It’s a tragedy when any young person is the victim of gun violence. Sadly, last month the City Year L.A. community suffered the loss of a young life when one of our students, Hannah Bell, lost her life to gun violence. Hannah’s death is particularly difficult for many in the City Year community who worked with her.
This year at Santee Education Complex, Hannah worked primarily with AmeriCorps Team Leader, Eileen Barker. Hannah was a regular attendee of Santee’s Extended Learning Time (afterschool program) and a familiar face to all of the Santee AmeriCorps members. She left an indelible impression on the Santee team, but none more powerful than on her City Year, Eileen. Below, Eileen shares some words about her beloved Starfish Student.
A Letter to Hannah, My Starfish Student
By Eileen Barker
AmeriCorps Team Leader,
Rosenthal Family Foundation team at Santee Education Complex in South L.A.
You were so right when you said your name was going to "ring in people's head like Hannah Bells." Your name will forever be a symbol of purpose and love to me. I am so thankful for you letting me into your life.
You brought joy and light to everyone around you but you had your imperfections, just like any other teenager. You are responsible for the little gray hair in the back of my head; but it's that attitude and sass that drew people to you. It's one of the many reasons why I love you. You grew so much in such a short time. You went from cursing out teachers to saying “please” and “thank you, Mr.” even though you still didn’t feel like it. I've literally seen you go from 0 to 100 real quick. The growth you showed is proof of the amazing things I KNOW you would have gone on to do.
I cannot say you would have left this world a better place, because you already have. Hannah Bell, I know you would have continued to spread your joy and continued to inspire other students who, like you, are living in difficult circumstances. You took a two-hour bus ride to school every day. You didn't have a comfortable place to lay your head at night, but you still stayed after school and continued to push yourself past your own beliefs. You were already making your mom proud.
Hannah Bell, you inspire me. Your death to me is not just another statistic, you were my student. You were MY starfish. On my birthday I lost my mentee, someone who was shaping her own future despite the odds against her; I lost my friend; the “Big Nacho” to my “Nacho Cheese” -- someone who would make me laugh with her external facade of toughness, but internally was truly the softest, most loving, little girl. You and the other students are the reason I get up in the morning and put on my stained worn out uniform, despite all the many factors that make a year of service hard.
Hannah Bell, you motivate me.
I thought I lost my purpose, but the day a 15-year-old little girl that had grown the most academically and socially out of all my students lost her life in the most unfair and unjustifiable tragic way, you gave me the greatest birthday gift anyone can ever receive.
Hannah Bell, you gave me purpose.
You ignited a fire in my soul. For the rest of my life I will continue to fight for the day when no mother has to cry because of the undeserved loss of her daughter. For the day that young kids see that worth and love can be found in themselves instead of seeking acceptance and family in the streets. For the day that young black and brown kids believe they can achieve their wildest dreams. For the day when every child grows up to be an adult with the ability to love and have compassion for one another; where they will no longer feel they have the right to take someone else's life away. You may never know the extent of the impact you have made. You have given me drive and some people go their whole lives without knowing why God gave them life in the first place.
Hannah Bell, this is what you gave to me and this world.
You did, and will continue to do the good and amazing things I knew you would, the amazing things you were starting to believe. Your life and death has inspired others like me who hold the responsibility of working with the children that will build our future. You have inspired me to love not only my other students, but to commit to Dr. King's push of agape love. The love that is not for profit, love that may not be reciprocated.
I know if the tables were turned you would have fought for me. We will love that much harder, we will push that much further, and we will educate this world until we form the world you deserve.
Hannah Bell, I am here because of you. I will continue to fight because of you. You were the ripple in a time when I had lost faith that I was making a difference.
Read more letters to Hannah from her beloved City Year mentors here.