Though he’s in his third year as a professional, George Bello is still just 18 years old, a young prospect with — thanks in large part to a frustrating sequence of injuries — only 177 MLS minutes under his belt to date. The Atlanta United Homegrown still lives with his family in Douglasville, Georgia, and is fortunate and relieved to say that he’s never been subjected to mistreatment at the hands of the police or other authorities.
The Nigerian-born teenager still knows, deeply and intrinsically, what it means to be Black in America.
“It’s a sad kind of thing that people can really see your skin color as a weapon, in a way,” Bello told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday. “And being a Black person, you never really feel that you're unarmed, because of your color. Which is not right at all.
“You have to be very, like, hesitant on what you do,” he added. “My parents always told me you have to be careful, because of the world we live in. Even though it shouldn't be like that, you have a different perspective put on you just because of your skin color sometimes.”
Like millions of others around the world, Bello has watched closely as the United States grappled with the murder of George Floyd, the resulting waves of street protests and the myriad social and political repercussions over the past several weeks.
“It’s a pretty sad thing to see that it's still going on in America, and also around the world,” he said of the racism, both personal and institutional, that continues to haunt the nation. “The most sad thing about it is that we have to go through this, normally, when there's a death, you know what I mean?
“But even though it's a sad time, we can still come through this triumphant, if we just keep on using our voice. Because this kind of stuff, in my opinion, needs to end.”
Bello’s own story can be framed as a soccer version of the American dream: Emigrating to the Atlanta suburbs as an infant, rising rapidly through the youth levels. Turning heads at Everton and Genoa on a European trial stint before he was even old enough to drive. Signing a Homegrown deal with the Five Stripes at age 15, impressing two icons of the game in Tata Martino and Frank de Boer along the way and growing into one of the most eagerly-anticipated rising US youth internationals.
This talented prototype of the modern fullback knows the scope of the challenge his country is facing, and just how high the stakes are.
“There's just two sides of this: you’re either against it or you're not,” said Bello. “I heard what [Philadelphia Union defender] Mark McKenzie has said: You’re either against racism or not, you're for the movement or you’re not. There's no in-between. So that's just where I stand on it and hopefully this world and the US, we can just come together and fight this off.”