EAST ORANGE/IRVINGTON, NJ — When the dedication ceremony for the new D. Bilal Beasley Community Center in Irvington took place Wednesday, April 6, East Orange Municipal Democratic Committee Chairman and Essex County Democratic Committee Chairman Leroy Jones was among the many who came to honor the former councilman, who died in 2014.
“I was a part of a great moment of celebration of the life of a good friend D. Bilal Beasley and a tribute to his legacy,” said Jones on Wednesday, April 6. “I think he epitomized the role of helper and enabler because he helped and enabled so many lives. He helped and enabled me when I stepped out in my first attempt for countywide office in the 3rd District, when I went to meet the various chairs of the towns that compose the district. Joe Gallagher was the fire chief and Irvington Township Chairman. D. Bilal Beasley was the chair of the North Ward and, I believe, the councilman, too. He was the guy that I was going to relate to. D. Bilal Beasley and I had that connection and that was a bond through Islam and we kind of hit it off from there.”
Jones added that Beasley “became a mentor to me from afar and someone that I admired, not only for his compassion, passion and commitment to service, but to the rubric of what family is and meant. He had a different vision and a different compassion when it came to families and that was something that set the stage for my foundation of family today.”
Assemblyman Tom Giblin said, “Even though my sight is not the best, I can still see D. Bilal Beasley in my mind.” He said dedicating a new community center inside a park on his friend’s home turf was appropriate.
“Any man that dies and can fill up the Robert Treat Hotel, that tells you something about the way he was built and the esteem he was held in by his family and the community and the organizations that he helped during his lifetime,” said Giblin on Wednesday, April 6. “Even though he’s gone physically, he’s still with us, because this community center will be a symbol and kids and grandkids down the road will say: ‘Who is this man, D. Bilal Beasley?’ And a lot of us that are still around and certainly the history books will recall the many great and positive things that he did for Irvington and the people whose careers he launched over the years, in terms of successful futures.”
Giblin thanked Beasley’s widow, Baseemah, and family members for sharing him with the rest of New Jersey.
“Today, we’re naming this community center after D. Bilal Beasley, who was a former freeholder … an elected official for close to 40 years and he dedicated his entire life to helping the people of Irvington, but also of Essex County, and we want to make sure we always remember what he’s contributed,” said Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. on Wednesday, April 6. “He was not your typical politician. He was about getting things done. He was about compromise. He was about negotiations. He was about what was best for Irvington. This new center is symbolic. We have this named after him, but also we have Bilal’s bronze plaque at our historic courthouse. So we’re going to make sure he’s remembered there, but also in the community.”
DiVincenzo said the county is not finished honoring Beasley and making sure his life and legacy continue on into the future, adding that a new playground would be built in mid-May.
“It’s about quality of life; it’s about improving people and economic development and improving the quality of life for all the residents here,” DiVincenzo said. “We live in a very stressful world. Our parks are very important, especially to the neighborhoods, to make sure people come here to enjoy what we have to offer in Essex County. It’s about people coming to the parks and then going out to the local restaurants and being able to spend money. We want to bring people within Essex County. Prior to me, people used to go outside Essex to enjoy the quality. We have it all right here in Essex County and our county is the best county in the state of New Jersey.”
Freeholder Lebby Jones, who helped Beasley found the Team Irvington social and political organization in the 1980s, said she has not been surprised by the outpouring of emotion since his death in 2014 and said the new community center in Irvington Park is a part of that.
“It’s well-deserved,” said Jones on Tuesday, April 12. “When Beasley and myself came to power, Irvington was in transition — people were moving out and we were moving in. We formed the conservancy as Friends of Irvington Park and we used to have concerts out there. I’m a teacher and a councilperson and I have a lot of things to do, so I don’t have the time to devote to the park. Mr. Beasley got Sandy Jones involved and while he was a freeholder they were able to get the Sierra Club to come in and fix the playground 15 years ago. Now they have the soccer field over there, too.”
Jones said it was fitting for the new community center inside Irvington Park to be named in honor of Beasley.
“This man gave Irvington his life,” said Jones. “Anytime you are a public official, you have people tugging at you. Now it’s up to us to keep his legacy alive by making sure that the facility is safe and open for the entire Irvington community.”