Written and photographed by Cesca Janece Waterfield
For 20 years, the Elijah House Academy school bus has rolled through Richmond neighborhoods including Creighton, Fairfield, Gilpin and Mosby Courts, picking up students each weekday on its way to the Academy in Southside. Many of those children arrive a few years later on college campuses and even the halls of the White House.
The original bus driver still climbs aboard each morning: Dr. William Kell, who founded Elijah House Academy in 1989 with his wife Janet to serve low-income city residents. Although the Academy has grown considerably over the years, it hasn’t veered from its original commitment. “We will always have as our goal to reach children from project areas,” says Dr. Kell.
Charting a Course
In the late 1980s, moved to action by rising homicide statistics in Richmond, William Kell set out to establish a church in one neighborhood particularly plagued by violence. In Gilpin Court, he met another man who’d arrived with the same goal. “So we decided to start a church together,” Kell remembers.
It was soon clear that the area’s need went deeper, and that early education was vital. Janet had taken a year off as a graduate school instructor to teach in city public schools. “Her eyes were opened to what was going on,” Kell says. So the couple invited eight children from Gilpin Court into their home and began a school. Recently, the Kells were honored by the Valentine History Center as a “Richmond History Maker” for their impact on local education.