The Christmas Bells’ Story and Beyond


Harold and Hattie Bell just recently celebrated 43 years of marriage and are coordinating their 43rdAnnual Christmas Toy Party for needy children.  Their party is the longest on-going community based toy party drive in America.

The party gave birth to Kids In Trouble in December 1968 shortly after the riots in DC and other inner-cities in America.  There have never been grants or loans to sustain the project.  The two have truly walked by faith and not by sight.

For what it’s worth, here are my thoughts about this unique and one of a kind community involvement of the Bells.  Their lives are rich because of their love for children and society’s underdog regardless of race, creed, color or religion.

I think the “battle of the balance” between Harold’s good works and intentions vs. the controversy that often surrounds him are what make their relationship work.

Hattie is a former DC teacher and her father Dr. Charles H. Thomas Jr. is a legendary Civil Rights advocate who marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King. The family hails from Orangeburg, South Carolina.

In the late 50s Dr. Thomas and his wife Elease had their children marching on the picket lines and on many occasions were marched off to jail as a result of their strong belief in equal rights for all.  Hattie was among the jailbirds!

Dr. Thomas was a professor on the campus of South Carolina State University and President of the local chapter of the NAACP.  He founded and started voter registration in the state of South Carolina.  He was inducted into the Black South Carolina Hall of Fame in 2007.  Hattie is just a bump off the log when it comes to fighting for the civil rights of others.

Their stories and life experiences range from heartwarming, to jaw dropping to “know he didn’t…”  Harold is a 6th generation Washingtonian.  He has lived through and can recall historic moments in sports, DC politics, Black American and in US History.  His association with sports figures, politicians, entertainers and every day people are unique.  As a community advocate and personality he has been cited in the Congressional Record on three different occasions.  He was the first sports media personality named “Washingtonian of the Year” by Washingtonian Magazine.

Harold has stood heads and shoulders above everyone else in the community and media.  The reason, he was an athletic and community personality long before he became a media personality!  He didn’t wait to become an expert on the black community after he became a pioneering radio personality.  He had already been there and done that.

He was an all-around athlete at Spingarn High School in NE DC where he stayed in hot water with his teammates and coaches.  The reason, he wanted the ball in his hands when the game was on the line.  This was seen as selfish by his teammates.  His mentor and savior Coach Dave Brown saw it an endearing quality and made sure he had the ball, but those same qualities got him kicked off the baseball and basketball teams.

Those are the same selfish qualities that have helped make him a success in the Game Called life when it comes to children.  He has a no cut-card and no patient with politicians, community personalities and Pimps in the Pulpit who claim “Children First” and steal in the name of the lord and our children!

He caddied for President Richard M. Nixon and has broken bread with Congressman Lou Stokes, Senators Bob Dole and Strom Thurmond and some of the greatest athletes of our time including, Muhammad Ali, Red Auerbach, Jim Brown and Hank Aaron.

Ali’s business partner Gene Kilroy once said to him, “Harold you would be a millionaire if you were white.” 

He took it as a compliment but it has never been about “Show me the money but more like show me someone in need!”    

His feuds are legendary.  There is no shortage of people willing to criticize and take pot shots at him behind his back.  Why so many?  Who starts them?  Who fuels them?  Are they true?  Why have they lasted so long?  The names are legendary.  Don King (he returned a $10,000 check to King based on principles and he was dead broke), Jim Brown, Larry Brown, James Brown, Jim Vance, John Thompson, Dave Bing, Sugar Ray Leonard.  The list goes on and on.

He says,  “When you have been to the mountain top with Muhammad Ali, had Red Auerbach co-host a sports talk show with you and helped get the great Jim Brown out of jail, where do you think they rate on my measuring stick?

Why do folks fall out with him?  Is there something about Harold Bell that causes these blow ups?  If so, what is it?  Inquiring minds want to know.  People want to know!

Earl Lloyd the first black to play in the NBA summed it up best, he was heard on the John Thompson ESPN radio show saying, “Harold Bell maybe controversial but I have yet to hear anyone call him a liar.”  That statement speaks volumes.

His honesty and adherence to his principles are unparalleled in media and a political oriented Washington, DC where almost everyone goes along to get along.

He has his share of “Haters” because he speaks the TRUTH as he sees it.

Harold Bell grew up in a single parent home and housing project in the northeast section of Washington, DC.  The lessons he learned where mental illness was present helped shaped how he viewed the world.  His late mother was his hero and continues to be a HUGE influence in his life along with his late grandmother Amy Tyler Bell.

He watched his mother battle her demons and that continues to shape how he views portions of the world today.  He is dedicated to his brother Earl a former DC cop who now resides in a nursing home is another example.  For all the toughness that people see in Harold Bell, many disengage early and don’t get to see the other side him and he could careless.

They miss his huge heart, his love for children his willingness to help anyone who needs help.  He is a tough guy in regard to his principles, but he is a “softie” for children and those who need help.

Harold and Hattie are role models for relationships.  People don’t stay together like them for over four decades.  Their love is a Ossie Davis-Ruby Dee kind of love.

Then there are the battles of balance.  Harold Bell has walked the tear gas mean streets of DC trying to keep the peace during the 1968 riots.  He has quietly walked into homes in Potomac Gardens and Barry Farms at Christmas bearing gifts.

How many people you know do this?  This is the story of legends in our community.  You know you are a legend when folks start to write poems about you as like family friend Earl Tildon did in honor of Harold Bell in August 1993.  The poem was titled “A Grieving Mother’s Tears.”

Nationally syndicated talk show host Tom Joyner cited Harold on his morning drive show recently as a “Little known Black History Fact.” 

Like it or not, their story is credible and there are thousands of benefactors to verify it.

Let me give you a list of the Who’s Who of benefactors who came through Kids In Trouble and Inside Sports before their 15 minutes of fame and too many who have yet to look back or come back;

JAMES BROWN (NFL/CBS),  JOHN THOMPSON (GT/ESPN),  SUGAR RAY LEONARD (BOXING), MICHAEL WILBON (ESPN), DAVE ALDRIDGE (NBA TBS), ADRIAN BRANCH (NBA), ALFRED LIGGINS (RADIO & TV ONE), CATHY HUGHES (RADIO & TV ONE), BUTCH McADAMS (RADIO ONE), JEFF MAJORS (RADIO ONE), LONNIE TAYLOR (FIRST BLACK CHIEF OF STAFF ON CAPITOL HILL),  JAMIE FOSTER BROWN (SISTER 2 SISTER MAGAZINE), JAIR LYNCH (OLYMPIC GYMNIST), DARRYL HILL (FIRST BLACK ATHLETE TO PLAY AT NAVY AND IN THE ACC), OMAR TYREE (AUTHOR / BEST SELLER SIMON & SHUSTER), CHRIS THOMAS (COMEDIAN BET), ADRIAN DANTLEY (NBA), GLEN HARRIS (TV 8 SPORTS), ODEN POLYNICE (NBA), *EARL LLOYD (NBA) ,*WILLIE WOOD (NFL) *JIM BROWN (NFL), FATTY TAYLOR (NBA), BILL RASPBERRY (PULITZER PRIZE) , TONY PAIGE (NFL), RANDALL KENNEDY (HARVARD LAW PROFESSOR/AUTHOR), *DON KING (BOXING) , TIM BAYLOR (NBA), DAVE BING (NBA), BOBBY GARNER (NFL),  KEVIN BLACKISTONE (ESPN). 

*BENEFACTORS AFTER THE FACT

His one of a kind Inside Sports radio show talk format is now copied around the world.

Harold Bell sometimes suffers from self-inflicted wounds.  He also is a self-reflective man who has no problem apologizing when he is wrong or when an apology is warranted.

Hattie and Harold’s story devotes some time exploring the logic that drives Harold Bell’s behavior it will answer a lot of questions and will put his legacy in its proper perspective.

I’ll tell you another part of the story as I see it.  Harold Bell is human.  He is stubborn.  He is demanding and he will hold you accountable for what you say.  When did that become a crime?  He grew up in an era of where high expectations were required of us.  A handshake and a man’s word would once carry you to the bank those character traits are now bankrupt.  Honesty, loyalty and integrity are a lost art in our community!

The bar has been lowered for many, but not for Harold Bell.  He has never lowered his standards for himself and expects to be treated as he has treated others. That might be the source of much of his conflict with others—they have forgotten and he has not.

That’s my two cents for now on the Christmas Bells.   Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Footnote: On Saturday December 17, 2011 the 43rd annual Kids In Trouble Toy Drive for needy children will be held at the Giant Food Store located at 5500 Silver Hill Road, District Heights, Md. 20746.  You can drop off new toys, clothing or educational tools from 3:00 pm until 6:00 pm for elementary school children.  You can also make a donation payable to Kids In Trouble by mailing it to 16010 Excalibur Road #C 407, Bowie, Md. 20716.

Source: Adapted from an article written by Gary A. Johnson about Harold Bell.  Gary Johnson is the Founder & Publisher of Black Men In America.com a popular online magazine on the Internet and the Black Men In America.com Blog. Gary is also the author of the new book “25 Things That Really Matter In Life.

Harold Bell is the Godfather of Sports Talk radio and television in Washington, DC.  Throughout the mid-sixties, seventies and eighties, Harold embarked upon a relatively new medium–sports talk radio with classic interviews with athletes and sports celebrities.  The show and format became wildly popular. Harold has been an active force fighting for the rights of children for over 40 years with the help of his wife through their charity Kids In Trouble, Inc.   To learn more about Harold Bell visit his official web site H. B. Sports Legends.com.


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