Young mayor preaches on value of purpose, power

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The first day of February, Black History Month, was celebratedFriday night in the auditorium of Alexander Junior High School witha program produced by SAP, Serving All People.

The program, designed to honor black achievers, was carried outthrough song and speech, with performances by the Center StreetChurch of Christ choir, lead by the Rev. Winfred Frazier, and guestspeaker Torey Bell, who was one of Mississippi’s youngest mayors tohold office, elected to lead the town of Doddville in SunflowerCounty in 1997 at age 24.

Bell delivered a speech on purpose and power, two values he saidwere needed in order for communities to act and make a difference.Bell, who is currently studying the ministry at Delta StateUniversity, chastised and uplifted all at once.

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“Purpose and power play a role in your community,” Bell said.”If you notice a problem in your community and you ignore thatproblem, then you ignore your purpose. Every person that sees aproblem knows a solution – I truly believe that.”

The lack of purpose, Bell said, is what ultimately drivescommunities into the ground.

“The most dangerous person I’ve ever run into is someoneunlearned – a man with no purpose,” he said. “The Bible calls himthe ‘double-minded man,’ and ‘he is unstable in all his ways.'”

Bell explained that knowing the purpose, however, was notenough. People have to gain power in order to carry out theirpurpose. That power is gained, he said, through sacrifice – thesacrifice of one’s own time for the betterment of thecommunity.

“Purpose is a powerful thing, but without sacrifice, you’llnever gain the power to fulfill your purpose,” Bell said. “And youwill not leave this world happy. Your windows will grow dim, asSolomon said.”

Bell used instances from his career as mayor to get the pointacross. He told the story of his early days in politics, when herecognized his purpose, supported and rallied a mayoral candidate,but missed the chance to earn his power – an example of whathappens when people in a community try to delegate their purpose tosomeone else.

“Sometimes we know the purpose, but we’re too scared to make acommitment,” Bell said. “So we try to find others to fulfill thatpurpose for us. I tried to put my purpose in this candidate. Butwhen she got in office, she wasn’t ready for the task – she didn’thave the heart or the power.”

Realizing where he had gone wrong, Bell ran for mayor himself.He was elected and took his seat in office, where he encounteredthe next obstacle. With purpose understood and power gained, he nowfaced questions from those unwilling to sacrifice.

“People will try to deter you from your purpose with questions,”Bell said. “The first adversity I ran into in office was whenpeople said, ‘Young man, what makes you think you, one man, canturn things around?'”

This part of Bell’s message was directed at the elders ofBrookhaven, as Bell advised them to embrace the sense of communityexperienced long ago.

“You old folks know what it takes – you’ve been around theblock, you’ve picked cotton before,” he said. “But now, you’recontent to sit in your homes. We close our doors on the community’sproblems and say, ‘As long as this doesn’t come in my house.’ Tothe older generation – what would mama do? In the old days, peopleaddressed the community’s problems and met up in the church, andthe pastor would moderate the discussion. If someone’s house neededfixing, the whole community would crowd up with hammers andboards.”

Bell also urged the audience not to seek blame in others, but tomake use of hard lessons.

“We always want to put the blame on white men, on foreigners, onthe economy, (President) Bush and the war,” he said. “But, as Iremember, all the good men and women came out of adversity. Peopleneed to understand the struggle – not be discouraged by it.”

Finally, Bell shared the good things that can be accomplishedwhen purpose, power and sacrifice meet. For his first four years asmayor of Doddville, the tiny town only compensated him with $2,200,or $550 per year. For two of those four years, he refused pay.

“When you are in a capacity where you can serve people, you haveto serve through sacrifice,” he said.

Under his leadership, Doddville has recently gained a $130,000community center; water system improvements; a new fire station,truck and a certified fireman; and purchased the city’s originalcity hall for restoration. With the help of Mississippi SecondCongressional District Rep. Bennie Thompson, who Bell claims as hismentor, Doddville was also able to secure a $250,000 federal grantfor street repair.

As the program ended, Bell left his advice for Brookhaven.

“Don’t get caught up in the personalities of people,” he said.”Stay focused on the community – you need each other. If you getcaught up in someone’s personality or race, it will tear thecommunity apart.”