Yesterday we all learned of the sudden and unexpected passing of James Bell. JB was a massive influence on me, a mentor who always seemed to know which way the political winds were blowing. I suppose a lifetime of activism gives one a certain “sixth sense” to these types of things. I certainly don’t possess it.
The very fact that my life’s work is now built around local journalism can, in many ways, be attributed to James Bell. You see, I was not always politically active. As Pericles wrote: “Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.” That’s what happened to me. In 2013, I was a happy and content father of one daughter, with a son on the way. Well, that son, Kason was born having seizures. Much would happen in the days and weeks that followed, but when you start searching Google late at night for how to stop pediatric epilepsy, you find a lot of information about medical marijuana. And when you search “medical marijuana in Georgia” in late 2013, you found James Bell, and you found the Georgia C.A.R.E. Project.
Through James, I learned a lot about marijuana legalization and prohibition in Georgia, but it didn’t end there. I followed James because I cared about marijuana. It wasn’t until a week or so after our first chat on Facebook that I would discover that James lived right around the corner from me. His passion for change was infectious to everyone around him, as you’ll hear more and more in the coming days. Other than briefly (too briefly) in college, I’d been a citizen of Douglas County my entire life, but I had absolutely no idea what went on in my town. Following James on Facebook was certainly the cure for that. I watched videos, I’d research issues and I’d become aware of what was occurring in my own community, and I know I’m not alone. Many of you were similarly touched by James and his passionate advocacy for liberty and justice for this community, this county, this state and this nation.
The very first Open Records Request I ever filed, James Bell reviewed for me. And because of James and the stands he took while he walked this Earth, many many more Open Records Requests will be filed.
I’ve stood in the crowd and watched James address thousands of people who are hanging on his every word. I’ve also stood in the crowd and watched James be heckled for speaking uncomfortable truths about an issue. In both instances, James said what needed to be said at that moment. I encourage you today to remember James Bell the way he would want to be remembered. Ask questions no one wants asked. Take a stand, even if you have to stand alone. Do something kind and don’t ask for anything in return.
James regularly encouraged those he had contact with to read “Letter From A Birmingham Jail”. I have done that many times in life. I would encourage you to read it as well.
James – You will be a voice deeply missed in politics. But you were also a friend. You will be missed deeply. I’ve heard you referred to since your passing as an “agitator”. I believe you would accept that as high praise. I only hope one day to become the level of “agitator” that you were.