Powell was born five minutes ahead of his twin brother, Burnele. He graduated from Central High School in 1965 and formed the school’s alumni association. He became interested in civil rights work at a young age joining the NAACP at age 13 and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the March to Selma, Alabama. In the mid-1960s, he became regional director of the Congress of Racial Equality.
In October of 1968, Powell and others formed the Social Action Committee of 20 (SAC-20). SAC-20’s early efforts were aimed at teaching leadership and job training skills to Black youth. During this time, Powell began wearing his trademark SAC-20 black beret bearing a five-pointed star, which quickly branded him, in the eyes of some, as a militant.
Powell received many honors, including “Outstanding Man of the Year” by the National Junior Chamber of Commerce and the National Jefferson Award for public service. He was appointed to several state committees, including the Governor’s Advisory Council on Comprehensive Health Planning for Missouri and the Human Resources Corporation. He also participated in the Urban League of Kansas City, the Missouri Head Start Council, the Model Cities board of directors, and the National Conference of Lawyers. Powell aspired to become Missouri’s first Black governor.
This goal was cut short, however, when, in 1979 at age 32, he was shot to death on the East Side Social Club in his hometown. A bronze statue of Powell stands in Spring Valley Park at 28th and Brooklyn, across the street from his childhood home. Those who remember Bernard Powell remember him working tirelessly for civil rights.