DOWNTOWN — Tenisha Taylor Bell's father was killed by three people, one of them just 15 years old.
That's why Bell's reaching out to Chicago's boys, especially the ones who get "overlooked" or struggle in classes, with scholarships that can help put them through school. She'll surprise one South Shore High School student with a nearly-$2,000 scholarship on Tuesday — though there's still time for other students to apply for aid.
“What happened to us was a tragedy, obviously,” Bell said. “How do we turn that tragedy into helping some of the very people who took [her father's] life? ... This is our way of honoring him 35 years later.”
Bell, a Pill Hill native and former CNN executive, lost her father, Ezekiel Taylor, in 1982. He was leaving church when three people — 21, 19 and 15 years old — tried to steal his car. Ezekiel fought back and was taken to a motel, where he was shot and killed.
Years later, Bell was again exposed to the city's violence when she helped cover it for CNN. She wrote about her father's slaying but decided she could do more to help young men succeed and, in turn, stop the shootings.
“I said to myself, 'I can’t keep talking about the problem if I’m not part of the solution,'” Bell said.
Bell and her mother created the Ezekiel Taylor Scholarship Foundation, which specifically looks to help young black men or boys who have faced adversity. Unlike other scholarships, these ones aren't limited to A or B students who want to go to four-year universities.
Instead, Bell hopes to be more inclusive, opening the scholarships up to those who plan to go to two-year colleges or trade schools. The foundation's also looking at students who might have struggled academically — after all, maybe not every boy is a great test taker, but there is "something great" in them and the foundation wants to help discover it, Bell said.
That's because Bell said she knows she grew up privileged: She was surrounded by a family who loved and supported her and had a stable home. That helped her succeed.
Other kids in Chicago wake themselves up, have to dress themselves, have to make themselves breakfast ("if there's even food") and have to cope with family problems like having a parent using drugs — all on top of trying to do well at school, Bell said.
“There are so many things our young people are forced to deal with at such a young age,” Bell said. “Young people are struggling with the perils of life at very young ages, and it hardens them. It makes them mad. It makes them angry. They feel like it’s them against the world. They don’t know a different way or better way.”
Providing scholarships to those who have struggled can show them someone believes in them, Bell said, and it can help them reach their goals. That provides an alternative to life in a gang, she said.
Bell will award the first scholarship to a senior during a surprise event Tuesday at South Shore High School student. The school set up an essay contest with the foundation, asking its teens to write about how they'd been impacted by violence.
The foundation will award multiple scholarships up to $3,000. Students can apply online until April 30.
“What [the killers] did won’t be forgotten and [Ezekiel Taylor's] life won’t be forgotten, but at the same time we can all do our part to invest in our youth so less young men feel the same way — that they have to go out and rob and steal or take from others,” Bell said. “…We have to each do our part,” Bell said. The boys “have to go the opposite of death. That’s hope, life, saying someone believes in you.”