Cavanaugh Bell of Gaithersburg is proving that you’re never too young to be a leader. In recognition of his activism, Gov. Larry Hogan announced on Feb. 15 that he had awarded the 8-year-old with an official citation, saying that he couldn’t think of a better example of someone who was “Maryland Strong.”
After being bullied at age 5, Bell decided he wanted to spread positivity in his community by volunteering. When he was told by local organizations that he was too young to volunteer, he founded his own nonprofit, Cool and Dope, in 2018. The name is an acronym for “Considering Others’ Obstacles in Life and Dish Out Positive Energy.”
On his GoFundMe page, Bell explains, “After I was bullied and I felt a darkness inside of me, I knew I didn’t want other kids to feel the same way I felt. So, I asked my mom if she could help me spread love and positivity. And, the more I gave back to my community, the more I wanted to keep doing it.”
Cool and Dope’s goal is to eradicate worldwide bullying by 2030. It encourages kids to become “Positivity Creators” by volunteering and speaking to lawmakers, educators, parents and students about bullying.
At 6 years old, Bell launched an anti-bullying campaign that resulted in local lawmakers declaring Feb. 21 as Gaithersburg’s Bullying Awareness Day and Montgomery County County recognizing October as National Bullying Awareness Month. In addition to the governor’s citation, he has received a Certificate of Congressional Recognition for his activism.
In February 2020, Bell asked the Montgomery Board of Education during a school board meeting to expand their bullying prevention training and response to teachers bullying students.
“See, the truth is, bullies come in all sizes, shapes, races, religions, genders and ages, so I need your help to do the hard work and make change happen, because our safety and our mental health matters too,” Cavanaugh said in his testimony.
When the pandemic hit last March, Bell shifted his efforts to creating care packages for his grandmother and other older residents in his community. He used his birthday and Christmas money to purchase toiletries and food.
In an interview with NBCLX last year, Cavanaugh said, “I didn’t want my grandma walking to the grocery because it’s coronavirus season so I asked my mom if I could make some care packages for her. But then I told my mom, what about the other senior citizens? Can I help them too?”
Donations began pouring in as word spread about his efforts, inspiring Cavanaugh and his mom to open their own food pantry called “Love is Greater than COVID-19.” Since then, Bell has donated food and critical supplies to more than 10,000 people across the country.
His activism caught the attention of then-Sen. Kamala Harris who invited him in May 2020 to be a guest on her YouTube show, “Kids with Kamala.”
“I have this saying that, you know, we’re all born leaders and it’s just a matter of when you decide to kick it in and be a leader,” said Harris during the show. “And you’ve figured that out at a really early state . . . that’s really, really, really incredible. And it’s so special and it’s very inspiring. You inspire me.”
Bell was featured in “Celebrating America,” a national television special for President Joe Biden’s inauguration, spotlighting Americans who have stepped up and given back during the pandemic. In it, Bell thanked everyone who had donated their time and money to support his cause. “That’s why love wins,” he said.
This story originally appeared on our sister site Montgomery Magazine.