Conway Welcomes a New Leader: Ms. Barbara Blain-Bellamy
Interview by: Alima Mootoo
As a newly elected mayor, what are your plans for Conway, specifically within the area schools?
We want to be sure that our schools have the facilities that our children need so their learning capability is enhanced. We want our students to have every opportunity to grow and thrive in their educational pursuits. We also plan to be more supportive of our schools, and that can be as simple as showing up, making certain that our students see us as interested in what they do. I’d like it if the council would work towards some more internships for high school students, and find a way to interface more even with elementary and middle school students. One thing I’m personally involved in is the Solicitor’s Project Lead. We work with 5th grade students to offer them the information to make good choices before they are the target of gangs, and we teach them to recognize offers that are too good to be true, to decide against peer pressure, and to focus on doing those things that are going to help them be the best they can be.
What was the most significant lesson that you learned in high school that will help you run our city?
I learned that the golden rule always prevails. I have a responsibility to do well academically and follow rules, but the most important of all is to treat every human person as if they are important, and following this rule has worked for me my entire life.
For example, I did a door-to-door campaign and a woman who came to the door said “I know you!,” after I introduced myself. I was baffled because I had never seen her face before. Come to find out she had telephoned me at a former job of mine, and she proceeded to say that I had been helpful and treated her with the greatest respect during that short interaction. When I worked with that lady on the telephone I had no idea that I would knock on her door and ask her to vote for me three years later. Treating people well always turns around and works for good.
I understand that you have a master’s degree in Education, and you’re also an attorney. How did you go from those occupations to being a politician?
I chose first to be a social worker as an undergrad because I knew I wanted to be in a helping profession. When I was a teen I was told I could be a nurse or a teacher, and the only reason for that was because I was a female. I had this propensity to get ill when I saw blood, so nursing was out. Teaching would have been good choice, but I knew that I was not going to let somebody tell me what to do, so social work became something I involved myself in. My masters in education happened almost accidentally. I was an employee at Coastal Carolina University, and one day I looked at everyone with books and realized that everyone was learning but me. There were two masters programs available at the time, and one of those degrees was in education, and it was a program that prepared people to teach adults. The law degree was not something I had planned for or had ever dreamed of. I never considered it until my social work had me in the family court on a regular basis, and what I saw there, too often, were people who stood before the bench, unrepresented, ill-prepared, and therefore, often times unheard. I was the least likely person to apply for law school, but I was compelled to follow it. Once I got approved, there was no question that I had to go. It was a rich experience, and I think it prepared me to help design ordinances for the city and it better prepared me for what was in the future.
What college did you go to? Why did you choose that school?
I started at Coastal Carolina University because of lack of finances, but at 17, I wanted to leave home. I needed loans to go to Coastal, but it was a good program. Then, I went to USC because it is the finest school in South Carolina.
What was it like being in high school at a time where your race determined the school you went to?
My experience was a bit different than most of my contemporaries in Conway in that my father was in the military, and I lived in other states, like Nevada and California. In the west, I did not go to a segregated school. As a matter of fact, I single handedly desegregated schools. Not because there were restrictions on who could attend, but because there had never been a black child in those schools before. For example, at one of the schools I went to, I was the first African American in the school and my experience was rich and wonderful. There was a lot of curiosity from the other students. They were familiar with Native Americans, so my dark hair wasn’t as much of an issue, but the texture of my hair was. It was fuzzier, and innocent children would say things like “Your hair is so soft, but frizzy.” My experience was totally warm and accepting. If there was ever a play, parade, or any public event it was as if they wanted the world to know “Hey, we’ve got us one! There she is, she’s Barbara!”
Why did you feel it was important to found the Community Legal Services for low to moderate income families?
There is such a great need. The government provides some limited legal services to only a small group of people simply because they don’t have the funding to do more. What I thought from the beginning was that I would open a law firm that would allow people to pay 100s of dollars rather than 1000s for a service, and then I would strive to meet their needs.
What was the best piece of advice or constructive criticism that you received during your high school career that helped you become who you are today?
My guidance counselor challenged me to go to college, and I thought it was beyond my family’s capabilities. It wasn’t something we were prepared to do. Eventually, I accepted her help, and she was able to find a scholarship for me to go to Coastal Carolina University. I think it is important that we don’t just push away an idea just because it seems impossible. We need to sit and explore what we might be able to do with it.
What advice would you give to today’s students?
Students need to know that their behavior and their demeanor towards people will stick with them for life. If we engage in patterns of poor behavior, those things will adversely affect us because now does matter.
What is your biggest goal in life, and have you achieved it? If not, what do you plan to do to achieve it?
My goal is one that can never be realized in a lifetime. My goal has to do with making the experience in Conway better for everyone. It is a lofty goal, but lofty goals push us to continually to do more and do it better. I hope I always recognize that there is always room to improve myself and my community, and that I continue to be willing to act on it. It is as though I need to earn the air I breathe.
What do you anticipate to be the biggest struggle or obstacle in your new position?
Call me naive, but I don’t expect any serious obstacles. I have the good fortune of working with a solid council. I have people who care about the same things I do, so I don’t anticipate any serious struggles.
What do you look forward to as a new city mayor?
I look forward to continuing what has been set in place by the excellent leadership we’ve had up to this point. I will be proud to be Conway’s ambassador, the face of Conway, and ultimately the leader of our town. I look forward to welcoming people in, encouraging citizen participation, and to watching our efforts build on where we are today.
Describe yourself using just the title of a movie.
The Servant* – because that is who I am and who I want to be known as.
*Title based solely on the title and not the content of the movie
In what things do you find your motivation and inspiration?
Human need, the hope in children, the promise in that hope, and the desire for the world to be better than it is, and for the world to be more inclusive.
What message would you like to send to the people of Conway?
I am sincerely grateful for the trust and confidence that they have shown me through their votes and support. I will always be interested in what my constituents believe our needs to be and the directions we should be going in, and I will always listen.