Remembering Xavier Bell for his commitment to community

Family, city officials reflect on Family Freedom Center founder

Xavier Bell, founder of Family Freedom Center, died at the age of 57. (Submitted photo)
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Family Freedom Center founder Xavier Bell believed his purpose in life was to help others see their purpose.

He dedicated his life to telling the truth, showing up and seeking justice for those marginalized by society.

His son, Jacob Bell, said his presence always gave off a sense of safety, security, support and most importantly, love.

Xavier Bell, also known to many as "X," died Saturday at the age of 57, leaving behind a crew of family, friends and community members dedicated to upholding his life's missions long into the future.

"We had life plans for ourselves while my dad was saving the world, and now plans have changed," Jacob Bell said on behalf of his siblings. "The stuff he used to do is up to us to do ⁠— and not just the Bell family, but us as a community ⁠— to pick up and continue the course, to 'stay the course.' That was something he always used to say."


Fortunately, Xavier Bell left his family and others who knew him prepared.

"It's more like he let go of the wheel and now we have to hold onto it," Jacob Bell said.

In 2014, Xavier Bell founded FFC, which seeks to create opportunities and empower communities of color. In doing so, he became the first African American male executive director of an organization in Duluth.

His family, as well as others, will continue the work he started in Lincoln Park with FFC, which includes the Family Freedom Summer program full of workshops, events and cultural experiences. Freedom Schools of the civil rights movement inspired the program.

Jacob Bell remembers his father giving kids pieces of candy in exchange for a power pose at FFC.

"A power pose is whatever your power pose is," Jacob Bell said. "It's that sense of self worth and that sense of power, dignity. He just always kind of walked in that. He was a walking power pose."

Encouraging kids with his favorite phrases like "lift your head up" is one the many ways in which he invested in other people. Jacob Bell said his father always taught him that the way to do that was to truly get to know people.

Prior to founding FFC, Xavier Bell worked at Community Action Duluth as both programming manager for circles of support and later the director of community engagement.


Despite his job title, he was always "a preacher at heart," Jacob Bell said.

Before moving to the area from California in 2004, Xavier Bell was a preacher at an inner-city church and a chaplain at a juvenile detention center. In Duluth, he continued his passion for preaching at Peace United Church of Christ and St. Mark's African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Carl Crawford, human rights officer for the city of Duluth and a close friend to Xavier Bell, shared many moments with him ahead of public speaking engagements and meetings.

In situations were the two men where called to serve as protectors of the community, they shared an unwritten code: don't smile too easy.

"Because what's at stake is no joke," Crawford said. "You're fighting against organizations that are creating and still upholding pain just by the systems they use and how those systems treat people."

The two covered each other's blindsides and had each other's backs.

"I'm going to miss that," Crawford said. "I'm going to miss having my dude with me. Many times I was his wing-man and vice versa. Sometimes we'd go in together. Sometimes strategically, we wouldn't. It was all about what was at stake."

Mayor Emily Larson first met Xavier Bell shortly after he made the move from California. He was one of a handful of truth-tellers in her life, she said, someone she could always rely on to tell her the hard truth when she needed it most.


"He carried himself with a humility, but also a nobility," Larson said. "He knew his worth. He knew his value and he walked into a room with purpose. That is who he was. And he gave you permission to do the same. He gave you permission to show up to that meeting, that room, that conversation with purpose. And you weren't to play shy about that."

After time spent with Xavier Bell, Larson said, she always required a moment of solitude to mull over what she was meant to take away from the conversation.

"You had to think for a couple minutes and let it sink in because he had an ability to move you and stir your inner voice, your inner thinking and mix it up," Larson said. "It was important to pay attention to what that was and what was rising in you and how to use it."

In a letter given to the News Tribune, Donna Bell wrote that her husband dared greatly and had high hopes for future generations.

"(He) longed for and believed that the day would come when all people would be seen for what they could be if simply given the opportunity," Donna Bell said.

"May his spark spread as a wildfire of change for generations to come," she said.

Xavier Bell leaves behind five children to carry on his life's work: Autumn Santovi and Erik, Jacob, Elijah and Hannah Bell. He is known as "Poppy" to four grandchildren.

His family invites the entire community to a celebration of life starting at 3 p.m. Saturday at the Peace United Church of Christ, 1111 N. 11th Ave. E., where there will be music and dancing and food.

"That's him," Jacob Bell said of his father. "Bringing people together was his thing."

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