Hall County Commissioner Ashley Bell received a very unusual phone call Friday — it was a White House secretary, asking if he could make it for a poetry slam Tuesday.
Bell is among 100 people invited to attend the White House jazz and poetry event tonight with President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama.
The White House Poetry Slam is casual and will feature performances by James Earl Jones, slam poet Mayda Del Valle, jazz pianist ELEW and others.
Bell said he doesn’t know much about why he was invited or what to expect when he arrives at the White House at 6:45 p.m., however.
He was told by a White House secretary that those details would not be discussed until he arrived at the event.
"My wife and I have been racking our brains since Friday trying to figure out how this happened," Bell said. "The president just decided he wanted to have 100 people over to the house that he has not met or did not have relationships with that he wanted to begin."
There are a number of connections between Obama and Bell, however.
Bell spoke at the Democratic National Convention in 2004 — the same year Obama’s speech at the convention launched him into the spotlight. Bell’s wife, Lauren, served as an Obama delegate during the 2008 election.
"I think that speaks volumes to the type of White House we have now. We’ve got a slightly younger family in there now; we have a president that has eclectic tastes," Bell said. "He is not afraid to invite people who are not your beltway insiders like myself. I’m just a county commissioner from a medium-sized county in North Georgia."
Bell, a jazz fan, said he is most excited to meet the president this evening, but is looking forward to the entertainment, too.
He said he hopes it also will be a good opportunity to network and put Hall County into the national conscious.
"It’s good to know that no matter how I got on this list that folks in D.C. know that we’re down here in Gainesville and that it exists, and hopefully that down the way will translate to the sort of attention and policies that reflect that towns like ours and cities like ours are not left out of the priority of the White House," Bell said.