing new life to Pearl City.

Doris Marie Hester (she goes by Marie) was born in Pearl City [originally platted in early maps of Boca Raton as “colored town”] and is descended from one of its first families, William and Belle Demery, who bought the property she lives on today—for $5—back in 1915. Hester, their great-granddaughter, moved from her sheltered childhood in Boca Raton (her grandfather was a minister of Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church) after high school graduation to attend college at Grambling State University, after which she had a long career in human resources in the Washington, D.C./Maryland area with the Department of Army, NASA, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Library of Congress. Now 73, she moved back to Pearl City in 2015 and encountered a kind of culture shock in the small community that helped build Boca Raton—a sense of isolation, widespread poverty and a tentative connection to its place in the world of 2021.

Hester became the president of DISC (Developing Interracial Social Change) in 2019 upon the death of its president, Allen Willis. (The group began in 1993/1994 as “an intentional fellowship of five African-American members of Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church and 5 Caucasian members of St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church” to promote justice and help the poor, while lifting the quality of life in Pearl City.) She also sits on the board of the Boca Raton Historical Society, and is seeking state and federal approval to combine the three communities of Dixie Manor, Lincoln Court and Pearl City as one historic area. Her latest passion is Allen’s Place Pearl City Community Garden to help supply residents with fresh fruit and vegetables—along with education about good nutrition and fostering both community spirit and cultural enrichment.

ON COMING HOME AGAIN: “I found that if you do not leave here, and experience things in other parts of the United States, then you stay in a rut. … You are caught up in the ‘back door’ thing. … I went through a lot with my mother (now 93), telling her ‘you can go anywhere you want to go, and you can go through the front door.’ It’s hard when a ‘slave mentality’ is embedded in you … and sometimes things happen and it reminds you of it and you revert back to the same way of thinking. … it [comes from] generations of being ‘enslaved.’”

HER MESSAGE: “We are trying to show people how to overcome some of the negativity about this area. … to stand up for themselves and voice an opinion.”

ON BEING A VOICE: “Fear is a terrible thing. A lot of people can’t get past it, so they say nothing. … DISC is a voice for the people here. Many of these people do not know the history of Pearl City. … they do not know how they got here, or do not know about everything that happened. We were here before the city of Boca Raton.”

This story is from the September/October 2021 issue of Boca magazine. For more content like this, subscribe to the magazine.

Marie Speed
Marie Speed is group editor of all JES publications, including Boca Raton, Delray Beach, Worth Avenue, Mizner’s Dream and the annual publication for the Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce. She also oversees editorial operations of the company’s Salt Lake City magazines. Her community involvement has ranged from work with the Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce to a longtime board member position at Caridad Center. She is also on the George Snow Scholarship Fund review committee. She is a past officer of the Florida Magazine Association and a member of Class XVII of Leadership Florida. In her spare time, Marie enjoys South Florida’s natural world through hiking and kayaking, and she is an avid reader and an enthusiastic cook.

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