All too often in life, we don’t know when we’ll have our very last conversation with someone.
Such was the case with Amos “Sadat” Stokes, a friend of the Mebane Enterprise who we sadly learned passed away last week. He was a regular at the Enterprise, typically stopping by at least once every couple of months to tell us about his latest art projects.
We enjoyed his visits - even if we knew it might take a while to get back to work if you got engaged in conversation with him. I can appreciate how when he got to talking about something that interested him, Sadat could go on for a while. But it was always great listening to him, no matter the topic.
Mr. Stokes had a wide-ranging and fascinating professional career, beginning in his native New Jersey as art director of the high school yearbook at Bergen Tech High School. Sadat’s father, a construction worker, also did artwork on the side. It was working alongside his father, drawing buildings, that Sadat first got his mind fixed on being an artist.
In the late 1970s, he worked as a freelance artist with the popular children’s television show Sesame Street. He recalled to me once how fond he was of his time working with Jim Henson, who he called a creative genius. He also spent several years with publications including Essence Magazine and Medical Economics, and also took on numerous independent art projects over the years.
One of his more well-known local projects was a project he undertook in Hillsborough in the summer of 2014, where he created a wall painting. Titled “The Historical Mural,” the painting depicted numerous individuals in the history of Central High School, the former segregated high school that was once in place of the present-day Hillsborough Elementary School.
“The artist is so good that when they look on the wall they’ll be able to say, ‘That’s my mom.’ The picture is that distinct,” HES principal Steven Weber told the News of Orange that summer. “There’s a picture from a prom queen, a picture of the 1951 girls’ state championship basketball team, so there are a lot of pictures there that will bring back memories for people, whether it’s your grandma or whether it’s your uncle. They are people that you will see.”
Sadat also re-designed the Mebane Police Department uniform patches, giving them a new and updated look.
Sadat could paint anything, from landscapes to portraits to intricate patterns. He was a master. In fact, he was sometimes referred to as “Master Artist Sadat” when his work was mentioned.
He moved to Mebane in 2004, becoming an art teacher at the Boys and Girls Club in Burlington. Working with children, particularly in the arts, was one of Sadat’s greatest passions. He loved introducing children to the wonderful world of drawing and painting and creating.
Beyond getting to do what he wanted, art was a way for Sadat to give to other people - a way for him to share, through paint and imagery, with the world.
“Everybody has a short opportunity to do what they want to do,” Stokes said to the Mebane City Council in the winter of 2015, as he offered to touch up one of murals in the downtown area. “Everything is all temporary, and you have to enjoy the time that you do have and do what you want to do.”
Sadat was an inspiration in more ways than simply with the artwork he shared with us. A cancer survivor and U.S. veteran, Sadat talked to me multiple times about how lucky he was to get to do what he enjoyed for a living. And how lucky he was to still be living at all.
I remember one of the more recent times he came into our office to talk, when he told me that while he may have one foot in the ground, as long as he still had another foot above ground, he was going to keep going strong.
I will always remember that I was on the phone with Sadat at the very moment that my grandmother died. It was this past Feb. 16, and Sadat had a new project that he wanted us to feature in the Enterprise. It was also the same day as the NCHSAA state wrestling championships, and I was inside the Greensboro Coliseum covering it for our company.
As I spoke on the phone that morning with Sadat, my grandmother went to a hairdressing appointment, came home, sat down in a chair in her kitchen and died. I received a phone call not long after from my father telling me the news. But I’m convinced I was on the phone with Sadat at the very moment she passed.
Personally, I take comfort in that. I will always remember that in one of the darkest moments of my life, I was on the phone with a friend. Certainly neither of us could have known what was transpiring that very moment in my hometown. But thanks to Sadat, I wasn’t alone.
Certainly it’s sad to think that I never will have another conversation with Sadat Stokes. He was a renaissance man - a man of curiosity about the world and its people, and a man of taste.
He was a decent man - a man you wouldn’t mind sitting down with and eating a meal, just talking about anything that comes up.
He was a man that loved the town of Mebane. And for the short time we had with him, we did our best to try and love him back.
We’re gonna miss you, Sadat.