"THROUGH is an important word to remember. Always try to make it THROUGH. Sometimes we come THROUGH battered and torn, sometimes we come THROUGH, and do not necessarily win. But each new day is a victory, because you made it THROUGH the one that passed, and it has become yesterday…and the new day is today. And each new day brings hope for something better, and if not better…something different. It is another chance - a blessing from God because many haven't made it to your new today. But if your eyes open, you've made it, and you can go on - and THROUGH - one more time. It is my prayer that you continue to find strength to go THROUGH. Never give up." - Wilhelmina Bell-Taylor
A butterfly's metamorphosis features a sudden, spectacular transformation. The life of Wilhelmina Bell-Taylor featured a series of these dramatic transitions: carefree coed to cancer patient; young wife to single mother; employee to entrepreneur; a person in pain to a person of praise. She faced each challenge with an increasing amount of dignity, courage, faith, and grace. And in the end, she emerged as an entirely new creature.
As founder and CEO of BETAH Associates, Wilhelmina took the skills that she had honed in education, community development, and management consulting and, in 1988, started her business in her home. In a little more than a decade, it had grown to more than 100 persons serving an extensive client base. In 2000, Inc. magazine named BETAH to its annual list of the top 500 fastest growing companies in the nation.
Wilhelmina named the company BETAH Associates for the Biblical word for trust and confidence. The firm's goal, she said, was to help organizations build connections, based on trust and confidence, with the communities they were trying to reach. Much of her work focused on reaching minority and low-income communities with health information, community revitalization initiatives, and empowerment through communications, training and technical assistance.
A major initiative was to aid the U.S. Surgeon General in a campaign to educate communities of color about their high risk for contracting HIV/AIDS. She noted in a February 2002 interview that some 300,000 individuals who had tried to donate blood after September 11 found out that they were infected with the virus and did not know it. Her company's work included providing outreach services such as media alerts, video, and radio announcements that reached millions. The firm also coordinated a satellite broadcast and Webcast discussion between major medical schools at historically black colleges and universities and community organizations.
In addition to her for-profit entrepreneurial success, Wilhelmina's commitment to improving the lives of individuals and communities also led her, in 2001, to establish The Community Education Network (CEN), a non-profit organization. CEN's mission was similar to BETAH's - to serve as a technical assistance, training, and support resource for community organizations engaged in the delivery of health education and community outreach at the grassroots level.
Throughout her life, Wilhelmina faced and overcame many obstacles. At age 19, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease. While other young people were dreaming about their futures, she battled the disease while still working full-time and raising a daughter on her own, after her marriage ended in divorce. She said that her grounding both professionally and personally was in her strong faith in God. She was an active member of the Mt. Calvary Baptist Church, where she served as a member of the Board of Deacons, the Board of Christian Education, and the executive committee of the American Baptist Women's Ministry. She completed an eight-year program with Bible Study Fellowship International and took courses at the Wesley Theological Seminary and the Washington Bible College.
She was a member of the Women Presidents Organization, the National Association of Women Business Owners, the Executive Committee, the BB&T Bank Community Advisory Board of Montgomery County, MD, and the National Contract Management Association.
Through her work at BETAH, Wilhelmina touched the lives of countless thousands of people who have never known her or even known about her. Her most significant impact, however, has been felt in the lives of her family and friends. She was a loving and encouraging sister to Sandra and James, a nurturing aunt to nephews Brandon Bell and Mark Ellison, a devoted cousin to Juanita Bland, and trusted friend to her "other daughter," Rev. Lora Hargrove-Chapman. She extended her family to Lesotho, South Africa, when she sponsored a young girl through World Vision. Yet, her most enduring and cherished relationship was with Michelle, her miracle child. Wilhelmina and Michelle enjoyed an incredible relationship that transcended the mother-daughter bond; they were each other's very best friend.
Against overwhelming odds, Wilhelmina lived a full life. In 2004, she received the devastating diagnosis of lung cancer and soon after began aggressive treatment. The disease was held at bay in remission for nearly two years but returned and Wilhelmina endured yet another round of debilitating chemotherapy treatments. In December 2007, after emergency surgery, it was discovered that the lung cancer had spread. At that time, Wilhelmina made the difficult decision not to undergo further chemotherapy. She would instead trust God for every breath and to keep her alive for as long as He saw fit.
Regardless of the challenges, even in death, Wilhelmina pressed on with courage, dignity, faith, and grace. She had won the race and achieved the great reward - eternal life, at peace, with God.
January 2, 1948 – April 24, 2008