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Dr. Carl Bell, South Side psychiatrist who spent career serving African American community, dies at 71

Bell spent most of his career confronting the impact of childhood trauma resulting from violence.

Dr. Carl C. Bell, pictured in 1994.
Dr. Carl C. Bell, pictured in 1994.
Sun-Times files

Dr. Carl Bell, a distinguished South Side psychiatrist who dedicated much of his work to helping the African American community and issues of violence, died early Friday at age 71.

The National Institute of Mental Health researcher spent most of his career confronting the impact of violence-related trauma on child development. Bell also worked on violence prevention, criminal and juvenile justice reforms and prevention.

“His past motivated his work,” said Bell’s ex-wife, Tyra Taylor-Bell. “He saw friends and classmates who never had a chance to grow up. Then he saw it in schools as an adult. He saw where the problems were, so he did something about it.”

Bell grew up on the South Side and graduated from Hyde Park High School in 1965, according to the archives from The HistoryMakers, the largest African American video and oral history collection in the U.S.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from the Illinois at Chicago and a medical degree from Meharry Medical College in Nashville, completing his psychiatric residency at the Illinois State Psychiatric Institute in Chicago. He also served in the U.S. Navy.

Dr. Carl Bell pictured with his daughter Briatta and son William. | Provided by Tyra Taylor-Bell

Bell worked as a psychiatrist at various Chicago-area practices. Most recently, he was a staff psychiatrist at Jackson Park Hospital’s surgical-medical/psychiatric inpatient unit and professor emeritus at UIC.

Taylor-Bell said even as a professor, Bell’s main priority was helping people.

“We’ve been getting lots of calls from former students of his,” she said. “One person said he helped get their first paper published. Another lady said she was struggling and giving up on her exams, but he pushed her to finish. He leaves behind a huge body of work, but also everything he shared with his students.”

Dr. Carl Bell pictured with his daughter Briatta in 1992.
Dr. Carl Bell pictured with his daughter Briatta in 1992.
Sun-Times files

Bell’s recent work focused on what he saw as a “silent epidemic” of fetal alcohol exposure among African Americans. After observing the prevalence of its among patients at Jackson Park Hospital, he set out to find effective prevention efforts.

He published this research in his 2018 book “Fetal Alcohol Exposure in the African American Community.” Data suggested that choline, an essential nutrient found in eggs that helps , could help stem the effects of prenatal alcohol exposure, so he ensured that pregnant women at UIC would be offered choline supplements.

“The reason I hope you ‘get it’ is because I am getting old,” Bell says in the book’s conclusion. “This may be my last crusade for African-Americans. I am . I have tried to groom my replacements, and I have trained as many as I could to take my place, but some have just not wanted to work as hard as I have worked to dig out information that is real and factual.”

Bell died at his Hyde Park home at 12:12 a.m. Friday, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office. Autopsy results are pending.

Briatta Bell said her father valued finding pleasure in the simple things and always finding ways to have fun.

“He was constantly giving the same five lectures he’d cycle through with us,” she said. “He taught us when we were little to better control ourselves, and as we got older he [taught us] to think about our actions because they have consequences. As adults, he pushed us to get our lives together so we can support ourselves doing whatever makes us happy.”

Dr. Carl Bell practicing martial arts. | Provided by Tyra Taylor-Bell

Carl Bell also practiced martial arts, a skill he started teaching his son William Bell when he was a teenager.

“My dad always told me to keep doing martial arts after he’s gone in his memory,” William Bell said. “He was the kind of person who didn’t want to hide his gifts. He wanted them to be shared and continued in others.”

The psychiatrist is also survived by another daughter, Cristin Carole, and a grandson, Benjamin Bell.

“He shared with me that at this point in his life, he’s done everything he set out to do,” Taylor-Bell said. “His bucket list was completed, and he lived exactly how he wished to.”

A date has not yet been set for a funeral at Apostolic Church of God, 6320 S. Dorchester Ave.

Dr. Carl Bell | Provided by Tyra Taylor-Bell