By Shane Donglasan
Dr. Wes Bellamy, author of a recently published memoir, came to speak at the New College campus Feb. 28 at the Jane Bancroft Library during the Black Literature Read-In, which capped off the college’s series of Black History Month events.
In 2016, Wes Bellamy was the youngest person to ever be elected to the Charlottesville City Council in Virginia at 30 years old. At the time, he was also the only African-American member on the council. Before entering politics, Bellamy established a nonprofit mentoring black youth and was a local activist. He spearheaded the inaugural Black Millennial Political Convention in Washington, D.C., which brought hundreds of black millenials together from around the country to find ways to empower and connect young, black leaders. Bellamy found himself in the national spotlight when he and fellow city councilors were at the forefront of a movement to remove statues of Confederate figures Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson from Charlottesville’s public parks.
He teaches political science at Virginia State University where fourth-year student Ariel Powell had him as professor during a semester away in spring 2018 through the National Student Exchange.
“I was inspired by him during my stay in Virginia and I knew that we needed to bring that energy here to NCF,” said Powell. “I felt that he represented a more radical and outspoken part of being black that is generally overlooked. Also in a way, his talk during the read-in brought in another aspect of racism and prejudice that was addressed during some of our earlier events the previous week, and him alleviating some of the pain and apprehension that some may have felt after leaving those talks was a good way to close out the month.”
Bellamy spoke with both New College students and students from Booker High School in Sarasota. He read from his new book, “Monumental: It Was Never About A Statue,” which chronicles his efforts in removing the Confederate statues, the deadly attacks by white supremacists in Charlottesville that dominated headlines in August 2017 as a response to those efforts, and what happened after.
While Bellamy became a well-known champion for this cause, he pointed out that it was a high school student named Zyahna Bryant, who drafted the original petition asking the Charlottesville city council to remove the statues.
“These movements are being started by people your age,” Bellamy said. “There is no change without some sort of sacrifice and I hope you’re willing to sacrifice something for the greater good of your community.”
While removing Confederate statues is a symbolic change, Bellamy noted that institutional change is also necessary.
“In the book I talk about all of us, collectively, having the courage to be willing to stand up to those kind of people even if you are young or look different or do things differently,” he said. “We still have to create change and find our courage to be able to do that,” he said.
– Shane Donglasan is the marketing writer/project coordinator at New College of Florida.