Charlottesville Vice-Mayor Wes Bellamy, who led the City Council’s effort to remove the statue of Confederate general Confederate General Robert E. Lee, discusses his campaign and this weekend’s white supremacist protests
Wes Bellamy: My name is Dr. Wes Bellamy. I’m the Vice-Mayor of the City of Charlottesville, Virginia. Aaron Mate: Dr. Bellamy, your reaction to what happened yesterday. Wes Bellamy: In totality, first of all before we get started, I think it’s important to express our condolences to the young lady who not only lost her life, because that’s tragic, as well as the two officers who were in the chopper who lost their lives. My condolences to their family. I was disappointed with some of the things that I saw. I’ve been saying this everywhere. I think we saw a couple of things that really tells the whole tale about Charlottesville. One, we saw these white supremacist clowns come in here and think they can intimidate anybody but that didn’t work. Not only that, I saw, and I was with a group of brothers yesterday, these guys right here gave away over 200 book bags and school supplies at Tonsler Park. They had free food. They had music. They had all kinds of stuff going on. That tells really what Charlottesville is about. Whenever we’re faced with adversity, we still make sure we look out for each other. It’s not these older folks or somebody who you would expect to be doing it, it’s these younger guys like right here, who some of these other clowns want to categorize as thugs because they got locks in their hair or they don’t look the part. These are the people who are maintaining and watching over our community and that’s what Charlottesville is about. Eze Jackson: We’ve been talking to people who are from Charlottesville and being told that this is not at all normal in Charlottesville. That normally there’s racial harmony here. Yeah, for the most part. A lot of people are saying that the police and state police kind of escalated what was going on. Do you agree with that or … ? Wes Bellamy: I can’t comment on necessarily what happened with the police because we’re still reviewing the files and I haven’t spoken to our police chief. I haven’t been briefed yet, and that wouldn’t be fair because I wouldn’t want someone to do that to me. When we talk about who our community as a whole … This is a city and community that I love 110 percent. This is a community that when I was in my darkest moments, this is the same place that made sure I was encouraged, make sure that they rock with me and ride with me no matter what. That is what it represents. White people, black people, young, old, blue, green, whether you got a lot of money, you don’t have money, whether you’re in poverty, whether you’re rich, we’re a community that’s going to look out for each other. Moving forward, that bull crap from yesterday will not define us. That’s why I’m so disappointed in 45 y’all’s President’s lack of response in regards to calling this domestic terrorism and white supremacy. If anybody says they want to help me or they’ve been asking, “What can we do?,” they need to tell 45 to get on it and tell these white supremacists to stop. Whenever you have a clown like the Ku Klux Clown Klan from David Duke come out and say that they came here to fulfill their President’s dream, that’s bull crap. He needs to denounce it. Every elected official needs to call it exactly what it is, white supremacy. For C-ville, oh, we good. We gonna be stronger. We gonna be bigger and better. For Kessler, those white supremacist, those other clowns who thought they could divide us, they ain’t did nothing. You see my people behind me, and it’s not just them. We got white, black, and all kinda others ready to ride. We ready to stand together, and that’s we gonna do. Aaron Mate: Alright, Dr. Bellamy, can we talk about the legislation that helped get us here? Wes Bellamy: Sorry, I’m sorry. Alright, go ahead. Aaron Mate: Can we talk about the legislation that helped get us here? You led the push to get the statue removed. Wes Bellamy: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I’m not the sole individual who led the push to get the statue removed. I think it’s important to understand that this has been a community conversation for years. Oftentimes what happens when we don’t quite understand the dynamics of the community as a whole, I’m not just saying you specifically, but we oftentimes try to paint things on certain individuals because we’re neglecting hearing from the community as a whole. This has been an issue for several years now. Right? It just happens to be that while I’m in office … and yes, I’ve kinda pushed for legislation, or excuse me, the policy for us to be able to move the statue. Ms. Kristin Szakos has been talking about this. The Black Lives Matter group have been talking about this. I don’t know how many people can remember, but they spray painted “Black Lives Matter” on statue years ago. I firmly remember people talking about how the statue needs to be moved when I first moved here. I remember in 2013 having a campaign cookout at that statue, in that park rather, and receiving 82 phone calls, emails, or different elders in the community stopping me saying, “How could you be so disrespectful? Do you not understand that we’ve had our faces slashed for walking in that park? Spat on for walking in that park? Told that we couldn’t walk in the park. We had to put our back to the wall and just face the library,” because they couldn’t go in it. That’s the history of this community in regards to that park. I got people who pay taxes who refuse to step foot in the park because what they believe it represents as well as the statue that’s in it. Again, this is an issue that started way before Wes Bellamy. Just like white supremacy started way before Wes Bellamy came. The racial tension that we had started way before Wes Bellamy came. Charlottesville wasn’t just this quaint, quiet town in which we all held hands and sang “Kumbaya” before this issue came, but now you see different people from different colors, races, ethnicities, all coming together and speaking out and denouncing this hate. That’s what’s making the other side so fearful. We’re finally starting to speak together. As individual fingers, we can do some things, but as a might fist, we can blow a very serious blow to white supremacy. That’s what we doing. They’re on their heels. Eze Jackson: When you did, when you took up this issue, what kind of a push back did you get? Wes Bellamy: You receive the usual stuff from the Ku Klux Clowns and the white supremacist toothless wonders who like to say all kind of things. They’re gonna hang you from a tree, they’re gonna shoot you, they’re gonna do all of this other stuff, call you all these kinda “n” words, but that doesn’t deter us. What I was more so concerned with was, as Dr. King talked about in the letters from his Birmingham jail, the white moderate individual who believes that the statue shouldn’t be removed because it’s gonna cause trouble, or those who said, “This is a piece of art.” or who couldn’t empathize with the so many people who live here who understood psychologically what that statue represents. Furthermore, symbolically how it in, excuse me, how it continues to show a symbol and sign of oppression. It’s deeper than just a statue. That’s the part that people sometimes seem to overlook. This is the same community in which had the massive resistance in which all of the schools were shut down opposed to integrated. Think about that. You and I, because you’re a person of color, I’m a person of color, as is looks like everyone out here. Aaron Mate: I’m not actually. I’m just tan. Wes Bellamy: Well you just, man, you got a great tan. Alright, good. Even better, you and I would not have been able to go to school together, and because to stop you and I from going to school together, they closed down the schools. This young brother right here is a business owner. Think about Vinegar Hill during that era in which his business would have been torn down because of urban renewal. We gotta think about that. Those things happened here. Again, I don’t think that represents the Charlottesville of today. That’s why I’ve been using the hashtag of “NewCville” because we’re not your great-grandmother’s Charlottesville. We will speak up, and we’re a lot more unified. We rally a lot more together. You have a lot of different races all deciding to speak together. Again, we cannot allow the same status quo to continue. We will not be intimidated. We’re not gonna allow the actions of yesterday or the images that some people are flashing on their television screens to define us. It’s just not going to happen. Eze Jackson: Dr. Bellamy, you’re as a legislator, what kind of support do you have from politicians that represent Charlottesville? Do you feel like … I know, as far as the people are concerned, there’s a movement, but in terms of pushing legislation, what kind of support do you have? Do people need to get new people in office or are y’all on a good path? Wes Bellamy: Well, we got an equity package passed five to zero. Within that equity package was nearly $4,000,000 worth of initiatives for communities who were marginalized. We got $2.5 million out in our capital improvement plan to redo public housing sites. We got $950,000 to the African American Heritage Center. We got $20,000 for anybody who lives in our public housing sites to be able to get free GED training and take free GED classes. We also got a new position for black male achievement, in which we’re calling Youth Opportunity Coordinator. We got a class, or we established a grant, $15,000 grant, to create a new class to talk about equity and African American studies, ethnic studies within our local schools. When you look at it from that perspective, when I brought it up, yeah, it got a little bit of resistance but my colleagues agreed with me five to zero. We all believe in equity. I believe that all my colleagues believe in equity. Does that mean we have to go about it the same way? No. That doesn’t mean that they don’t believe equity, or that doesn’t mean that they are racist. I’m the only African American on City Council. I’m only the seventh in history, and I’m the youngest we’ve ever had. Quite naturally, I’m going to do things a lot different. I like Meek Mill and Jeezy. They like Barbara Streisand or something. I don’t know. That’s cool. We have different ideologies. I normally like to wear my chains, and I like wearing t-shirts that say “Minister Supremacy” and stuff like that. They like college shirts, and they normally dress like this. That’s cool. That doesn’t mean we gotta butt heads or fight against everything. It’s okay for us to not agree on everything because I think sometimes when you don’t agree, it makes you a better legislator. Personally, I can say that I’ve become a better councilman, a better policy maker, because of not always agreeing with my colleagues. They’ve helped me grow. Life is about maturation, man. I’m not the same dude that wrote those tweets a long time ago. I’ve grown up a lot. I’m not the same city councilman that I was when I first got in office a year and a half ago. I’ve grown up. I’ve learned to become better. That’s what we must continue to do. That’s also what we’re going to do as a city. We’re gonna continue to progress. We’re gonna continue to grow. We’re gonna continue to work together. Lastly, we’re not gonna let some white supremacist clowns come in here and shake us up. They might knock us down, but we stand tall. Aaron Mate: On the equity, when you try to push through, did people try to leverage that to get you to stop getting the statue removed? Wes Bellamy: I think it was a bargaining tool. I think some people … sometimes politics is about negotiation. All in all, negotiation is one thing. We got the equity package passed, five to zero, and we got the votes to move the statue, three to two. At the end of the day, we got both. We also got a position … I wrote legislation that position for us to look at this good brother right here, Chris Florez, wrote an extensive story about the need for us to have increased minority contract spending within the City of Charlottesville. This past year, it was at 0.07%, right? Chris Florez: At some point in the last four or five years, yeah. Wes Bellamy: Over the last year, excuse me, 0.04%. Over the last few years, our minority contract spending has been less than one percent. We were able to push policy through to be able to create a task force to look at that, as well as hire a position to specifically encourage people of color to get more contracting jobs, get into the general contracting field, to be able to increase equity throughout the city. My colleagues agreed to that five to zero. Pushback can be sometimes, “Hey Wes, I don’t quite understand this. Let’s go back to it so that we can make it better,” but that doesn’t mean they’re against it. That’s life. Aaron Mate: Across the country, people are talking about Charlottesville. Nationally, where do you want to see the conversation go from here? Wes Bellamy: I want to see it go two places. One, every elected official, every person within our community, our city, our country, they need to tell 45, he needs to be very clear in denouncing white supremacy. That needs to happen first and foremost. It’s time to stop skirting around and saying “Oh, well, we don’t know. These things have been happening for a long time. Yeah, all of that stuff is bad.” We know it’s all bad. We know these issues have been going on a long time. Water is wet. We need him to come out and say that he does not approve of or support these groups. When you have David Duke, leader of the Ku Klux Clowns come out and say that they came here to fulfill the promise of 45, who promised them that they would be able to take their country back, and then they come out and someone gets ran over, a young lady loses her life, come on, man. When you ask me what I want people to do across the country, that needs to happen first. Then, we need to move towards healing our community and improving our community. How do we do that? By working together. Black people, white people, whoever you are. Let’s start working together. The work is gonna continue tomorrow. Today is the 13th. Tomorrow is August 14th. We’ve got affordable housing issues to talk about. We got economic, equity issues to talk about. We have plans and policies in place that we need to address. That work does not stop. My little mentees and the youngins that a lot of these guys know over at South First Street, West Haven, Sixth Street, Friendship Court, they need mentors. Those after school program have to continue. School starts on the 23rd. Well, school has already started for me, but school starts on the 23rd for the students. Who is going to go into the communities to help them with homework help? These guys did their job. They gave away 200 book bags yesterday. Who’s going to help us take it to the next level? Who’s gonna help other individuals become entrepreneurs? That work has to continue. Let’s share some of these resources. Let’s divvy it all up. Let’s see how we can make this better. You only do that by working together. We can’t be against each other and then think that things are magically going to appear better. Jay-Z said it best, “Nobody wins when the family feuds.” Aaron Mate: Dr. Wes Bellamy, Vice-Mayor of Charlottesville, thanks very much. Thank you.