by Mary Rupert
Beatrice L. Lee shaped the lives of hundreds of young people during her years as a recreation center director in Kansas City, Kansas.
A tribute to Lee, plus a ribbon-cutting ceremony, was held Saturday, Sept. 30, at the recreation center that is now named after her at 1210 N. 12th St., Kansas City, Kansas. She was the recreation director of the old JFK center at that location, as well as at the old Sumner recreation center.
Former commissioner Chester Owens Jr. called Lee a “real she-ro.”
“We’re here today because she chose to see the best in young people, and she used her God-given talents to offer many of them hope, even in some cases where there was no hope,” he said.
Around 300 people attended the three-hour event on Saturday afternoon, Sept. 30, outdoors in a tent at the Beatrice L. Lee Community Center.
Several speakers, including a former student, Larry Watkins, now an attorney in Washington, D.C., spoke at the event, along with former commissioner Chester Owens Jr., former commissioner Nathan Barnes, Mayor Mark Holland, Commissioner Harold Johnson, BPU Board Member Robert Milan Sr., the Rev. Tony Carter Jr., and Fayetta Thicklin, a retired school teacher.
The Schlagle High School Marching Band performed, and also the Oak Ridge Missionary Baptist Church’s Youth Praise Dancers. A group sang “It’s Your Time.” Lee was presented a flower by several of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Besides being a mentor to many youth throughout the years, Lee also is known for giving political advice to candidates running for office. Lee said she first got involved in politics many years ago when a commissioner was ill and asked her to campaign for him, but she did not run for office herself. Commissioner Johnson said he was one of the persons who received her advice during his campaign. Barnes was another person who was mentored by Lee.
Commissioner Johnson said Lee had taken the time to serve as a mentor to him.
“What a wonder of a woman she is,” he said. “We must never underestimate the value that our elders bring to us.”
Mayor Holland said he hoped community members would be like Lee and spend time with the community’s youth.
“This legacy continues with those of us committing ourselves to working with our kids and creating a foundation for the next generation,” Holland said.
Former commissioner Nathan Barnes led the group in singing, “You Are So Beautiful to Me,” in honor of Lee.
Larry Watkins, an attorney in Washington, D.C., recalled how Lee took a personal interest in the youth, including him, and how she engaged them in programs at the community center.
“She taught us how to work with other people, how to say what you need to say,” Fayetta Thicklin said. “This lady is very articulate.”
“Thank you for being that teacher, that civic leader, that person standing in the back for social justice and equality,” said Lee’s daughter, Deborah Newton.
“I’m very humbled, I’m very grateful,” Lee said in a speech at Saturday’s event. “It’s not about me. I just follow God’s direction.”
Lee had a comment about including young people in decision-making.
“We cannot keep young people on the outside, we have got to bring them in,” she said. “They have an opinion.”
She told the group that many community volunteers are needed to come into the recreation centers and give two or three hours a week toward helping youth.
She also told the several UG officials in the audience that she would like to see more money in the UG’s budget for upgrades of the recreation center.
Lee’s concluding remark Saturday: “Remember, you don’t know when something you say or you do touches someone else’s life and works a miracle.”