Honoring Three Mentors

Honoring Three Mentors

Tribute is part of Black History Month.

— Not everyone has the privilege of having a mentor, a person who guides one along a path of excellence. But here in Alexandria, mentorship has meant a great deal, especially among Alexandria’s long-standing African-American sports community.

On the last Sunday of Black History Month, Feb. 26, the Alexandria Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities celebrated more than 40 years of mentoring Alexandria’s youth through public service with an awards event. It honored three African-American living legends: Lawrence “Lucky” Elliott, Traverse Gray and Jackie Mason.

Nannie J. Lee Recreation Center’s 400-seat Kauffman Auditorium at 1108 Jefferson St. was full in celebration of these men. Dignitaries, such as the Judges Bruce Lee and Nolan Dawkins were present as were city officials including Councilmen John T. Chapman and Willie F. Bailey, Sr., and former Mayor Bill Euille.

“We haven’t done enough for these three individuals who have decades of commitment,” said William Chesley, deputy director, Alexandria Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities. “They put their heart and soul in their work. I see people, adults who still talk about the fondness and relations they formed and how they coached and mentored them.”

Lawrence “Lucky” Elliott is known for encouraging words. “Lucky was always there,” said Dewaine Terrell, who played football under Elliot and is now an Arlington County Social Services employee. “He taught us how to win, how to lose; he built character and self-esteem.”

“I motivated kids to clean up the neighborhood,” Elliott said. “I coached women’s basketball.” But that barely touches the surface of Elliott’s accomplishments during his 33 years with the city’s Department of Recreation, supervising youth city sports. It is Elliott who started the Alexandria Boxing Club. He recruited, trained and certified hundreds of volunteer coaches in various sports. He worked to obtain employment for teens. He held events to raise funds for scholarships. He-co founded the We Care Organization to combat the drug problem affecting city youth and young adults. He led the first Anti-Drug March in 1985 and Elliott built champions.

According to Michael Jones, a contemporary of the three honorees, “Mr. Traverse Gray was outstanding in baseball and taught in his neighborhood.” Gray’s career as a coach began in 1959 about the time he completed high school at Parker Gray. He later took on leadership roles at Cora Kelly Recreation Center and Nannie J. Lee Recreation Center where he led a robust program of activities, including out of town games.

Bailey recalled one such tournament trip to Philadelphia when he was around age 11. “It was like going to a different country,” he said.

Gray was promoted to director of the Charles Houston Recreation Center in 1993 and remained there until his retirement in 2006.

For Harvey Gray, “the most priceless times were the times I spent with Jackie Mason.” He is a “man with a big heart … a great sense of humor. The light of the atmosphere.” A native of Alexandria, Mason had a skill to manage large groups of children. As director of Cameron Valley Recreation Center, he provided daily recreational activities for elementary and middle school aged children. He was later promoted to oversee the new Cora Kelly Recreation Center, which became a community hub for activities, meetings and special events. “Citizens knew they were always welcome,” said Rosa Byrd.

Elliott, Gray and Mason “shaped the lives of thousands of kids,” said Bailey. They were part of the family of many. They turned boys into men. But most importantly, they cared. In return, people wanted to be just like them.