60 Years of Stories! Wesley Bell
“I've always appreciated the role of St. Louis Community College. STLCC has such a diverse student body, and the professors and staff embrace that. When I was teaching at St. Louis Community College-Florissant Valley, I was struck by how personally my colleagues took their student’s success. And I was the same.”
-- Wesley Bell, professor and program coordinator of the criminal justice and legal studies departments at STLCC-Florissant Valley from 2011 to 2018
With over 1.3 million alumni, many people in our region have benefited from STLCC, including St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell.
“A number of my family members including my mother took classes at STLCC,” Bell said. “I took classes at STLCC and taught there for many years. Some of my best professional relationships and mentors are people I met through STLCC. It absolutely helped shape who I am today.”
The summer of 2014, Bell was preparing for his fourth year at St. Louis Community College-Florissant Valley as program coordinator in the criminal justice department. As a professor and leader in the department, Bell made it a priority for his students to volunteer and engage in the surrounding north St. Louis County community. He did not know that the community would soon be thrust into the national spotlight.
On Aug. 9, 2014, Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri. His death sent a shockwave through Ferguson, St. Louis and the country. Suddenly, the STLCC-Florissant Valley campus, which is in Ferguson, found itself at the forefront of the unrest.
“We were engaged in the community when the community needed it most. In partnership with my colleagues at STLCC-Florissant Valley, especially LaRhonda Wilson, and with the full support of then-president Ruby Curry, we took a very active role,” Bell said.
Bell and his colleagues led listening circles and other restorative justice programs for STLCC students and local community members. He organized professors to distribute STLCC applications at protest events. Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder even took part in one of the STLCC programs.
“I learned so much through the whole experience. That experience is why I got into public service. It was that culmination of events that led me, ultimately, to run for and become St. Louis County prosecutor,” said Bell.
Bell has served in that role since being elected in 2018. The position brings together his time as a professor, his work experience in the criminal justice system, and what he learned as a community organizer.
Bell grew up in a north St. Louis County household that valued public service. As the son of a police officer father and a county civil servant mother, it's not surprising that Bell pursued a career in public interest law. After graduating from high school at 17, Bell’s first stop was STLCC.
“When I graduated from high school, I was a little on the immature side, so my mother insisted that I enroll at STLCC-Florissant Valley first. I was there for a year before transferring to Lindenwood University. I loved it,” Bell said. “The best part about STLCC was there was a structure in place to know what it was like to be a college student. That made the transition to Lindenwood a whole lot easier. Because I knew not only what to do, but I knew what I needed to do to be a successful student.”
Bell went on to graduate from Lindenwood with degrees in political science and public administration. He then earned his Juris Doctor from the University of Missouri School of Law. As a student, Bell found what he learned out in the community as a volunteer to be just as valuable as what he was learning in classes. This defined his philosophy as a professor at STLCC, a role he started in 2011.
“I was really big on getting students involved in the community and volunteering,” Bell said. “I knew from personal experience that volunteering could be addictive. Once you start, and you get to feel what it’s like to help someone, you want more of it. Often getting my students to volunteer for the first time was like pulling teeth. But once they did it, they would say ‘Professor Bell, that was really fun, is there another opportunity?’ I know from my own background how volunteerism can change the trajectory of young people’s lives.“
As a professor at STLCC, Bell started a mock trial team at Ferguson Junior High School. His STLCC students volunteered as coaches and helped put on mock trials. Additionally, Bell recruited STLCC students to volunteer at Taste of Ferguson and other community events. This ongoing community engagement positioned Bell and his colleagues to be responsive in the aftermath of Michael Brown’s death.
As an outgrowth of community organizing, Bell began to pursue political office. First, he served as a Ferguson City Councilman from 2015-018, while still at STLCC. In 2018, Bell ran for St. Louis County prosecuting attorney. After winning the election, Bell resigned from STLCC to take on the full-time responsibilities of the county prosecutor.
Bell is the keynote speaker for St. Louis Community College at Florissant Valley and North County Churches Uniting for Racial Harmony and Justice's Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration. He will speak on the theme "It Starts With Me: Cultivating the Beloved Community."
Jan. 17 at 6 p.m. virtually and in the Terry M. Fischer Theatre.