Grace Tinsley was the first African-American woman appointed to Charlottesville's School Board. Credit: Family photo courtesy Suzette Holt

A gala in Charlottesville this Saturday will celebrate the life of the late community activist Grace Tinsley and raise funds for a scholarship established in her honor.

“We need smart, intelligent young people to go to college and get involved in our community,” said Tinsley’s daughter, Suzette Holt.

Tinsley was the first African-American woman to serve on the Charlottesville School Board. At the time of her appointment in 1971, the city’s schools were still struggling to adjust to racial integration.

“[Tinsley] used her voice on the board to make sure that people were treated fairly,” Holt said. “She wasn’t intimidated by people in power … She was strong and determined.”

In 1976, following 18 years of work at the University of Virginia Hospital, Tinsley was hired as Charlottesville’s coordinator of school health. After she retired in 1992, Tinsley successfully lobbied the state government for a new public defender’s office in Charlottesville. She also served on the board of Piedmont Virginia Community College.

Holt remembers her mother taking an interest in students’ lives, and encouraging them to apply to colleges and jobs they thought were beyond their reach.

“She would be very proud to have her name attached to a scholarship,” Holt said.

The Charlottesville Democratic Party began awarding the Grace Tinsley Scholarship to Charlottesville High School seniors from low- or middle-income households soon after Tinsley’s death in 2006. Since then, 30 CHS graduates have received scholarships of about $1,500, and an additional $500 to $1,000 for their second year of college.

The value of the scholarship and the number of recipients each year are dependent on proceeds from the annual Scholarship Bash. Last year’s class of five scholarship winners was the largest ever.

The Charlottesville Democrats’ scholarship committee chooses winners for their leadership abilities, problem-solving skills and community service participation, and for displaying Tinsley’s defining personal attributes: courage, humor and perseverance.

The scholarship committee also recognizes Charlottesville City Schools support staff with the Unsung Hero award. This year’s winners are Camille Allers, an instructional assistant at Buford Middle School; and Dominique Williams, an intervention associate at Charlottesville High.

Holt said the Scholarship Bash is a nonpartisan event, highlighted by joyful music and dancing. “It brings people of different ages, races and religions together for a very good cause,” she said.

Kiara Redd-Martin, a 2008 CHS graduate, was among the first winners of the Grace Tinsley Scholarship.

“I felt honored … that there was a group of people out there who noticed that I was making the right choices for myself and my community,” she said.

Redd-Martin went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in human services from Old Dominion University, and is currently pursuing a master’s in clinical social work at Virginia Commonwealth University. She said that she shares Tinsley’s passion for empowering marginalized communities and bringing attention to unseen problems of race relations.

“I know I have many years before I can even approach the level of impact that [Tinsley] had on her community,” Redd-Martin said. “I can only hope that I’m moving in the right direction.”

The 2017 Grace Tinsley Scholarship Bash will be held at the Carver Recreation Center on Saturday, beginning at 6:30 p.m. Tickets, which are $40, include dinner and dessert prepared by culinary arts students from the Charlottesville Albemarle Technical Education Center.


Josh Mandell graduated from Yale in 2016 and has been recognized by the Virginia Press Association with five awards for education writing, health, science and environmental writing and multimedia reporting.