In describing the importance of venues like his spoken word den and why he was determined to offer local poets a place to showcase their craft, Willie Lee Bell Jr., known to his fans as Will “Da Real One” Bell, said in an interview last year that, “This place is solely geared to make sure that poetry has a home. Culture is a very hard sell but it’s well worth it.”
One of South Florida’s most prominent “homes” for local and nationally recognized poets, became a crime scene early Sunday morning when Bell, owner of the Literary Café and Poetry Lounge in North Miami, was shot and killed by an unknown assailant as he left the venue.
A growing crowd of about 75 people gathered in the café’s parking lot on Monday to pray, grieve and reflect on the life of Bell, who was named best poet by the Miami New Times in 2005. The sound of Bell’s voice reciting poetry floated from a car’s CD player.
Joseph Coat, better known as DJMIDWID (Make It Do What It Do), is responsible for filling the café with neo-soul and hip-hop music between poets taking the stage. During Monday’s memorial, Coat was choked up, but he found the words to describe his dear friend.
“To sum up Will in a nutshell is kind of hard to do. He was a very unique person, tells it like it is, whether you wanted to hear it or not. And he always had your back, 100 strong,” said Coat, who worked with Bell for six years.
“He fought for what was right… I commend anybody who came from his background and literally made something out of nothing. From being a drug dealer to actually helping those who had addictions, to being an Army vet, to being homeless, to see him go into elementary schools, go into prisons. To see him pawn damn near every piece of jewelry he had to keep the lights on,” Coat said, becoming overcome with emotion.
The 6’ 5” Bell, whose stage presence and sense of humor garnered as many laughs as finger snaps, was raised by his single mother in the Edison Court Projects on Northwest Third Avenue and 62nd Street in Miami.
In 1989, Bell was sentenced to more than a year in prison for armed cocaine trafficking in his neighborhood, but he seemed intent on turning his life around upon his release. Besides nurturing his career as a poet, which got a huge boost when he appeared on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam, Bell was interested in nurturing other poets, as well as making a difference in his former community.
Because he had “been there, done that,“ friends said, he used that experience to help disenfranchised youth avoid the path he took. He also felt that much of the angst among people, especially between black men and black women, could be settled if people put down the technology and communicated directly with each other about issues.
“We need to figure out a way to heal ourselves,” Bell once said about an event he launched at the café last year called Face to Face. He said it was aimed at “getting people off of Facebook and texting, and talking face to face.”
According to police, Bell, 46, had just closed the popular club, located at 933 NE 125 St., at about 12:40 a.m. He was walking to his car when another car occupied by at least two men pulled up beside him. A gunman jumped from the passenger’s seat and fired repeatedly at Bell, who died at the scene.
The men then drove away without taking any of Bell's cash and jewelry or other possessions, according to Lt. Neal Cuevas of the North Miami police department.
A viewing will be held noon to 9 p.m on Friday, June 3, at Wright and Young Funeral Home, 15332 NW Seventh Ave., North Miami. Funeral services will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. on Saturday at Cooper Temple, 3800 NW 199th St., Miami Gardens.
Donations are being accepted to assist with the family's funeral expenses. For more information, call Ingrid Bazin at 305-527-3899 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Police are asking anyone with information on the shooting to call 305-891-8111 or CrimeStoppers anonymously at 305-371-TIPS.
Renee Michelle Harris may be reached at RMHarris15@Bellsouth.net.