William Fells III rollicks on the floor and watches cartoons with his little brother and goofs off with his friends on Facebook and Twitter like most teenagers. But once he turns his attention to what matters most, his deep-rooted conviction for impacting his community instantly separates him from the crowd.
At 17 years old, Fells, a senior at Ridgway Christian High School, has already started to make a distinct mark. His mission, not that he would have called it that at the time, started at the age of 8 after hearing his parents talk about the increasing cost of gasoline.
“I just remember wanting to do something,” Fells said.
So he did — the third-grader wrote a letter to elected officials.
Fells’ sense of personal responsibility has continued to motivate him to step up and speak out on issues close to his heart. After being involved in school government since the sixth grade, he currently acts as student council president and student ambassador. He has held positions as student government treasurer and student government president. In 2011 he was inducted into the National Honor Society, becoming president in 2013.
William represents his classmates with respect yet determination, said school official Beverly Brown in a letter written on Fells’ behalf.
“He is already guiding our organization as a skilled speaker and leader in projects that will benefit our school as well as our community,” she wrote.
Fells represented his school well again when his 2014 entry in the behavioral and social science division of the RCHS Science Fair won first place in three competitions: school, county and regional.
Over the years, Fells has been determined to discover and prepare for his destiny. In 2011 he gained insight on the legislative process as a page for the Arkansas State Representative and again as a page for the U.S. Senate in 2014.
“When I was in third grade, I thought I would like to be president; other times, I’ve thought maybe that’s just a little kid’s dream,” he said.
Though he feels driven to do whatever he can to effect change, he’s often questioned thoughts about entering the political arena.
When in doubt, he looks to his support system. The older of two children, Fells said his parents and close-knit family help him believe in himself.
“I draw a lot of things from a lot of different people, but my parents push me when I don’t see the possibilities,” he said.
Nearly two years ago, Fells took advantage of an opportunity to get involved with Interested Citizens for Voter Registration’s Pen or Pencil program, a national initiative aimed at addressing issues of juvenile justice. He hoped the civic involvement would help him decide if politics could indeed be his calling.
“My mom told me about the organization and it sounded interesting, at least for one meeting,” he said.
After the first meeting, he was sold. Fells said the organization’s efforts to get kids serious about their education and combating violence appealed to him.
“We live in Pine Bluff … and I hear a lot of people who have a lot of negative things to say about the city, so when you listen to that all the time, you can’t help but think negative about the city,” Fells said. “At Pen or Pencil, we encourage the youth to take on positive attitudes.”
Since linking with ICVR, Fells has been active in community outreaches, helped organize marches and been keynote speaker at events. After authoring and delivering a rousing speech at a KingFest celebration last year, he was chosen by his peers as the group spokesperson for the 2013 March on Washington Memorial Youth Mentoring Summit in Washington, D.C.
As the organization’s newest spokesperson, Fells recently represented Arkansas at the Take A Stand To Keep A Seat National Youth Mentoring Summit in Orlando, Fla. Sharing the pulpit with Florida Supreme Court Justice James Perry; Robert L. Listenbee Jr., the administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention; and others, Fells addressed several hundred attendees at the planning session and training for the National Association for Blacks in Criminal Justice.
“He did an excellent job. We can all be proud of the things he did and said,” said ICVR’s Executive Director the Rev. Jesse Turner. “It was the first time in 41 years that a youth has been on the dais. They were really impressed with him.”
A well-spoken communicator with a relaxed demeanor — altered only by the flicker in his eye as he speaks about future hopes of transformation, Fells said his visions of advocacy exceed city boundaries.
“I really want to see all of Arkansas grow into a more technologically advanced state, a more medically advanced state and a state with less violence,” he said. “I want young people to have an opportunity to succeed in education and have their hopes and dreams fulfilled.”
As for politics, Fells said he’s finally sure that’s what he wants to do as a career — state legislature, maybe congress, who knows, maybe even president.