Teach For America Charlotte-Piedmont Triad 2008
Executive Director, Beemok Family Foundation
In 2011, Josh Bell, an alumnus of Teach For America and former student body president at Clemson University, became the first executive director of Teach For America South Carolina (TFASC). Hard work lay ahead in every direction.
Bell didn’t blink.
“Working hard is the one thing that has defined my life,” he said. “My parents showed me that achievement doesn’t come without hard work and perseverance.”
Bell grew up in Greenville, South Carolina to a family working hard to make ends meet. He helped both parents clean office buildings at night after they had finished full-time day jobs. He often got up before sunrise to ride with his dad, throwing The Wall Street Journal onto driveways.
Channeling that work ethic, Bell would expand TFASC from 30 teachers in its first year to a total of more than 500 teachers in its first decade.
He led an effort to bring outstanding leaders to South Carolina. TFASC teachers skyrocketed test scores and served as dazzling role models to students in historically underserved areas.
Drawn by the compelling vision of educational equity, TFASC teachers routinely scrapped personal plans for careers in law or other professions to remain in education. When alumni decided to leave the classroom, they often rose to positions of influence with South Carolina’s state government, corporate boards, and enterprising nonprofits – where they still passionately supported educational equity.
“It has been incredible to watch,” admitted Bell. “I’m so proud of my time at TFASC because I know – like every teacher and staff supporter who was ever part of it – that the potential and beauty of every young person we serve is worth our time and our service.”
Not everyone welcomed Bell and TFASC’s educational model in 2011. Some higher education leaders and state policymakers opposed the effort to recruit talented young educators without traditional training.
“There was skepticism, mainly from places where policies and regulations are crafted,” said Bell. “But every time I talked with school principals and people working in schools, they were thrilled to have us. They gave us great feedback, great ideas, and all sorts of assets.”
With that support, Bell and his team delivered hard work.
“Our teachers were absolute game changers for so many young people,” marveled Bell. “They did audacious, clearly meaningful things. They changed lives. At our best, that’s what TFASC was doing every day. It inspired me so much.”
Bell transitioned from TFASC at the end of 2017, founding the Charleston Coalition For Kids with other community leaders. His focus broadened, targeting educational improvement in the Charleston County School District, the state’s second-largest district. That mission included vetting candidates for school boards.
“I kept the same goals but changed lanes,” explained Bell. “Finding leaders in education, not just in classrooms, spoke to me.”
In 2021, an exciting new opportunity called. The Beemok Family Foundation invited Bell to lead its efforts to provide financial support to high-achieving, under-resourced students in select South Carolina counties. Founded by philanthropists Ben and Kelly Navarro, the Beemok Family Foundation, which oversees the Meeting Street Scholarship Fund and other initiatives, opens doors to pursue dreams in higher education for academically deserving high school students with financial challenges.
“Those who know me even a little understand that I’m a dreamer,” said Bell. “I’m a big believer in what’s possible. I feel like I’ve long been in the ‘what’s possible’ business for South Carolina students from TFASC until now.”
“I can say personally that education truly changed my life,” he added. “I was the first person in my family to graduate from college. I have lived the power of an education. I’ve had teachers and mentors who shaped me. I never forget them, and I see so many TFASC teachers having the same profound impact on students.”
Bell concluded by stating, “What TFASC has achieved, while I served there and now with an outstanding team in place, makes me so proud. At the same time, I’m really humbled by what TFASC does, and I deeply appreciate my opportunity to have been part of things from the start.”