Bronx Disability Activist Greg Bell, Sr. Mourned

Gregory Bell Sr_Obituary-photoGregory D. Bell, Sr., 68, a military veteran, community activist and founder of Insight for New Housing, died of cancer at the Bronx V.A. Hospital on August 13.

City Councilwoman Vanessa L. Gibson remembered Greg Bell as not only a strong advocate for disabled veterans but as a family man, a faithful servant of God and an incredible role model to his great grandson, Rhamel.

“Greg was known to many of us as a passionate, tireless and committed advocate for all individuals living with disabilities [who] made the time to ensure that his voice was the loudest among many others and paid particular attention to addressing the lack of affordable housing and employment opportunities for those living with disabilities.”

Greg Bell became legally blind in 1989. He rejoined his church and soon began the process of educating himself so that no one in the visually disabled community would have to suffer unemployment and homelessness as he did.

Greg Bell received computer training at the Lighthouse International. He learned to write an effective business plan from the South Bronx Overall Economic Development Corp. (SOBRO). The Commission for the Blind provided funding while students at Columbia University’s law clinic put together the certificate of incorporation and other documents to establish Insight For New Housing as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation. Within a decade, Insight for New Housing had collaborated on three housing developments and had become a powerful voice for the visually impaired community.

In his drive to give something back to his community, Mr. Bell volunteered as a member of Community Board Four, where he served on the Housing and Land Use Committee as well as recording secretary of the Economic Development Committee. His community activism enabled him to gain the skills necessary to approach city, state and elected officials with proposals benefiting his neighbors and disabled New Yorkers.

Bell said he got involved with the community board because “I wanted to know how power was shaped in Bronx County [and] I wanted to know who the power brokers were.”

Jose Rodriguez, CB4 District Manager, recalled Greg Bell as a valued a member of the board’s housing and economic development committees. “Mr. Bell was one of those individuals who never had a problem speaking truth to power and for that he will be truly missed,” said Rodriguez.

Mr. Bell also served on the Bronx Borough President’s Advisory Committee on the Disabled and sat on the New York State Rehabilitation Council. He also founded Bronxnet TV’s Talking Community Calendar. Bell was once recognized as a NY1 New Yorker of the Week.

On Facebook, Lisa Hamilton-Johnson wrote, “For 6 years I had the privilege and honor to work with Gregory Bell Sr. as a colleague and friend. Although he was visually impaired his sight was greater than 20/20. Your voice and wisdom will resonate with me for a lifetime.”

Another friend, Lydia Sierra wrote, “Hey Greg, you were my friend, you were a tireless advocate for the blind and the differently-abled, you were a great grandfather who raised Rahmel as your son, you were so visionary and insightful, so independent, so intelligent, you had a great voice, you were an honorable man of God. I will miss you…”

“Greg Bell’s advocacy made us keenly aware of disability community issues that we once used to take for granted and for that I thank him,” said Rev. J. Loren Russell.

Mr. Bell is survived by his grandson, Rahmel, his son, Gregory Bell Jr., and his sisters, Carolyn and Joan Bell.

Homegoing services for Gregory Bell, Sr. is this Saturday August 22, 2015 with a viewing scheduled from 4-5:30pm. Funeral services will follow at 5:30pm at The Church of God of Prophecy located at 85 E 165th Street (Gerard Avenue) in the Bronx, NY 10452. As military veteran, Bell will be interred at Calverton National Cemetery in Suffolk County, NY.

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Among his many recognitions, Greg Bell was profiled as one of LighthouseInternational’s Voices of Hope. The profile is excerpted below:

“The Lighthouse is where it all started for me,” said Gregory Bell, who lost his sight and turned his life around with the help of Lighthouse International.

Gregory Bell, Sr. -- Obit photo

Gregory Bell was told he would be blind in five years.

It was 1987 and the Vietnam serviceman was visiting the Veterans Affair Hospital in New York City. He was there for an eye exam after experiencing difficulties recognizing faces from afar. Gregory had an inkling his vision was deteriorating, but he wasn’t prepared for the news he was about to hear.

When the doctor at the VA Hospital examined his eyes, she discovered he had open angle glaucoma and told Gregory he would be blind in approximately five years. “[The doctor] walked out the door and left me there in the chair,” he said. “There was no compassion in the way she said it.” Gregory sat in the examination room in disbelief.

In 1998, he discovered the Lighthouse through the New York State Commission for the Blind and Visually Handicapped (CBVH). With a dream of opening his own business, he enrolled in independent living and computer training courses at the Lighthouse. “[The Lighthouse] is where it all started for me,” he said.

Motivated by his own experiences as a visually impaired veteran, Gregory wanted to provide housing accommodations for the visually impaired community. That’s when he conceived the idea for Insight For New Housing, a nonprofit organization that would design and develop housing for the blind and visually impaired.

In 2006, Insight For New Housing collaborated with Highbridge Community Development Corporation to open their first housing development in the Bronx called Jesup Heights Apartments One. The complex is specifically designed for the visually impaired, offering one-bedroom and studio apartments with automatic sensors for doors, talking elevators, Braille mailboxes and more. The building is modeled after the universal design and accessibility of Lighthouse International’s headquarters.

Read Gregory Bell’s complete Lighthouse International profile here.



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