LCC professor 'stands for underdogs' - The Lookout - LCC's Independent Student Newspaper Since 1959
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LCC professor 'stands for underdogs'

Shamane Bell

Shamane Bell is an English professor at Lansing Community College.  Photo by Mallory Stiles

Mallory Stiles

By Mallory Stiles
Associate Editor

Many of the greats have been born in New York; people like Lady Gaga, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Alicia Keys and Denzel Washington. The list goes on and on.

It’s fair to say that phenomenal people often start their journey in New York; there is no finer supporting evidence than the life led by LCC teacher Shamane Bell.

Her road has been hard but with every step, she has showed everyone who said she couldn’t that she can.  

Bell was born in Queens to a mother who abandoned her and whom she has no memory of, leaving her and her siblings alone with their father.

At 6 years old she came to Detroit to live with her grandmother, after her father contracted tuberculosis and was hospitalized in a sanitarium, which was common practice in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

Though the change from wrought iron to greenery was a lot for her, she remembers those days with a smile. She said it was her bond with her grandmother that got her through.

“She was wonderful; she was an incredible business woman,” Bell said. “She ran a diner in Detroit. She was the glue of our family. I didn’t find out until years later how strong she really was.”

Eventually her father got better and rejoined them in Detroit. She also found a number of people who were willing to support her. Among them was a woman who quickly became the mother she always wanted.

“When I was 10 years old, I met the most amazing woman in my neighborhood,” Bell said. “Her name was Janis Porter. She had style, she had grace. She was the prettiest, smartest person I had ever met and she loved me for no reason other than me. She cared about me.

“She was there when I graduated from high school. She was there when I graduated college. She was there when I was struggling with the bar and when there were deaths in my family. She was there. She was my mother.”

It all seemed to all be looking up, but misfortune came knocking at Bell’s door again, baiting her once again to give up.

“My grandmother died freshman year in high school and I was pretty much on my own for those next few years,” she said. “I had Janis but it took her a few years to work through my defenses. High school for me was hardcore survival.”

She said once an officer who patrolled her school looked over at his partner, who had always appreciated Bell, and said it would be better to put a bullet in her head then to let her make it to 18.

That didn’t stop her. She went to school for peace and made it to graduation day. She continued on to Oakland University where she struggled to succeed, dropping out after her first year.

She admitted it was her lack of life skills that sent her home. The next year she didn’t have the want to go back, and the year after that she didn’t have the money.

When she did make it back, after paying off her student loans from the first year, she was back with a vengeance; she was determined to get her degree with a high GPA.

There was a line of people telling her she couldn’t do it, but she didn’t care. Not only did she go on to graduate with her Bachelors of Arts in English in May of 1989, but she turned right around and went to law school in June of that same year.

She graduated law school in 1992 but didn’t take the bar. Instead she got her Masters of Arts in English in 1993 in 15 months, THEN took the bar and passed in 1995.

After that, she began feeling torn. She took cases by day and taught classes by night, remembering often how once a teacher of hers said she herself was a teacher, not a lawyer.

“The craziest case I ever had, that really helped shape my path, was when I fought tooth and nail for a client and lost,” Bell said. “After, we were going downstairs in the elevator, I was devastated, and when the elevator cleared out he leaned over and said, ‘That’s okay, I did it.’ I didn’t know how to feel.

“I had left everything I had on the floor in that courtroom. That made me realize the frivolity of it all. That was the beginning of the end.”

Bell decided she would rather make a preemptive difference in the lives she touched, versus always picking up the pieces after the glass had shattered.

Russell Rivet, 19, is a current student of Bell who can attest that she is a force to be reckoned with.

“She wants everyone to succeed, stubbornly,” he said. “That’s her. She knows who she is and what she is here to do.”

Bell recently had a heart attack and is now more determined than ever to help every student. She said she came back 200 percent committed, knowing she was kept alive for a reason.

“I am not giving away grades, but I am going to kick down every door, tear down every wall and bust through every window that’s holding my students back,” Bell said. “My best moment is at the end of every term when I know I got as many of them through as possible.”

Bell loves only the good macaroni and cheese and an American author by the name of Zora Neale Hurston. Her favorite place to be is the ocean shore. Her favorite pastime is going with an old friend to the airport parking lot and watching planes descend from the heavens.

She has found a home in Lansing and in LCC’s English wing. But more than that, she found the fight that she will never walk away from: the fight for her student’s success.

“If I stand for anything,” Bell said, “I stand for the underdog because I was the one who wasn’t supposed to succeed.”

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