Hassani Bell, one of four students to conduct a hunger strike, calls to restore funding to the College of Ethnic Studies at a press conference on Monday, May 9, 2016. (Yesica Prado/Special to The Examiner)

Hassani Bell, one of four students to conduct a hunger strike, calls to restore funding to the College of Ethnic Studies at a press conference on Monday, May 9, 2016. (Yesica Prado/Special to The Examiner)

Scholarship created for slain SF State activist who participated in hunger strike

‘He really fought for the things he died of’

Tori Bell grew up seeing friends and community members die from gun violence, urging her younger brother toward positive role models to prevent it from happening to him.

Hassani Bell, her brother, took the advice and ran with it. He became part of the Social Justice Academy at San Leandro High School, got into poetry, and performed spoken word before landing a scholarship to attend San Francisco State University. At just 18 years old, he joined a 2016 hunger strike to preserve and grow its historic College of Ethnic Studies, gaining national attention.

On Aug. 28, Hassani and another man were shot in a Rockridge barbershop, according to the Oakland Police Department. Two days later, he died from his injuries. He was 23.

The motive for the shootings remain unclear. And Tori Bell has since moved to preserve her brother’s social justice legacy by working to establish scholarships at his former schools where his impact is already felt. University officials confirmed they are helping Bell’s family with the process. Bell, who held a memorial at SF State on Saturday, launched a GoFundMe for funeral expenses and scholarship proceeds.

“My goal is every year to remind people not only who loved him and knew him but the people who took him from me,” Bell said. “I want to make sure he’s known for the right reasons. I didn’t want it to just be a 23-year-old Black young man killed in the barbershop. That didn’t sit right with me. (Hassani) had a calling to where he could change a lot of lives of youth. It didn’t matter how much time people spent with him, he made a difference in their lives.”

Tori Bell raises a fist at a memorial for her brother, Hassani Bell, at San Francisco State University on Saturday, Sept. 18. (Photo courtesy of Tori Bell)

Tori Bell raises a fist at a memorial for her brother, Hassani Bell, at San Francisco State University on Saturday, Sept. 18. (Photo courtesy of Tori Bell)

Hassani was one of four participants in the 2016 hunger strike, making specific demands amid a budget shortfall that university officials agreed to 10 days later. Demands included faculty appointments to Africana studies and developing a Pacific Islander Studies minor, which was first offered in 2019.

One year after the hunger strike, he was still calling for the university to make good on its promises.

“Ethnic studies literally saved my life,” Hassani said in 2017. ”I don’t even recognize the person I used to be before I took those classes. You understand the way the world operates and how you operate in the world and you learn how you can create the change you want to see. It’s bigger than me.”

He later participated in the Center for Third World Organizing’s Movement Activist Apprenticeship Program, which trains community organizers of color. But in the years after the strike, Hassani and his family became homeless for a period, Bell said.

Hassani remained committed to getting to SF State, even commuting from Stockton at times. But he eventually paused his studies in 2019 to get on better financial footing by taking a job selling solar panels in order to obtain stable housing. Hassani was in conversations to finish out his degree, even picking out classes to enroll in. He thought of pursuing law or teaching ethnic studies, remaining dedicated to social justice and community organizing.

Now, Bell hopes the scholarship will be passed on for generations, for her own son to eventually take over vetting candidates who embody the same values and need the financial support Hassani lacked. All the while, her family fears for their own safety as questions remain over who was behind the shooting and why.

“He really fought for the things he died of,” Bell said. “This has really destroyed my whole family, it’s destroyed the people that loved him, the teachers that were in his life. We were as close as rice and sugar. The pain never gets better.”

imojadad@sfexaminer.com

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