Activist Nicole Paultre Bell On the Strong Women Whose Strength She Draws From Every Day

Photo by Spencer Heyron
The ex-fiancée of slain groom Sean Bell on looking ahead and having positive role models.

Nicole Paultre Bell’s life changed forever when her fiancé, Sean Bell, was gunned down by undercover police officers while leaving his bachelor party in 2006 on the morning of their wedding. The nation mourned with her. Somehow she was able to push through the heartbreak and pain and forge a new path in life without Bell by her side.

She and her husband, Jay Earle, recently celebrated their third wedding anniversary and they have a daughter, Annabelle, who’s now 2. Nicole and Sean’s children, Jada and Jordyn, now 12 and 9, are mirror images of their father. Although Bell has found blended family bliss and a second chance at happiness, she hasn’t stopped fighting for change. As president and founder of non-profit organization, When It’s Real, It’s Forever Inc., Bell continues to support families and crisis and victims of injustice. “I'm not just an activist,” says Bell. “I'm a mother. I'm a wife. I'm a community organizer. When you're at home as a mom you play so many roles. You're a doctor, you're a lawyer, and you’re a coach.”

In honor of women’s history month, ESSENCE is celebrating the iconic women of today. When asked about the women who inspire Bell the most in her day-to-day life, she shared one seriously impressive list. I love all the women that I named, and if I could have a coffee moment with these women one at a time, it would really be everything. Below, are Bell’s top five icons as she explains why their stories give her strength.

Bell on Myrlie Evers-Williams
“She truly inspires me because I feel that she embodies that thing, that thing we can't really put our fingers on...That perseverance that we're all born into struggle with. Not all of us; [but those] of us who are born into struggle, single parent homes, families that aren't so wealthy and we have to work from the bottom to get to the top. Myrlie Evers was able to rebuild her life out of all of the trauma that she went through, and losing her husband, she found the strength some way to continue to fight and to not only fight for the passing of her late husband but to also honor, in a respectful way, her current husband. She completely inspired me with all of the strength she exudes after all this time.”

Bell On Michelle Obama
“[She’s my icon] not as the First Lady, but as Michele Obama the woman, the mother, and the lawyer. When I think about who she was as a woman and how she put her career first before a man. Michelle was a gifted student. She graduated and attended Princeton, graduated cum laude. She earned a degree in Harvard. Michelle took part in demonstrations demanding rights for minority students and professors. She did not just become the first lady and put her feet up. She's a mom; she focuses on her daughters and she’s making sure that they're as normal as possible. The fact that, as First Lady, her top initiatives are education, healthy living, social issues, poverty—these are issues that we’re facing in our communities. Michelle Obama rocks. I like to use the hashtag “family first” and she completely embodies that.

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Bell on Serena Williams
When I think of strength, beauty and courage, I think of Serena Williams. Outside of her tennis abilities, off the court and playing tennis at the age of four, she's involved in a lot of charities. That's something that relates to me. I've started an organization, When It's Real, It's Forever, and my organization offers the same thing. She's a trendsetter. She speaks for herself. She has built schools in Kenya and served as a global ambassador for UNICEF. What more cam one woman do at such a young age? She's just a few years older than me.

Bell on Angela Bassett
I love Angela Bassett. She's from New York, I'm from New York, born and raised. She was originally from Harlem and raised by a single mother. For many of us growing up in black families, there's struggle somewhere, and these accomplishments aren't in vain... The struggle is not in vain because all of the hard work that these women have put in, it really resonates with people like myself. She studied at Yale. She worked hard to break through the stereotypical roles for black women. She is known for playing roles of women struggling with adversity. When I think of Angela Bassett, I think of two words: strong and respected.

Bell on Misty Copeland
‘There's not a thing that Misty Copeland does that isn't beautiful. She was promoted to a principal dancer of the American Ballet, the first African-American woman ever promoted to that position in 75 years. This speaks volumes. She started dancing at age 13 and my daughter's 13 and a dancer. When I was young, as a young little girl I studied ballet and I stopped right before high school but I still have a passion for dance. It is so important for young girls to be able to look in the mirror or to be able to look at a show, or go to the theater and see someone who looks like them. We have to continue to promote that.”

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