League of EXTRAordinary Black Men: Wesley Bellamy
TheBlackManCan: Wes, you attended South Carolina State and now Virginia State. How has an HBCU education helped shaped who you are today?
WB: I believe these two institutions instilled a confidence within me that allows me to feel as if I am just as competent as anyone else in this world. I can honestly say that more than anything else, attending two different HBCU’s has shown me that there are no boundaries to what I can accomplish. Looking back on individuals such as MLK Jr., Booker T. Washington, and current leaders like Jim Clyburn, I have a mindset that I too can be a leader as they have been for our people. It has been exemplified that some of our nation’s brightest leaders have come from these very same institutions, thus it is up to us to continue this trend. With that being said, I am proud to be a Bulldog, and looking forward to finishing my masters at VSU and becoming a Trojan Alum.
TheBlackManCan: You were in route to going to law school and you decided to pursue a career in Education. What promoted the change in mindset?
WB: The people in my community inspired my interest to become an educator. More specifically, I felt that the parents and children with whom I interacted with daily were not being taught the things that needed to be in order to succeed. Things like reinforcing to our kids they are smart, college is important, have discipline while in and out of school, and most importantly seeing a black man with a shirt and tie on every day in a classroom setting. While serving on the board for African American Teaching Fellows, and holding the Recruitment Committee Chairman title, it became evident that I should not try to only persuade others to come and teach our kids, I should accept the challenge and do so myself. Furthermore, I was accepted many law schools around the same time that my Non-Profit was getting off the ground. I could not just leave the people who have come to depend on me, and after much prayer, I decided to go the teacher/principal/Non-Profit Director route for now.
TheBlackManCan: What serves as a driving force for motivation to continue the work that you do?
WB: My own past motivates me. I know what it’s like to not have things go in your favor as a kid, and all you need is a little guidance to get you over the hump, so to speak. I also firmly believe that this is what God has placed me on this planet to do, help others in whatever way he needs me to. There is no better feeling in this world than seeing an individual, young or old, who some may have given up on, finally start to have some hope and turn things around and improve their situation. These are the things leaders in the past did for our people, they instilled hope. Now it is our turn to lead the way.
TheBlackManCan: What have been some of biggest obstacles and how have you overcome the obstacles?
WB: Obstacles are only tests of character and will. I would say things like people thinking I was too young to lead an organization, not having the traditional structured family environment growing up, and the deaths of a few close friends were my biggest obstacles, however they were also blessings. For without those tests, I would not know how to trust God and understand that in due time, all storms cease, and the sun will shine.
TheBlackManCan: On December 7th , 2011 you started a non-profit called Helping Young People Evolve (H.Y.P.E.). What ignited the spark to create H.Y.P.E.?
WB: H.Y.P.E. originated from a need within Charlottesville, VA for more innovative after school programs for our youth. Many of the kids in the program come from very impoverished neighborhoods and to a certain degree, desolate situations. This program is aimed at instilling discipline within them, but also giving them a glimmer of hope. I also wanted to create an entity that was known for giving back and empowering ALL people, hence, the “Community Days” that we have for the city in addition to the services that we provide for the kids.
TheBlackManCan: What is the mission and vision behind H.Y.P.E.?
WB: H.Y.P.E. seeks to address the achievement, opportunity, and aspiration gap that exists for low-income (predominantly African-American) youth in the City of Charlottesville. Our program aims to provide minority children from underserved communities with a structured afterschool program that instills discipline as a means to academic and physical excellence. Our vision is to continue to grow and create a standard of excellence that will permeate not only through all of our youth, but the patrons of the city of Charlottesville and surrounding areas as well.
TheBlackManCan: Can you share with us some recent events that you have together?
WB: Sure, we have had an array of events recently that have impacted several cities across the Southeast. In December we had two Coat Drives in Columbia, SC and Charlottesville, VA in which we donated 2,100 jackets to the homeless and families in need. In January, we had a “Talent of the Stars” talent show in which the elected officials of Charlottesville, VA partook in a talent show in an effort to raise money for the boxing and mentoring club. On May 5th in Charlottesville we had our 2nd Annual “Spring Fling Community Day” in which we had free food, haircuts for the kids, job training, health screenings, water balloon games, face painting, a moon bounce, voter registration, other organizations handing out information, and a day of building relationships for people in the area. We will be having the same “Community Day” in Florence, SC on 6/23, Columbia, SC on 7/14, and in Myrtle Beach, SC on 8/5. We simply want to show people we care.
TheBlackManCan: How has H.Y.P.E. been received in the community and what are your plans for the future?
WB: The support that we have received has been amazing. Our local city government has gone above and beyond to ensure that H.Y.PE. has everything necessary to be a success. Furthermore, the community has really come forth and supported us after witnessing tangible results. With that being said, the vision for the program is to create sister sites in other locations, such as Columbia, SC and Baltimore, MD. We have been in discussion with officials from both cities and there definitely seems to be interest to work something out in the near future. The end goal will be to establish a charter school that would help our youth achieve at their highest potential. Not saying that the current school system is inadequate, personally, I just feel that a more concentrated and focused setting could provide greater results.
TheBlackManCan: You are currently pursuing a master’s degree in Education Administration, Why is it important to build a mindset to pursue advanced degrees?
WB: Honestly speaking, one can never truly stop learning. Being that I am interacting with kids daily, it is important for me to be able to lead them down the right path. It is equally important for kids of all ethnicities to see African Americans in position of higher authority. It is my desire to not finish until I receive my Doctorate, which I aspire to complete before 30. These advanced degrees will enable me to have a mindset that views an array of different things from a perspective in which I currently do not have. There is so much to learn from not only experience, but from school. By pursuing these degrees I am also trying to show the youth that I interact with, that it is ok to go to school, do well, and pursue your dreams. It truly is gateway to success in my opinion.
TheBlackManCan: Where do you see yourself and H.Y.P.E. within the next five years?
WB: Within the next five years I envision H.Y.P.E. serving close to 600 kids over three states. Within this time frame we also hope to have our charter school up and running serving close to 100 or so 9th Graders. If the academy has not opened, we should be in the final stages and close to the launch.
TheBlackManCan: If you had to pick three words to define yourself what would they be and why?
WB: Helper, Servant, and “Future-Leader.” My goal in life is to help whoever I can, however I can, whenever I can. That is what I am here for.
TheBlackManCan: Why is it important for Black Boys to see positive images of themselves?
WB: Before we can accomplish anything, we have to love ourselves. That’s why it is vital that Black Boys see themselves as future leaders, albeit presidents, doctors, lawyers, principals, etc… But most importantly stand up, strong black men who are productive assets to society. I tell the young men in my programs all of the time, be whatever you choose to be, but make sure that you are proud of the man that you see in the mirror.
TheBlackManCan: What words of advice do you have for Young Black Males?
WB: Have faith and believe that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of difficulties. Additionally have the discipline and courage confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be. You are descendants of Kings, I love you and believe in you.
League of EXTRAordinary is where we at TheBlackManCan highlight Black Men who are making positive and remarkable contributions to society. Nominate a Black Male today on the contact page or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.