For their steadfast business acumen and community service, funeral homeowners Frank and Doris Bell posthumously received the gift of a street co-naming ceremony on Saturday, September 1, 2018. Public Advocate Letitia James, who is running for New York State Attorney General, said, “Honor the life and legacy of Frank and Doris Bell. For more than half a century, this funeral home has been a staple of this community.” The Public Advocate explained the many times she went to the Bells requesting funeral services on behalf of a deceased veteran or homeless person. The Bells would always agree to do so.
“The Bells so graciously gave of their time. This important family business has lasted so long due to good business acumen and their goodwill.” In fact, when the Bells gave James an award for her community service, the Public Advocate did not believe she deserved it. There is concern for the funeral home in terms of its particular work and for being Black-owned in the Crown Heights community. Many community leaders express their support of the business and wanting to keep the funeral home in this location.
James Caldwell, President of the 77th Precinct Community Council, explained how one day he came to collect the Doris D. Bell Award on behalf of another person but “got word from the Lord that my other task was to get Sterling Place co-named after Frank and Doris Bell.”
State Committee District Leader Olanike Alabi said of the Bells, “We can celebrate Frank and Doris for investing their resources into the community. When the other businesses left the area, the Bells stayed. They have been very supportive of many community institutions, especially houses of worship. Alabi went on to discuss that it is the people who came before us that bolster us. They are the ones whose shoulders we stand on. “I am proud that now I stand on the shoulders of Doris and Frank Bell.”
Civil Court Judge Robin Shears followed District Leader Alabi. Shears remarked on how expansive the Bells were in serving the community. “We thank them—the Kings County community—for their legacy as defined as a gift.” Shears thanked Frances Bell Henry for continuing the legacy. Judge Shears closed by admonishing the audience to, “Get your affairs in order to have the last word.” By this, she meant for each person in attendance to prepare for death by establishing a will.
NYC Council member Laurie Cumbo (35th CD) came to the stage and stated, “Yes, we did this!” What Cumbo is referring to are the many actors involved in making the street co-naming ceremony a reality which is a testament to the Frank R. Bell Funeral Home’s warmth and generosity to the community. It is also a testament to over 60 years of Black business ingenuity and goodwill. The Council member profusely praised 77th Precinct Community Council President James Caldwell and Public Advocate Letitia James. The Council member took a moment to heartily support James’ run for NYS Attorney General.
Reverend Craig Gaddy followed after Council member Cumbo. Gaddy praised the business acumen and service of the funeral home and stated the funeral home’s patrons were met “with hope and with integrity.” Assuming the reigns of the business is Frances Charlene Bell-Henry, who graciously thanked all in attendance for their presence and assured the continuance of fine management and the acknowledgment of the dignity of the grieving family members who choose to patronize Frank R. Bell Funeral Home. The other daughter, Caralyn Bell Percy, traveled with her family from California to take part in the auspicious occasion. Mrs. Bell-Percy read from “The Way to Happiness, A Common-Sense Guide to Better Living,” a booklet that was later distributed to the audience. Rev. Dr. Johnny R. Youngblood quipped, “Remember that you still have to go to church tomorrow though you have attended this event.” On a serious note, Youngblood said in reflection, “Even though Doris is dead, she is still with us.”
Staying on schedule, the crowd, which appeared to be at least 250 people, was directed to the corner of Sterling Place and Classon Avenue for the ceremonial unveiling of the street sign “Frank & Doris Bell Way” and the release of the doves. The guests were directed back to the front of the funeral home for a lunch consisting of vegetable salad, hamburgers and hot dogs. The program ended after over two hours of live and recorded singing and music.