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Sybil Theodora Marshall was born in Georgetown in British Guiana (now Guyana), where she grew up. When she was nine years old her mother died, after which Sybil lived with her grandfather until his death when she was 12, and then with an aunt and uncle. After leaving school she became secretary to the minister of the church as well as helping in the church youth club, where she met her future husband, when in her early twenties. She and her fiancé Joe Phoenix moved to England in 1956, and married in June of that year.
Phoenix started fostering for Lewisham in 1961. She also became a community worker, providing support for unwanted children. In recognition of her work in Lewisham she was awarded the MBE in 1973. In partnership with the borough of Lewisham she began a supported housing project for single homeless young women aged from 16 to 21, and in 1979, the project was named the Marsha Phoenix Memorial Trust, in memory of her own daughter, who died in a car accident in 1974.
In 1971 she founded a youth club for teenagers in New Cross, named Moonshot. The club operated out of an old mission hall in Pagnell Street and it became a community centre for local black people, with dances, a football team, daytime drop-in classes and support for young mothers and social evenings for the elderly. However, the center was destroyed one night in an arson attack by members of the right-wing extremist National Front. Sybil Phoenix vowed to rebuild it. “My name is Phoenix and I will build a new center from the ashes of this club, so help me God,” she said. Four years later, in 1981, the Prince of Wales was present for the grand opening of the new Pagnell Street Centre, the first purpose-built community centre for black people in the UK.
Sybil Phoenix was a methodist local preacher for many years, working closely with the British Council of Churches to forge links between peoples of all faiths. She was instrumental in setting up anti-racist training for members of the clergy, known as the Methodist Leadership Racism Awareness Workshop (MELRAW) and as Director she took this work to many countries around the world. She occasionally acted as a Minister without Portfolio for Guyana, and for her efforts she was awarded the Medal of Service by Guyana in 1987. Sybil also worked for the Community Liaison Scheme, and as Vice-Chair of Lewisham Council for Community Relations. In 1993 Sybil was awarded an Honorary Fellowship by University of London, Goldsmiths' College for her services to the local community. This award was presented by Her Royal Highness, The Princess Royal.
In 1996, Phoenix was made an Honorary Freeman of the Borough of Lewisham, and in 1998 was awarded the Freedom of the City of London. From 1998 to 1999, she was Civic Mayoress of Lewisham. She was elevated to OBE in June 2008.
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- on YouTube.
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