When he was elected in 2015, Wes Bellamy became Charlottesville’s eighth ever Black city councilor. As Vice Mayor he helped lead the fight to pass a groundbreaking $4 million equity package, and to remove the city statue of Robert E. Lee.
Today Bellamy is the chair of the political science department at Virginia State University. He recently published his second book. It’s called “When White Supremacy Knocks Fight Back: How White People Can Use Their Privilege, How Black People Can Use Their Power.”
Bellamy’s first book was a memoir about the time before during and after the August 12th white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. His second book is less about himself, and more about his audience: a sort of self-help for white folks and Black folks.
“People often ask me, specifically white people, would ask me. ‘Well what can I do to help out? What can I do in order to get into the fight? How can I educate myself’ and so forth,” Bellamy said in a recent interview. “And then I would have a lot of Black people say things to me like ‘Well you know I’m just trying to find my voice. I’m frustrated by what’s going on. I’m looking to figure out what do I do next,’.”
So Bellamy set out to write a book that answers those questions.
The first step, he says, is confronting our internal prejudices. He writes openly about his own traumatic experiences, how they fostered resentment towards white people, and the choice to forgive and go to therapy. All that internal work, Bellamy says, put him in a place where he had the privilege and power to use his voice.
“The sooner I stopped calling every person who disagreed with me a racist, the sooner I would be able to change minds,” Bellamy writes in the book. “However, in order to change minds I had to be willing to do what some others didn’t want to do. Vigorously fight white supremacy on the front lines through policy and protest, but still leave room in my heart to have one-on-one conversations with racists and white supremacists about the topic of race.”
Bellamy admits he hears from people who don’t think the focus of the work should be on engaging with racists. And he agrees. But for him personally engaging in conversation is crucial, even when it’s difficult.
“Does that mean it’s something that’s going to feel comfortable? Probably not. But am I willing to do so for the betterment of our community? Yeah, I’m willing to do that.”
Bellamy writes about doing just that with Virginia Governor Ralph Northam. After a racist photo was discovered in Northam’s medical school yearbook page Bellamy, like others, called on him to resign. When it became clear that wasn’t happening, Bellamy says they had “very frank and candid conversations.”
“I can sit there and be mad at Governor Northam all day, he’s still going to be the Governor,” Bellamy said. “Or am I going to use this energy to say ‘Well you are the Governor and because you’re saying that you want to do better let’s help facilitate not only that growth, but let’s bring forth some tangible policy change.” And I think that we’ve been able to do that.
For Bellamy, tangible policy change is how white supremacy gets tackled. He points to Charlottesville’s equity package: a budget bill passed in 2017 that allotted millions for new public housing and a new park in one of the city’s predominantly Black communities. It also provided funding for GED training for public housing residents.
“Reparations will come by local governments and larger entities saying that we will be targeted in terms of creating resources and access to capital for persons who want to take advantage of such,” said Bellamy.”
Bellamy calls on Black people to use their experiences to run for office and advocate for their communities. He calls on white people to support them with dollars and voices. And he’s hopeful that when we come together, combining our privileges and our powers, we’ll see real change.
His new book was published in mid-October. It’s stocked in local bookstores or can be bought directly from Bellamy’s own publishing company, named for his daughter, Stokely’s Scribes.