Moorestown Friends freshman sets sights on Harvard - and the White House

The young man with the splendid grin hands me his card.

Calvin R. Bell, III.

Student and Young Public Speaker.

"I want to go into the public-speaking field," explains Bell, 14. "I want to speak to other teenagers about success and following your dreams."

There's much more that the soon-to-be Moorestown Friends School freshman hopes to accomplish, as I learned when I interviewed him last week at his family home in Pennsauken.

"I'd like to go to Harvard, like my uncle," says Calvin R. Bell III (the R stands for Roosevelt), who hopes to major in political science and astronomy, or perhaps archaeology, at an Ivy League university. After that, he sees himself earning a law degree, entering politics, and, eventually, being elected president of the United States.

First, he plans to finish designing an LED-illuminated bird feeder powered by an organic battery. It's one of the subjects he talked about in his on-air essay about science education during a recent NewsWorks Tonight broadcast on Philadelphia's WHYY-FM.

"On my card, I included the quote from Booker T. Washington for a reason," Bell says. "He grew up a slave, became someone who was great, and created his own college. Like him, I can jump over obstacles, too."

Of that, I have no doubt. Consider how Bell spent his summer: When not playing basketball with his cousin on the court in their neighborhood, or reading and writing about Beowulf (a requirement for incoming MFS freshmen), Bell attended youth empowerment and leadership programs on the Howard and Emory Universities campuses, learning, networking, and meeting his peers from around the United States.

Back home, he recently established a GoFundMe page to help pay for the Presidential Inauguration Leadership Summit next January in Washington. And he's preparing to play soccer at MFS.

"Calvin aspires to something greater," says his longtime pastor and mentor, Calvin R. Woods, who recently retired from Parkside United Methodist Church in Camden. "Where it all will end, I'm not sure. But he's driving forward to greater and great heights."

Says Bell's grandmother Cheryl Chavis, who earned a doctorate in education from Howard: "It has been a truly amazing journey for this young man. He's interested in everything; he's very well-rounded. We are blessed that he has had all these opportunities."

Bell's academic and athletic accomplishments are showcased in what he calls "my portfolio," a six-inch-thick binder. It includes a letter from President Obama ("he's one of my many inspirations," Bell says). The letter congratulates the young man on receiving a presidential education award; Bell was co-valedictorian at his eighth-grade graduation from the City School, a private Christian school in Philadelphia.

"In fifth grade, I started getting lots of awards, and I had to have somewhere to put [them]," Bell says, flipping through his portfolio, "I may have to start another one."

Coming from someone else, this could sound like boasting, but Bell is down to earth, and his earnest enthusiasm is contagious. He laughs readily - and refreshingly - for someone so young. He makes eye contact, even with the white-haired guy peppering him with questions.

"I grew up at church," he explains. "Having that background, I have God with me. And I have a path for myself."

Bell's father does not live with his mother but is a part of his life. Male and female members of his extended family have been involved in his upbringing.

"Calvin knows how I feel," says his great-grandmother Frances Diggs, 86. "I know he will succeed in all of his endeavors."

Adds his mother, Cheri Williams: "I'm just very, very proud of Calvin."

Bell says he intends "to live up to my goals - being true to myself, and not allowing outside people or the media or the world to stereotype me because I am a young man of color.

"A lot of African American males get stereotyped. But I don't want to live up to some stereotype."

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