The social network: YBPN aims to create community, opportunities for black professionals

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YBPN President Wes Bellamy speaks with member Pierceson Harris at an event held at the African American Heritage Center at the Jefferson School City Center. Photo: Mina Pirasteth. YBPN President Wes Bellamy speaks with member Pierceson Harris at an event held at the African American Heritage Center at the Jefferson School City Center. Photo: Mina Pirasteth.

On a Friday night in late January, AMF Kegler’s Lanes filled up with young professionals arriving from work to relax and network. They traded stories about the daily grind, complained about their love lives, and shared weekend plans. Business and civic leaders rubbed elbows with newcomers, political officials with members of the clergy, and people from the private sector came into contact with their counterparts in the nonprofit world. It was a typical scene in Charlottesville, except that it wasn’t, because they were all African-American.

The event was organized by the Young Black Professionals Network (YBPN), a group that formed last November under the guidance of a group of youthful leaders in the black community that include former City Council candidate and Albemarle High School teacher Wes Bellamy, local promoter and Paramount Theater board member Ty Cooper, Curry School graduate and Hollymead Elementary School teacher Whitney Hinnant, and Red Roof Inn General Manager Yolunda Armstrong, with the expressed purpose of providing a vehicle for organizing and networking. There are a variety of reasons for YBPN’s emergence as an organization over the past six months, but the most basic is that the Charlottesville-Albemarle area has always struggled to recruit and retain black professionals.

For instance, I asked Robert Scott, who works at the National Ground Intelligence Center (NGIC), what Charlottesville had to offer him, besides his job. His reply? “Not much.” Scott’s sentiments are echoed widely among African-Americans in Charlottesville. At the inaugural YBPN general body meeting held in November at the First African Zion Union Baptist Church, one attendee expressed her fear that employment opportunities in the black community were getting worse. Another wanted to see more people of color in city leadership positions. But a common refrain, and one the formation of the group takes seriously, is that young black professionals need better networking opportunities. Somewhere between 50 and 100 people turn out consistently to Young Black Professionals Network’s first Friday events, and the group has co-hosted two charitable gatherings, a giveaway of over 170 turkeys at the Jefferson School last Thanksgiving and another redistributing several hundred coats and pairs of shoes at the First Baptist Church on West Main Street, both of which were covered by NBC29.

When I mentioned that I was writing an article about the network to its vice president, Quinton Harrell, he had this to say about local media: “The coverage by the media of the black community is often either negative, in terms of crime, or subtly negative, because it’s about money being given to poor people.” The coverage the group has received so far is not essentially a departure from the trend, but the group hasn’t shied from the attention, seeing it as part of its mission to get its message out. At the bowling event, I also ran into Pierceson Harris, a 21-year-old PVCC computer science student originally from Tennessee. He learned about the event from the NBC29 story and decided to check it out, because the immediate opportunities he was finding here were outstripped by his professional ambitions. In Charlottesville, Harris asserted, “You have to know people and have connections.”

Scientific research confirms Harris’ assertion about social networking. In interviews with hundreds of people, Nancy DiTomaso, a vice dean at the Rutgers Business School, found that, “All but a handful used the help of family and friends to find 70 percent of the jobs they held over their lifetimes; they all used personal networks and insider information if it was available to them.” In a New York Times article last year, DiTomaso concluded, “There’s no question that discrimination is still a problem in the American economy. But whites helping other whites is not the same as discrimination, and it is not illegal. Yet it may have a powerful effect on the access that African-Americans and other minorities have to good jobs, or even to the job market itself.”

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Zakiah Pierre, research scientist at the Center for Diversity in Engineering at UVA’s School of Engineeringa & Applied Science. Photo: Jackson Smith.

The emergence of YBPN is a response to that dynamic locally, but it’s also a sign of a shifting generational attitude about what the struggle for black access and power means. For Bellamy, “The goal is improving the youth, building up the black middle class. To help some of those individuals who aren’t in the best situation, supporting each other in our endeavors, and empowering our people.” Since his arrival in Charlottesville, Bellamy has been a coach, teacher, nonprofit founder, former employee at NGIC. Last fall, he lost a primary race for a City Council seat by a single digit margin, although he is only 26 years old and not from here. But significantly, the local black vote split between him and Melvin Grady. It’s hard not to see YBPN as his latest attempt to build a power base, and that doesn’t bother him. “Running for Council gave me more credibility, and we’ve used those things as a platform,” Bellamy said. “Some people say it’s strategic, but it’s not a political ploy. The Council race showed me what it is to work together… I will not go into another race without our people working together.” YBPN is also an expression of the ambition of its founding members. “In five years, we can empower our people,” Bellamy said.

  • Ty Cooper

    Responsible journalism by Tim Tolka and Cville Weekly! Publishing various view points including members and non-members, all sharing the critical point, community change needs to happen. It is important for the reader to understand that the word “Young” in the title, Young Black Professional Network is not a reference of age, instead, it describes the freshness of the initiative. Referencing age would be extremely subjective and this organization can only be successful with the support of community members of all ages. Cville Weekly continues to lead the charge of informing the community of impacting movements. Thank you for all that you do.

  • Quinton Harrell

    I appreciate the will and efforts of Cville Weekly in raising the bar regarding coverage of the African American community. There is such a rich texture of our community and rarely is there any consistent penetration of the layers with any substantial depth without crime or controversy attached. The article does a good job of capturing a snap shot of the complexities of our community and the immediacy of our goals and challenges. Success in the work being done will be favorable for the ENTIRE community. A rising tide lifts all ships. Kudos to Tim’s thoughtful, intuitive writing and all the voices he sought to put this story together. NOW FEEDBACK FROM OUR COMMUNITY IS VITAL FOR STEPS TO SET A NEW PRECEDENCE IN HOW THE AFRICAN AMERICAN COMMUNITY IS COVERED AND VIEWED AS A WHOLE.

  • bro4life

    Wow…what a shameful display of self promotion of some within the article and some that have left comments! Is is so much of a joke when folks can only refer to journalism as responsible when THEY agree with the content. Responsible journalism speaks to the truth…the whole truth, no matter the pain. While one can appreciate the existence of something like a YBPN, lets not get too excited about its impact on REAL issues at the core of the black community. I have attended a couple of YBPN things and there is not much that is culturally-oriented about the activities to date…unless one means European culture. This seems more about creating black “separate but equal” opportunities for certain types of black folks. i so expect the C’ville weekly to search out true culturally oriented folks and their efforts to bring about true and healthy change for people of African descent vs the new old time Negro programming that is more acceptable to the city/county power players of European descent. Oh well…I sure there will be some disagreement and that is to be expected as the Bible states…“A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.” (James 1.8) and also the term “double consciousness” coined by W. E. B. Du Bois in his famous theory of African American “double consciousness”, referring to the psychological challenge of reconciling an African heritage within a European culture.

  • bro4life

    Wow…what a shameful display of self promotion of some within the article and some that have left comments! It is so much of a joke when folks can only refer to journalism as responsible when THEY agree with the content. Responsible journalism speaks to the truth…the whole truth, no matter the pain. While one can appreciate the existence of something like a YBPN, lets not get too excited about its impact on REAL issues at the core of the black community. I have attended a couple of YBPN things and there is not much that is culturally-oriented about the activities to date…unless one means European culture. This seems more about creating black “separate but equal” opportunities for certain types of black folks. i so expect the C’ville weekly to search out true culturally oriented folks and their efforts to bring about true and healthy change for people of African descent vs the new old time Negro programming that is more acceptable to the city/county power players of European descent. Oh well…I sure there will be some disagreement within the black community and that is to be expected for as the Bible states…“A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.” (James 1.8) and also because of the term “double consciousness” coined by W. E. B. Du Bois in his theory of African American thinking, referring to the psychological challenge of reconciling an African heritage within a European culture.
    Once again…thankful and appreciate the existence of something like a YBPN. At the same time, the history of black america indicates that the true central issues of neo-racism in central Virginia and the mental health development of an entire black community may not be addressed in a communal or culturally-healthy manner through this type or group.
    Oh yes…there will be disagreement and one can only hope that the C’ville weekly will actively search for the whole truth within the black community of our area…no matter the pain for any of us.

  • CvilleBro

    Wow…what a shameful display of self-promotion and self-congrats of some within the
    article and some that have left comments! It is so much of a joke when folks
    can only refer to journalism as responsible when THEY agree with the content.
    Responsible journalism speaks to the truth…the whole truth, no matter the
    pain. While one can appreciate the existence of something like a YBPN, lets not
    get too excited about its impact on REAL issues at the core of the black
    community. I have attended a couple of YBPN things and to date, there is not
    much that is culturally-oriented about the activities…unless one means
    European culture. This seems more about creating black “separate but
    equal” opportunities for certain types of black folks. I do expect the
    C’ville Weekly to search out other black and more culturally-oriented folks and
    their efforts to bring about true and healthy change for people of African
    descent vs the new old time Negro programming that is more acceptable to the
    city/county power players of European descent. Oh well…I sure there will be
    some disagreement within the black community and that is to be expected for as
    the Bible states…“A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.” (James
    1.8) and also because of the term “double consciousness” coined by W.
    E. B. Du Bois in his theory of African American thinking, referring to the
    psychological challenge of reconciling an African heritage within a European
    culture. Once again…thankful and appreciate the existence of something like a YBPN. At the same time, the history of black america indicates that the true central issues of neo-racism in central Virginia and the well mental health of an entire African American community may not be addressed in a communal or culturally-healthy manner through this form of group. And that is ok, let’s just not lift it too high with expectations for change that benefits the entire black community.
    Oh yes…there will be disagreement and one can only hope that the C’ville weekly
    will actively search for the whole truth within the black community of our
    area…no matter the pain for any of us.

  • Occasional Reader

    I enjoyed the article and I enjoy being a member of the YBPN organization. As a transplant to Charlottesville this group has truly helped me to connect to other African Americans in the community. It is always great to see positive articles and to see a cover with someone who looks like me….awesome! Thanks Cville Weekly, keep looking for the positive things going on in our community.

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