Kamaya Jackson, Seth Bellamy, and Zya Brown.

(L-R) Kamaya Jackson, Seth Bellamy, and Zya Brown. Photo: Renato Rotolo/Urban News.

On a Mission: ‘Keeping It REAL’

Kamaya Jackson, Seth Bellamy, and Zya Brown.
(L-R) Kamaya Jackson, Seth Bellamy, and Zya Brown. Photo: Renato Rotolo/Urban News.

Leadership is serious business at the School of Inquiry and Life Sciences at Asheville (SILSA).

When walking in the main entrance, one is greeted with the John Quincy Adams quotation, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”

Much like the founding of ASCORE (Asheville Student Commission on Racial Equality), Keeping it REAL was founded on a like-minded ASCORE principle whose mandate is to bring young people together for meaningful dialogue and support.

One of the shining stars of this SILSA’s leadership organization is Seth Bellamy. Describing the program, he explains: “We provide a space for students of color to take action against social injustices within their community. These injustices include but are not limited to: the school-to-prison pipeline; gentrification; support to eliminate the academic achievement gap; coping mechanisms for discrimination; and addressing problems that happen in school that have been overlooked or disregarded. We want to increase the involvement of marginalized students within our school system by creating opportunities to volunteer and be introduced to diverse groups of public speakers, and provide tutoring and mentoring opportunities.”

Then he adds, “Sometimes the conversations are uncomfortable, and they should be.”

As for Seth himself, one could say leadership is in his blood: his mother, Terry Bellamy, was the first black mayor of Asheville, serving two terms and establishing herself as the youngest mayor in North Carolina at the age of 33.

We asked Seth what gave him the idea to start Keeping it REAL.

“When I started at SILSA, it was tough for me. I was the only African American male in my class and I needed to find coping mechanisms to deal with that. From elementary to middle school, I found myself being the only one or one of just two or three in many of my classes—and there were many cultural differences there as well.

At the time he didn’t have any coping mechanisms to deal with that.

“I was dealing with that barrier and it just hit harder. My freshman year hit me hard and I didn’t feel like wallowing in that for another year. So I decided to join the CAYLA Program (City of Asheville Youth Leadership Academy), which is an internship program during the summer. And that put me in contact with a SILSA junior, Kamaya Jackson, and an Asheville High senior, Zya Brown, who are copresidents and co-founders of the club.”

After a year of involvement with the program at SILSA, Keeping it REAL has grown from just the three founders to more than three dozen members. Bellamy’s impact on the Asheville High SILSA community is visible and measurable.

“We started out, member-wise, with like three of us,” he says. “Now we have I think 40 people in our Remind group. So I’m pretty proud of that, because you’ve got kids keeping in the loop—even if they’re not meeting every day, they know what’s going on.

Seth points out that important conversations about race have been missing for many years, and the group decided to invite an alumna of AHS to chat with them. She told the students that, ten years or so before, they did not talk about race.

“So,” says Seth, “even in our pro-social-justice era, we still were not having the conversation. We want to begin the conversation, and that is what we need to change, especially in Asheville, where we like to be liberal and inclusive of everyone, but in reality, we don’t like to talk about it at all.”

He emphasizes, “We don’t want to stop a conversation because people become uncomfortable; we have to live in that, revel in the discomfort, theirs and our own, and we need to change, we need to get people out of their shell and have the conversation without repercussions.”

Keeping it REAL has also completed some successful donation drives, which Seth calls “a bit of our community outreach. We wanted to help the less fortunate and the homeless and people with things [they need], especially clothes. We took clothing to the Salvation Army Homeless Shelter, we wanted to spread awareness about Keeping it REAL what we’re doing in our school but also what we can do for the community.”

So what fueled a passion for social justice in this young man?

“It started when I heard a quote in Black Klansman that was, ‘If you don’t do it, who else will?’ And so that kind of helped me understand what I need to do within my community and how I can help. School is the best place to begin social justice work, because one student could change the world with one Tweet that could go viral. One student can turn tension into intention.”

Just as one would expect from a young man with both a vision and a mission, Seth Bellamy has dreams and goals in mind for Keeping it REAL.

“I want a big event, a debut event would be great. We want to have more speakers. We would love that. If you’re a professional who is able to offer an internship or offer advice to getting into college or offer some volunteer opportunities especially, let us know,” he says.

This young man, Seth Bellamy, is already leaving an indelible mark at SILSA. Not only is he doing social justice work, making a difference, living his beliefs, but his actions are inspiring others to do and become more themselves.

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