Why she’s interesting: Belle puts the active in activist. Focusing on reproductive justice and racial equity, the fiercely dedicated community organizer and advocate was named Cleveland’s 2018 United State of Women Ambassador, one of 20 nationwide taking action to promote gender equality. The honor comes after a record of compassionate community service, from working with Neighborhood Connections and New Voices Cleveland to acting as a Preterm Cleveland patient advocate.
Turning Points: Belle felt compelled to protest police brutality after the deaths of Michael Brown in Missouri and Cleveland’s Tamir Rice in 2014. They presented “deep internal conflicts” and spurred difficult conversations for the Glenville native and daughter of a Cleveland police detective. It didn’t help that she worked at an elementary school with children Rice’s age every day. “[Rice’s death] didn’t feel like home. It was home. It went from me being ‘I’m pissed’ to ‘I’m hurt.’ ”
Taking Charge: Belle calls herself an “organizer by accident.” At a 2014 vigil for Rice, Belle was confused when she saw white men leading what was essentially a Black Lives Matter event. Elders in the crowd overheard her talking about it and suggested she step in. Within days, the Cleveland School of the Arts graduate was organizing a protest for the first time. “I had some really dope friends that were in that space who stepped up, supported and figured shit out with me.”
Policy Change: Today, Belle’s main focus is reproductive justice, especially for women of color. Working at nonprofit New Voices Cleveland for two years, Belle went from holding picket signs to attending Ohio Statehouse committee meetings, speaking to representatives or advocating at conferences nationwide. “The transition felt natural to me. I’m still doing purpose-driven community work. I was getting to dive deeper into what policy work looks like and how that impacts our daily lives.”
Ambassadors Unite: Belle’s cohort of 20 USOW ambassadors includes equal-pay advocates and a survivor of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting. Each is spearheading a project that promotes women’s equity in their city, meeting online biweekly. Belle is developing a six-month program to help marginalized women organize for policy change, as well as learn leadership skills and career development practices. “I’m figuring out, How can we make Cleveland a better place for women and femmes?”
Poetic Soul: Before entering advocacy, Belle was an active member of Cleveland’s spoken word community, competing nationally and serving as a teaching artist at Twelve Literary Arts. “I get to use my voice in a way that’s not only helping me — it helps others understand how they can use their own voice.”
Three and Out:
What’s making you laugh right now?
It’s between my nephew and Netflix. My nephew is 4 years old and he’s so cute. He’s figuring out sentences and all this stuff, so just watching him formulate thoughts and figure stuff out and be completely wrong, but confident in his wrong answer — love it. And then Big Mouth is hilarious.
What advice would you give your teenage self?
The advice I would give to my teenage self is to listen to yourself more.
What did you want to be when you were little?
I’m still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. Suggestions are appreciated.