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Giving back: Beasley hopes to honor mother’s legacy with center idea

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Giving back: Beasley hopes to honor mother’s legacy with center idea

Pictured outside the Orange Train Station is Chrystie Beasley, the daughter of former Gordonsville Town Council representative Avis Beasley. 

Some people move away from their hometowns and never come back. Others come back for visits. But some, like Chrystie Beasley, come back and give back. 

Beasley, 34, grew up in Gordonsville and graduated with honors from Orange County High School in 2003. She went on to Virginia State University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, with honors, in 2007. These days, she lives in Manassas and works for the government.

Inspired by her mother, the late Avis Beasley, a single mother who served on Gordonsville’s town council, she and a group of friends and family members have created the Avis Beasley Community Outreach Group.

Her ultimate goal for the organization is the establishment of a community recreation center in Orange County.

The idea came to her in early 2016, five years after her mother died of complications from heart surgery. Chrystie Beasley was dealing with some health concerns and had to wait a couple of weeks for test results. Everything turned out all right, but in the meantime, her thinking had changed.

“That really gave me the push to think about what I wanted to do in my life,” she said.

She felt she wasn’t supporting her hometown the way she should.

“So of course I prayed about it. I don’t know where the idea came from. It just popped up.”

According to the vision statement on the group’s website, the proposed center will offer local children “high-quality recreation opportunities” and serve as a resource center for all: “We will provide educational, emotional and mental support, while also providing programs and facilities to meet the diverse needs of all citizens in the community.”

Beasley, who is African-American, said the community needs a recreation center where everyone feels welcome.

When she was a student at Orange County High School, she was elected homecoming queen and had friends throughout the school, but she saw little interaction between races outside school and OCHS sporting events.

In Gordonsville, she said, “Most of the black people I know live across the tracks, so it’s a separation of sorts, I guess.”

For summer recreation, she and her friends went swimming at Dix Memorial Pool in Gordonsville’s Verling Park, where they were part of a racially mixed crowd, but she said the county’s only public pool feels “old and small” now. (Gordonsville’s town council has been working for several years on plans for a larger park with a regulation-sized swimming pool. The project is expected to require a major fundraising effort.)

Beasley has talked to African-American families in Orange County who take their children to the Charlottesville YMCA or elsewhere for recreational programs. She believes many would prefer to make use of a rec center in their own county.

With these thoughts in mind, Beasley wants to encourage racial unity within the county while also giving children and adults alike a place to exercise. Doing so would build on her mother’s legacy.

Chrystie Beasley said her mother ran for town council as a write-in candidate so the whole town, including its black residents, would have representation.

“She was just concerned about getting our voices heard on town council—people in our neighborhood in Gordonsville. She felt like she would get everyone’s support, which she did.”

Now Chrystie Beasley is seeking support as she looks for stakeholders to join her in creating a community center. She said she has discussed her idea with Gordonsville Mayor Bob Coiner, who knew her mother.

According to Beasley, Coiner said the town does not have the funds to build a recreation center. She received the same response from the county when she contacted Orange County’s Parks and Recreation Department.

For a while, Beasley had her eye on the old Blue Bell factory, a long-vacant building in Orange. When the Sedwick family donated it to the county in December, Orange County Administrator Bryan David announced the 57,000-square-foot building on Waugh Boulevard near Orange County High School would be used for storage and office space.

Undaunted, Beasley intends to raise funds to build the multipurpose center she has in mind. She provided a list of specifications to an architect and builder, who devised a plan that would cost “millions of dollars” to bring to fruition.

Despite the big price tag on her dream, she said seeing the plan based on her idea was “pretty awesome.”

As she prepares to launch a fundraising campaign for a recreation center, she and other members of the outreach group are already busy doing things for the community, especially the youth. In addition to Beasley, the founder and chief executive officer, officers are Desirae Lucas, vice president; Corey Douglas, sergeant at arms; Melisa Coleman-Douglas, secretary; and Melinda Smith-Robinson, treasurer. Megan Douglas is event coordinator.

They have sponsored movie and museum excursions along with a turkey giveaway last November.

Their most ambitious project so far is a film called “The Impact of Single Parenting” featuring interviews with 10 single parents, including two fathers, plus four children of single parents. Most of the parents interviewed are from Orange County; all but one are black.

Beasley said she and her sister, Pieta, didn’t hear their mother discuss her struggles as a single parent: “She didn’t want us to take on her problems.”

But the two young women wanted to know who their father was and to find out his story. Eventually, before she died, Avis Beasley told them about him—and some of what they learned was painful. They tracked him down and met him when they were in their 20s.

Pieta, 35, is a single mother with five children, and she and her two oldest children were among those interviewed for the film.

Chrystie Beasley served as the film’s executive producer, and Lucas was director. The two gave their interview subjects a list of questions in advance and told them to strike through questions they didn’t feel comfortable answering on camera.

After conducting the interviews over two days at Hair Mechanics, a beauty salon operated by Crystal Snead Frye on Route 15, filmmaker Ed Jones edited five hours of footage down to an hour and 43 minutes.

The outreach group held a private screening of the film for all involved in its production, and Beasley is looking for a local venue where the group can host a public screening.

Other plans in the works include opening a community pantry in Gordonsville and offering a scholarship for a student at Orange County High School.

But the big project—the dream—is the community recreation center.

Beasley believes it is a dream worth working hard for.

As she sums it up, “I think having somewhere where everyone can go—regardless of your denomination, your skin color or political beliefs—somewhere that everyone is welcome to come—would be great for the community as a whole.”

To learn more about the Avis Beasley Community Outreach Group or contact Beasley, go to www.avisbcommunityoutreach.com or find the group on Facebook.

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Hilary Holladay covers education and politics for the Orange County Review. The author of five books, she is currently writing a biography of the poet Adrienne Rich.

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