By JOEL PHELPS | The Arkadelphian
Longtime Arkadelphia resident Bruce Bell officially took the reins in January as leader of the Clark County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He was elected by members of the local branch.
Bell admits he’s got big shoes to fill after Henry Wilson’s 2021 death left a void in speaking out for the African American community. Yet he’s certain that his leadership style is akin to that of Wilson’s, who served as NAACP president for 23 years.
“I’ve got that same bite” that Wilson had, said Bell, who joined the organization in 2017 after observing what he called injustices within the education system.
Bell has already proven that he’s willing to speak up. In April he addressed the Arkadelphia Board of Education over white middle school students being pictured displaying a Trump banner. But the main issue on his radar is what he calls injustice by economic development sales tax supporters whose campaign pledged inclusiveness for small and minority-owned businesses.
Proponents of the 1/2-cent sales tax told crowds at African American churches that new guidelines would be established to allow Black business owners to apply for incentive funds. “We were promised some of these tax funds would be given to us,” Bell said, adding that the guidelines had been shaping up to be more inviting to small businesses until they were blocked when an attorney pointed out the state constitution wouldn’t allow it.
“We were on the tip of the diving board, then the guidelines changed,” said Bell. “Much to our chagrin, not one Black business has received any incentive. We don’t think it’s fair.” Bell also called out the Economic Development Corp. of Clark County in his speech at the NAACP’s 2022 Freedom Fund Banquet.
With a membership of 85 strong “and growing,” Bell said he will continue Wilson’s legacy of addressing local issues that deserve attention. “Henry wasn’t afraid to get into the school’s, city’s or county’s business, and I will do the same.” Like Wilson, Bell pledges to be at the forefront of inequities that transpire. “Henry laid a solid precedent as an activist in the community,” said Bell.
The 58-year-old Bell began calling Arkadelphia home in 1995, after moving from his native home in White Hall. A graduate of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff with a degree in biology, Bell worked for 10 years as a correctional officer for the Arkansas Department of Correction before transplanting to Clark County. His wife, Mary, is a longtime employee of Southern Bancorp.
Bell said he envisions a community where government officials are “as fair and transparent as they can possibly be. We want to be a friend of the community.” But, he said, that requires equal treatment for everyone. “I will do everything in my power to bring equality and justice to Clark County, and will fight for the rights of the downtrodden and ensure they are receiving justice by all entities in Clark County.”
His ultimate goal is to “fight for political, educational, social and economic equality of all persons, and to eliminate racial hatred and discrimination.”