VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Black History Month is coming to an end for 2020, but there are many African American people in our community that continue to be heroes year-round.
The Virginia Beach Police Department continues to highlight the work of our heroes — those who have beat the odds, all while serving and protecting.
Former Virginia Beach trailblazers and first African American officers within the department include Charles Pace, Robert Sparrow and Clyde Siler, to name a few.
Chief Jim Cervera says the officers exemplify the virtue of being a police officer.
“But also for the general good for the population at large, and I’m talking about the entire society. They were the first ones to step up, they were the Tuskegee airmen of the Virginia Beach Police Department.”
The chief says it’s an honor to honor them.
“They accentuated that back in the day when there were racially segregated laws,” said Cervera.
That includes John Bell Jr., a former Virginia Beach Police officer.
“He was the first African american lieutenant, captain, deputy chief,” Cervera said.
Bell says he dreamed of becoming a police officer and he was blessed with 40 years working in law enforcement.
“My mother, when I came here, when I [was] promoted to captain in 1997, she gave me a composition book from the seventh grade, and in the book — my handwriting was a lot better at that time — I put I’d like to be a policeman when I [grew] up.”
He wore many hats in the department, including recruitment. Bell says when he started with the department, it wasn’t diverse. He did his best to recruit more African Americans. It’s a challenge departments face nationwide, he says.
“We were successful in some regards, but not as successful as I would have hoped,” said Bell.
Today, he’s the superintendent of the Norfolk Juvenile Detention Center, where he spends his days shaping young men in our community to be their best.
“I want them to come back, but I want them coming into the front door to tell us how well they are doing and not through the back door,” Bell said.
It’s former police officers like Bell who’ve made a difference and who hopefully will encourage others to do the same.
“What we also want to do is have our young people look [at] this and say ‘You know, it’s time to pay back, it’s time to step up, it’s time exemplify what they did.’ Like Gandhi said, be the change you hope to see in the world,” Cervera said.
The department is holding a recruitment expo on March 14. Bell will be recognized on the Police Department’s Facebook page on Friday.
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