Administrators at the Sean Elijah Bell Community Center are still trying to make ends meet to prevent the center’s doors from closing.
“We trying our best to keep the center open to the community,” said Valerie Bell, mother of Sean Bell. “We have done fundraising and applied for grants, so we’re just waiting to hear from them.”
The center is located on Sutphin Boulevard in South Jamaica, Queens, and was established in May 2011 in honor of Sean Bell, who was shot and killed at his bachelor party in Jamaica, Queens, in November of 2006 by a group of undercover NYPD officers. They fired 50 bullets at Bell, claiming that someone from his group had a firearm. No gun was found and his police shooters were found not guilty of various charges, including manslaughter and reckless endangerment.
Various civil rights groups such as the National Action Network and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People have called on the U.S. Department of Justice for a thorough investigation, believing the officers violated Bell’s civil rights and racially profiled him. In 2010, the department declined to prosecute, saying there was insufficient evidence to proceed.
Valerie Bell still grieves and question the loss of her son. She said there was a desperate need to have the center in her son’s name and to keep his name alive because he was always supportive of people in his community.
“They didn’t take him as a human being,” she said. “They treated him like an animal. Why shoot him 50 times? They knew what they were doing.”
According to Anthony Anderson, the center’s executive director, in an interview with the AmNews earlier this year, the money to open a center in Bell’s name originally came from a $196,000 community development block grant that was first suggested by Sen. Charles Schumer. The grant was awarded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. As the money ran out, the center was originally expected to be closed at the end of December 2012. Anderson said it cost them $60,000 a year to operate the center. This covers rent, electricity and educational materials and other supplies.
When they announced the center announced was in danger of closing, monetary help was given by civil rights leader the Rev. Al Sharpton, the Rev. Phil Craig, pastor of the Springfield Community Church and Queens chapter president of the National Action Network, and the Black Spectrum Theater Co., which helped to keep the doors open.
Since its establishment, the center has provided a free computer literacy program for persons of all ages, dance classes, a job readiness and referrals program and an after-school and mentoring program. They no longer offer a free GED program due to a lack of funding. However, despite the obstacles the center now faces, it continues to serve as a safe haven, especially for young youths in the predominantly African-American community.
If you would like to make a donation to the Sean Elijah Bell Community Center, you can contact administrators at 718-291-3512 for more details. You can also visit www.seanbellcenter.net to see the various programs they offer.