Earl Martin Phalen

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Co-Founder and CEO, BELL (Building Educated Leaders for Life), Dorchester, Mass. Age: 39

If 13 years ago you had met a man with a bachelor’s degree in political science from Yale and a JD from Harvard Law School and he told you that upon graduation he was going to shun the field of law for an after-school and summer program geared towards building educated leaders for life, chances are you would have encouraged him to get his head examined. Understandably, Earl Martin Phalen’s parents were concerned when he broached them with that very plan.

He was simply being in tune with his “personal compass,” Phalen explains. He not only set up BELL, but grew its budget from $12,500 to $20 million and from 20 students to somewhere in the region of 10, 000 scholars who have passed through the program. Honors along the way have included the President’s Service Award from Bill Clinton in 1997 and more recent acknowledgements of BELL as one of the top 25 companies changing the world by Fast Co. and the Monitor Group. Phalen plans to lead BELL on a five-year campaign to raise $25 million to help it become even more of the national model it already is, catering to 100,000 students.

Phalen is pleased that his parents were among the first to realize he was on the right path. “They converted pretty much after the first celebration, after they saw the looks on our scholars’ faces and on their parents’ faces, as they went up there to present what they had learnt from the first BELL Summer program,” he says.

Financial backers were next. Thirteen years ago they worried whether an Ivy League-educated Black man knew enough about the Black community and its problems to run a program catering to its needs. Those who took the chance now loudly champion their decision to support Phalen.

Not bad for a guy who began life in the foster care system and was adopted into an all-white family as the youngest of eight children.

And one of his favorite motivational quotes is, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” –The Little Prince.