Bell rings true for young people
Family: Father of Jaden Joseph Dondre Bell, 6. He shares custody with Jaden's mother. Three sisters, two older, one younger; father, Gene; mother, Sandra.
Favorite book: "A Light in the Attic" by Shel Silverstein. His older sister, Alici, brought it home, and they read it cover to cover, again and again.
He lights up when: He talks about kids he's helped. He mentioned a group of girls who were known to school officials as troublemakers. He worked to make them feel at home at school, rather than outsiders. "They're like the ray of sunshine in that school now."
Favorite song: "Summer Rain" by Carl Thomas. "No matter how bad I'm feeling, I can always play that song, and I feel great."
Misdemeanor: Bell has a misdemeanor pot possession conviction on his record. That came to light after he was mentioned in a Gazette article, and readers commented about it on the Gazette Web site. Bell said he's not proud of it, and he welcomed the opportunity to respond to the anonymous people who asked why he is allowed to work with kids. "That one mistake I made, I learned from it, and that's why I'm able to teach kids." And for the anonymous critics on the Web site: "People want to hold that against me, that's fine. Just tell me what you were doing when you were 19."
To help: Bell's job with the school district includes recruiting adults of all ethnic groups to be mentors for at-risk kids. Contact him at (608) 751-3229 or email@example.com. Also, BRO and its companion program, Sisters Empowering Sisters, is seriously underfunded. Grants are being sought, but in the meantime, ...
Goal: Complete a college degree that he started years ago and get a teaching license so he can support his son and continue to do what he loves, work with kids.
Person he'd most like to have dinner with: Basketball phenom and businessman Magic Johnson. Bell's first love was basketball, and Johnson, he believes, was the game's greatest player. He also admires Johnson's work for the AIDS/HIV cause. And of course, Johnson would pick up the bill, Bell jokes.
JANESVILLE This is a story of how a good deed can be like a boomerang: It comes back, but not necessarily to the same place.
Years ago, a teacher/coach at Beloit Memorial High School saw a need. He was one of the few black teachers in the district. He saw too many young black men without positive males in their lives.
He created BRO, or Brothers Reaching Out, to provide that positive influence.
Among the beneficiaries were two students, Shelton Evans and Dondre Bell.
Flash forward one generation. BRO is now in the Janesville School District, established by—guess who—Evans and Bell.
Evans, formerly of the Janesville Boys & Girls Club, was a 2006 People Who Matter honoree. Now it's Bell's turn.
"He cares about the kids and goes beyond his duties a lot for the kids. He gets it," Evans said of his lifelong friend and current colleague.
Beloit Memorial High School Principal Carlton Jenkins, a former teacher and mentor of Evans and Bell, also is pleased that Bell is getting his due.
"He's outstanding in every aspect. He was always a good young man, and he always listened to adults," Jenkins said. "And I always found him to be a very hard worker. So it doesn't surprise me now to see that he's playing such a positive role in Janesville."
Bell and Evans grew up together in Beloit. They both now work with at-risk youth, and they are next-door neighbors. It's hard to talk about one without including the other.
Evans and Bell counsel, cajole, transport and otherwise help middle and high school students succeed. Their specialty is the black students. That's why they were hired—to make this growing minority feel comfortable enough to succeed in school.
Evans and Bell are part-time employees, but everyone knows that they are on the job more than 40 hours a week. They'll also dip into their own pockets for a kid whose shoes have worn out or who needs money to attend a dance.
"He does those things above and beyond what he's paid for. He's passionate about kids," said Bob Baldwin, another of Bell's co-workers.
Bell said he was a good student except for the year he decided to be the class clown. He stopped studying. The next fall, he was ineligible to play some football games. He said he was never off the honor roll again after seeing the disappointment on his father's face.
Bell's youngest sister, Tasha, said Bell learned to be community-minded from his parents. She recalled her mother hosting block parties, helping people move and writing a grant to fund an organization that helped girls.
Jenkins said he's proud of Janesville for trying to help minority youth. However, in the nicest way, he said the following: "Please believe me. We are going to try to get him back in Beloit as soon as we can, he and Shelton both. They are two outstanding young men, and we would love to have them come back and help our community."