Student Advocates for Change: A Three-Part Interview Series (Pearis Bellamy)

Part 1: Pearis Bellamy

Activism is a core way in which SCP members and students show their support for the communities and causes that mean the most to them. Many of these causes are steeped in SCP’s core values of social justice and multiculturalism and are aimed at improving the lives of those with marginalized identities through systemic change. To ensure their ability to thrive, these societal changes are essential in eradicating the multiplicative forms of oppression BIPOC communities endure. The 2020-21 academic year in the U.S. continues to be filled with an array of traumatizing experiences, especially for BIPOC communities, including:

Amid this turmoil, many CP students have stepped up to stand up for BIPOC communities by utilizing their training, passion, and dedication to uplift these groups. Their efforts embody SCP’s core values and provide examples of how we can continue to make a difference. For the next three days, I will be highlighting the work of one of these students. First, I will highlight the work of Pearis Bellamy, a third-year counseling psychology doctoral candidate at the University of Florida and share excerpts of an interview that I conducted with her.

What does activism mean to you?

I think of activism as something that is comprised of many different roles (e.g., organizers, healers, leaders, teachers, artists, etc.). For me, activism involves doing what’s right, and if something seems unjust or does not make sense, then finding a way to change that even if it is not popular. We all have different talents, and all can be contributions to challenging social injustice. However, activism comes with inherent personal and professional danger. Not everyone likes what activists do and that is what I feel separates activism from advocacy and allyship. The danger can come in receiving death threats, having your livelihood threatened, receiving backlash, etc.

Which of your activist events/activities have been most impactful to you and why?

I think that the most impactful form of activism was Academics for Black Survival and Wellness, specifically, when we were able to provide hundreds of hours of free healing sessions to Black people as well as group healing sessions with Kindred Medicine. Further, I was grateful that I, as a counseling psychologist in training, along with other counseling psychologists and other healers could use our knowledge and skillsets to facilitate spaces of healing and restoration for Black people. This was impactful because we were able to foster wellness for Black folks who are experiencing racial trauma and provide folks with some tools to resist anti-Black racism. It was healing for me to be able to be a part of that on a large scale and to be able to uplift other Black folks engaged in activism on the ground and center their voices.  I feel like facilitating and supporting healing for Black folks is a big part of how I engage with activism.

How do your intersecting identities impact your activism?

As a Black, cisgender, straight woman who identifies as a survivor and is in graduate school, I have both privileged and marginalized identities. I think this impacts my activism because I really try to center others especially those who have historically marginalized identities or who are using their skills and talents on the ground protesting and fighting for Black liberation. I think that it is great that academia wants to do anti-racism work, but it cannot just stay here. How can we use our privilege to support people in our communities who have been doing this work? How can we pass the mic to people so that community voices are being uplifted rather than just those entrenched in the “ivory tower”?

As a counseling psychologist in training, what role does activism play in your work (research, clinical work, service, etc.)?

Activism plays a large role in my work as a counseling psychologist in training. I am always thinking and trying to find ways to challenge oppressive systems because research, clinical, work, and community involvement all provide me with different perspectives of how oppressive systems harm individuals and communities. Thus, I am constantly thinking of different ways to resist oppression and how that relates to my role as a counseling psychologist in training as well as the overall type of person I want to be in the world.

Anything else you think would be important for me to know about you/your activism?

I never used to really think of myself as an activist because I felt like my ways of resistance were not really what I understood as activism but were just me “being sick and tired of being sick and tired” (Fannie Lou Hammer, 1964) and knowing there needed to be a change for myself, my community, and those I love. So, it’s interesting responding to these questions but I think the major takeaway that I want to leave folks with is that activism cannot be centered on academia but needs to be rooted in what marginalized communities need. We all can use the resources and privileges that we have as counseling psychologists in training, counseling psychologists, and academics to support tangible change. Further, it is never about us but it’s about how we can use our talents and skills to fight oppression.

Pearis Bellamy is a third-year counseling psychology doctoral candidate at the University of Florida. Pearis’ research and clinical interests include trauma specifically intimate partner violence, sexual violence, and racial trauma. She is a proud HBCU alumna and hopes to be an HBCU professor. As a Black doctoral student studying and experiencing racial trauma, Pearis dreamed up Academics for Black Survival and Wellness, alongside her mentor, Dr. Della V. Mosley, in hopes of providing healing and support for Black people through collective action in academia. The initiative has garnered over 15,000 participants from across the world who are participating in anti-racism trainings centered on accountability and action (non-Black participants) and healing and wellness workshops and experiences (Black participants).

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Bio: Nelson O. O. Zounlome (he/him/his), M.S.Ed. is a first-generation college student, child of immigrants, and native of South Bend, IN. He is also a McNair Scholar, Ford Foundation Fellow, Herman B. Wells Graduate Fellow, and counseling psychology Ph.D. candidate at Indiana University (IU). He studies academic persistence and mental wellness to promote holistic healing among Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). Nelson is dedicated to helping BIPOC Communities liberate themselves and achieve their wildest dreams. https://www.nelsonzounlome.com/

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