“I want them to be able to see where hard work and dedication leads.”

By Meghan Ovedeep
June 29, 2020
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Kamal Bell doesn’t like the term “at-risk.” The former middle school teacher prefers to use “at-possibility” to describe students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

In his first year of teaching earth and environmental science at Neal Middle School in Durham, North Carolina, Bell started a garden. His goal was to help young Black boys develop important life skills that eventually could help them support themselves and their communities—communities affected by food deserts and insecurity.  

When his request to use the school’s garden through the summer was denied, Bell looked for another way. In March 2016, he launched Sankofa Farms, a 12-acre (and growing!) piece of Orange County where “at-possibility” boys can flourish. The whole experience is free to students. Bell even picks them up and drops them off each day.

Bell and the students spent most of the first two years carving three fields out of the overgrown, neglected property, The News & Observer reports. They planted their first vegetables in 2018.

“I want them to be able to see where hard work and dedication leads,” Bell told Southern Living. “[Working in agriculture] gives them agency and control over where their lives can go. Young black men are forced to go into sports or to become entertainers. Here they’re being exposed to things they didn’t even know existed. STEM can use as a platform to go and find their own destiny.”

Today, Bell now 29, and a small group of students (including two who have been there since the start) grow kale, chard, and spinach. But Sankofa Farms’ main focus is on honey. In fact, four out of his five students are certified beekeepers. Together they operate 40 beehives, which they lease out to members of the community.  

Kamoni King, one of Bell’s first students to show interest in Sankofa and agriculture, will be a senior in high school next year. He plans to study genetics in college.

“I don’t see much hope,” King told The News & Observer of his public-school classmates. “But out here, they light up.”