Special/Signature Issues » Belle

Personalities: Better Than Average

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Damita Oglesby's life was hard and short. In 2003, when she was four months pregnant, an abusive boyfriend stabbed her with a screwdriver, which sent her into a coma. Her baby boy was born healthy a few months later. Oglesby, 30, died soon after.

Oglesby's cousin Rebekah Pierce asked herself, "Why?"

"It all came down to choices," Pierce says. If Oglesby had been able to believe in herself, if she had been able to build the life she wanted, Pierce says, things could have been different.

Shortly after Oglesby's death, Pierce created the magazine Average Girl. Everywhere she looked, she says, women were being told to change everything about themselves. Her magazine, she decided, would encourage women to just be themselves.

Doubters abounded. Pierce says experts in the publishing industry told her it would never sell, because "'everyday women' was not a market." But the women Pierce knew disagreed. "That's me!" they said.

Pierce began by writing and designing the whole magazine herself. She later assembled a corps of freelance writers, all volunteers, who cover women's health, careers, relationships, fashion and finance.

One contributor is a woman in her 50s whose husband was murdered five years ago. She writes about her grief, her dreams and her walk with God. "Every article that she sends in is so real," Pierce says.

Publishing Average Girl hasn't been easy. Until recently, it was on newsstands and in libraries in Virginia and Maryland. Because of time and financial constraints, Pierce has gone back to publishing it at the Web site www.averagegirlmagazine.com.

The message of Average Girl, she says, is: "You don't have to have a million bucks in your bank account to go out and do what you want to do."

And Pierce is living that message. Her play "Bell Blu" premiered at the Firehouse Theatre in August. She teaches English at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College and delights in being a mom to her 6-year-old son.

When it's time for her to leave this earth, Pierce says, she wants to have done everything she ever dreamed of trying. "I want to go empty," she says.

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