Watching her 3-year-old daughter, Athena, clad in a pink leotard, twirl around her bright downtown Washington apartment, Aaralyn Liese says she can’t help but be reminded of her own childhood. A bubbly toddler might not seem to have much in common with the daughter of a convicted child molester, but Liese sees only the similarities as Athena slips on the kitchen floor and bounces back, still laughing.
“When people ask me what my childhood was like, I know they expect a dark, ugly story,” she says. And there is plenty of darkness. Much of it was revealed during a 2008 trial that ended with her father, the Rev. James Bevel, a civil rights leader and close associate of Martin Luther King Jr.’s, being sentenced to 15 years in prison for unlawful fornication. In a Post story chronicling Liese’s decision to come forward about the abuse, she described a “trauma room,” where her father “slid onto her bed fondling her.” Liese — formerly Mills before creating a new last name to replace her ex-husband’s — says she forgave and let go long before the trial. She spoke out about her abuse to protect a younger sister. Forgiving her father, says Liese, now 32, allows her to hold on to good; it lets her hear her own laughter in her daughter’s.
“In spite of everything, I ... was a happy kid, resilient,” she says.
That resilience has been tested recently. Less than a month after his sentencing in October 2008, Bevel was released from prison on appeal. Six weeks later, he died of pancreatic cancer.
Ready to start “the second half of my life,” after the funeral, Liese says she began to question her marriage.
She filed for divorce in 2010 and fought to share custody of Athena. Eventually, her former husband agreed. Liese also shares custody of an 11-year-old son with her first husband, with whom the boy lives. But she wanted Athena with her: “I refuse to let my daughter live without what I so desperately needed: stability, happiness, home.”
To that end, Liese works three jobs. She’s a concierge at her apartment complex, helps set up and host for an event planning company and runs her own business, selling handmade, custom portfolios for artists. She recently finished a book, “Becoming Aaralyn,” and is looking for a publisher, a search she thinks will lead to Europe. “Americans like simple, straightforward plots where there are good guys and bad guys,” she says, explaining that a friend told her the book feels like a foreign film. “I know there are forces of dark and evil and good and light in everyone. And I know that good can win.”