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Interview with Rhonda Bellamy,  November 8, 2006 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Rhonda Bellamy,  November 8, 2006
Date:
November 8, 2006
Description:
Local radio personality and community leader Rhonda Bellamy discusses the circumstances that led her to Wilmington, her educational background, and the specifics of running a radio show. She also details her active role in the community, which includes being a founding board member and president of the Black Arts Alliance, being involved with the 1898 Centennial Foundation, and serving on the board of Cape Fear Habitat for Humanity.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee: Bellamy, Rhonda Interviewer: Jones, Carroll Date of Interview: 11/8/2006 Series: SENC Notables Length 57 minutes

Jones: Today is November the 8th, 2006. I'm Carroll Jones with Jennifer Dail for the Randall Library special collections oral history program. We're very pleased to have Rhonda Bellamy with us today. A well-known radio talk show host, director of news at WAAV 980 here in Wilmington, and very, very involved in local, community programs. Good morning, Rhonda.

Rhonda Bellamy: Good morning, Carroll.

Jones: Rhonda, would you please start out by telling us who you are, something about your family, growing up, where, I know that you have Wilmington contacts, but I'm unclear about how that is, if you were born here or elsewhere, and what molded you from that early beginning into becoming the Rhonda that everybody in town knows?

Rhonda Bellamy: I was born in Harlem Hospital, in New York City, to James and Ann McLaurin, on August 20, 1963. I am the oldest of four siblings, born to my mother and father. I also have an older half sister. My earliest memories of childhood are of the 5 story walk up tenement that we lived in in New York City, because after living in the Bronx during my early years, we moved to the Bronx-- after living in Harlem during our early years, we moved to the Bronx, where we stayed until the family settled in North Carolina, Wilmington being both my parents' hometown. So I spent my formative years in New York City, came back here and finished high school, graduating from E. A. Laney High School, class of 1981, where Michael Jordan was voted best athlete. I was most outstanding actress.

Jones: Oh, how wonderful. Did you know Michael?

Rhonda Bellamy: Yes. Yes.

Jones: And the family?

Rhonda Bellamy: Yes. Back to my early childhood. I don't remember lack at all. I know that my parents were of limited means, but I don't know of lack. I do remember, and this stays stuck in my mind, us having- me sharing a bedroom with my three sisters, and heavy draperies lining our bedroom window. And at night, when my sisters would go to sleep, I would go behind those heavy draperies and read until the wee hours of the morning, by the light of the lamppost outside our bedroom window.

Jones: Oh my God, how old were you at this time?

Rhonda Bellamy: Oh, we're talking 7, 8 years old.

Jones: And you were a reader.

Rhonda Bellamy: I was a reader. I read everything I could get my hands on, cereal boxes, insurance policies. When my family would have friends over, they'd call me in and quiz me on different subjects. So there was always a quest for knowledge.

Jones: Did your whole family have this or were you unique in the family?

Rhonda Bellamy: I was pretty unique, which is why they always trotted me out whenever company came, so I could answer trivia.

Jones: And you don't know how this came about? Did you have somebody in school or neighborhood?

Rhonda Bellamy: Well, my mother was actually a paraprofessional in our school system, which was right on the corner. I went to PS 979 before going to IS 137 in the Bronx. And it's really difficult to have a mother in the school system and not really be into your schoolwork. But I always loved to read and always played teacher, being both the teacher and the student. Now my siblings, they liked to read as well and do some of the things that I did, but I was pretty much a loner as a child.

Jones: Where were you in the group of four or five did you say?

Rhonda Bellamy: Right, five, I was the oldest of the...

Jones: You were the oldest?

Rhonda Bellamy: Right.

Jones: So you were the mother.

Rhonda Bellamy: Right.

Jones: Yeah. That's interesting. So you came to North Carolina, did you only attend high school here or did you attend middle school here?

Rhonda Bellamy: At that time, Williston was a 9th grade center. And so I went to Williston and was a cheerleader and became involved in a number of extracurricular activities. And I think it was then that I realized that I loved theater, and so participated in as much theater as I could at that point.

Jones: Now what were your plans for after high school? You won best actress, did you have a chance to do theater work outside of high school in Wilmington at that time or not?

Rhonda Bellamy: No, I didn't do theater outside of high school here, but Nancy Burnett, who was my...

Jones: I know Nancy.

Rhonda Bellamy: Yeah, I went to New Hanover High School for a part of those high school years and she really nurtured my love of theater. Now onto what I went to major in in college. I was a premed student originally, premed student, a biology major with an emphasis on premedical education.

Jones: And where was this?

Rhonda Bellamy: This was at North Carolina Central University in Durham. And I also, in my sophomore year, was named Features Editor for our school newspaper. One of the exposes I did, and it wasn't your typical feature story, I localized a story that was in the Durham Morning Herald concerning the fact that many schools in North Carolina, schools of higher education, were investing heavily in companies that did business in apartheid-era South Africa. And so as a result of finding out that our university, a historically black university, was doing business that furthered an interest that was in noone's interest, the school decided that they would divest those- put pressure on those companies to divest their interest in South Africa. And that was a ripple effect because it was happening at schools across the UNC system, where the universities were taking a serious look at how they were, in fact, promoting apartheid, unwittingly of course, but promoting apartheid by allowing these companies to use our funds to prop up this system.

Jones: You would think there'd be somebody smart enough to figure it out, wouldn't you?

Rhonda Bellamy: At that point, we're talking early 1980s, talking early 1980s, and it hadn't happened at that point. And so as a result of that expose and others around the state, we saw-- in fact before I graduated, apartheid dismantled. And I was so awed by the power of media to do that, that I changed my major to English with a concentration in media journalism.

Jones: That's what did it.

Rhonda Bellamy: That's what did it.

Jones: So what went on after that?

Rhonda Bellamy: What went on during that time was quite interesting. I had both of my children while I was in college. I started my family in college. And so my son is the elder. And I would go to the library so I could research whatever project I was working on for my university studies. And I went in one day, and as part of my medical training was doing a story on Attention Deficit Disorder, so I go into the library with this wiggling two year old in my arm, with on the other arm a handful of books on Attention Deficit Disorder. And I go to check them out and the librarian says I know what you must be going through. (laughter)

Jones: Now this was up in...

Rhonda Bellamy: In Durham.

Jones: So did you have to work also at this time?

Rhonda Bellamy: I also worked full time. Most of my time was spent at the Durham Public Housing Authority, as well as Duke University, where I worked in Continuing Medical Education, Hematology, Oncology, the Eye Center. You name it, I did it.

Jones: That's amazing. So you had one child and then another while you...

Rhonda Bellamy: Then another. In fact graduation day I had one in each arm.

Jones: Amazing. What drives Rhonda to do this? You were involved. You had to work, obviously. You wanted an education, that's terrific, you got it. And then tell me some more about your life there. You found a niche. You found that you could possibly make a difference, is that what you're saying, through media?

Rhonda Bellamy: I don't think it was that deep at that time. I thought-- I did something at that time, it happened. I think I was trying to feed my kids and try to find my place wherever that was.

Jones: There was no Daddy around?

Rhonda Bellamy: Yes, I married their father. We divorced shortly after I moved to Wilmington. After I graduated I stayed in Durham for a little while longer, realized that the marriage wasn't going to work out and so wanted to have my kids be surrounded by a support group, and my family has been that.

Jones: Do you have most of your family here?

Rhonda Bellamy: My mother's here. My father's deceased now, and I have a brother and a sister here.

Jones: Oh, that's good.

Rhonda Bellamy: Yes. And a large extended family. Because with both families, my paternal and maternal families both from Southeastern North Carolina, we have a large extended family here.

Jones: So you have holidays-- I hope you take off, it must be wonderful.

Rhonda Bellamy: Yes, it is.

Jones: Good for you. And your four year old is the son of-- daughter or son?

Rhonda Bellamy: Excuse me?

Jones: Your four-year old grand...

Rhonda Bellamy: Four-month old grandson, of my daughter, yes. And he's the joy of my life.

Jones: Now is it your only grandchild?

Rhonda Bellamy: My only grandchild.

Jones: No wonder. But they are fun. You can do all the things with them you never could do with your kids.

Rhonda Bellamy: And I always-- I tell friends all the time, you know, when you used to ask people about their grandkids and they would tell you like you really wanted to know, and you were just trying to be nice, well I am that woman now. I'm a changed person. I really am. It's a different type of love altogether.

Jones: So you came back to Wilmington, you had two children, did you have a job, or was this...

Rhonda Bellamy: I initially worked through a temporary agency in Corning personnel. And shortly thereafter, I think about a month or so after that, I applied for a job that was posted in the Star News, where they needed a business manager for a radio station, an AM radio station. That radio station, at the time, was owned by Don Ansell. And he had, just that day, closed on the property, because it had formerly been owned by Cape Fear Broadcasting. And so the day that he took it on as his own, I became his business manager, and then started getting into some on air work that has led to what I do now.

Jones: So what did you do initially? Were you a business manager?

Rhonda Bellamy: Right. Right. Handling traffic and national sales and learning the business end of radio, which I think has been really good.

Jones: Do you like what you're doing now or would you rather do-- now I know this is a difficult question, would you rather change your self image, or your image on radio? Instead of just the talk radio, would you rather have other things to do, or maybe you do? You're hands on. I know that you're the director over there of news, but tell us what else you're doing. You mentioned to me one time something about that.

Rhonda Bellamy: Well, first of all, Cumulus has a cluster of five stations here in the Wilmington market. Two of which I anchor in the morning. So I do...

Jones: What's the other one?

Rhonda Bellamy: There's 102.7, GNI and Coast 97.3, and I've been with them 14 years this year, anchoring morning news. They're both 100,000 watt stations, so it's a huge coverage area. We go from just north of Jacksonville, North Carolina to a little south of Georgetown, South Carolina and as far out west as Fayetteville.

Jones: Really?

Rhonda Bellamy: Yeah, so we have a huge coverage area. And I don't think that I would change a thing that I do, actually.

Jones: How do you set your program? Tell us about how you form your morning program, your guests, and what you're gonna talk about, or does sometimes it just happen, because of like last night, we had an election, therefore it becomes part of your agenda. But it must take a lot of planning. Can you talk about that?

Rhonda Bellamy: It's a matter of keeping your ear to the ground and knowing what it is that drives people, what people want to talk about. And that changes every day. Elections are one thing. You have special events that happen, you know, at certain times of the year. They're the set part of your format. But then there are other things that happen, breaking news that happens, you know, overnight. We might wake up tomorrow morning and a world leader may have been assassinated. Well then that's where my focus needs to go. Which is why I don't like to program so far in advance that I lock myself into a position where I can't respond in a timely fashion to whatever is going on.

Jones: You must have a tickler file on individuals who might fit-- you say breaking news, something that happens at the spur of the moment. You must have a tickler file for people who might be considered experts in these fields? Do you? And you can call on them for the last minute and they might understand and come be a guest on your show.

Rhonda Bellamy: A file is-- that's a strong term.

Jones: That's just a generic...

Rhonda Bellamy: Right. That's a strong term because it's not really a file, but I do have an opportunity to meet so many people. I'm inundated with information from a number of sources, in addition to reading probably about 4 or 5 newspapers a day. There are hundreds of emails a day, hundreds of faxes...

Jones: Do you read all your emails?

Rhonda Bellamy: Every single one of them, at least the subject line. At least the subject line, to see if it's something that I, you know, I might want to follow up on. So yes, I do try to maintain contact with people who are knowledgeable in any particular field, not ever knowing when I might have an opportunity to call on them. There've sometimes, you know, been 3 or 4 years that have lapsed between the time I met someone and the time that I got them on the show.

Jones: I think you're very kind. I say that because when I listen to you there are a cast of characters, you know this, who call you, if not daily, several times a week, and you have a whole lot more patience that any 10 people I know. I would have my finger on a button most of the time. How do you put up with that, or are you thinking of other things? You seldom cut them off unless you say we have to go to a break, thank you for calling, bang, when they've taken up way too much time. Do you feel that they've gone through the trouble to call you, they deserve the time on the air?

Rhonda Bellamy: They do. Now sometimes I am short with folks, particularly if they want to harp on the same thing over and over again, or if they want to-- feel that they have to repeat the same thing four times within that same conversation. And I'm also short when I realize that tone is not going to be civil, let us say. Because what I've really tried to do with the talk show is to set the tone of talk, because so often talk has been driven by politics, and partisan politics at that. And so through the platform that I have, I want to hear both sides of something and I want to hear from my neighbors, what my community feels on certain issues. And then I also have to take into account that a lot of people are not fluent. I'm the radio person. I can, you know, let it rip at a minute's notice. Some people need a little more time to get their thought across. And if I find an inkling or a nugget of truth or wisdom in what you're saying, I'll give you time to bring it out.

Jones: You just said something that reminded me of when I first started hearing you, after the former gal left and went up to, I think, Philadelphia. You've come a long way. You've developed your own personality, your own format, your own everything, which is wonderful. It's the way you're supposed to do it. But you've inherited a lot of personalities, too, I'm sure.

Rhonda Bellamy: I call them co-hosts by the way.

Jones: Well that, again, is just a bit too kind, you know. But how long did it take you to feel comfortable, or was this something that you had to feel your way along?

Rhonda Bellamy: You have to feel your way along because a lot of people don't realize-- they think I'm just sitting there, I'm the talking head. I'm pushing buttons. I'm writing at the same time. You're doing the whole thing. And so at first, until you get the technical aspect down, how to play your commercials, you know, which button is the mic, which button is the mic for your guest, which button is the phone...

Jones: I have to ask you something. I know that everything is timed just exactly so, for commercials, for station breaks, etc. Is anybody there helping you or do you have a clock with a little bird that jumps out and says now, now, now?

Rhonda Bellamy: No.

Jones: How does that work? You're listening to somebody, or there's been a commercial and, you know, you're coming up on something, and you've got one ear listening to either your guest or a telephone conversation. How can you be three different persons at once, or is it practice?

Rhonda Bellamy: It's practice. It's practice. Yeah, as I mentioned, I'm lining the phone calls up. I'm working the board, which is the console that controls all of your technical aspects. I'm playing the commercials. I'm talking to some of the salespeople coming in who are looking at the log. I'm greeting guests. I mean there's a lot of stuff going on that you don't know about.

Jones: When something important comes over the wire that needs to be announced to your radio audience, are you notified by somebody so that you can break it right then and there, we have a special break, or does the news department cut in? Can you do this or does the news department cut in and say we now go to whatever.

Rhonda Bellamy: That's generally is still me. That generally is still me. And I will, with very few exceptions, during the breaks, that's what I do. I go in, I check the wire and find out what's going on, especially if there's something late breaking. The first experience I had with that, actually, was 9/11, which happened three months after I started this talk show.

Jones: That's right. That was a while back.

Rhonda Bellamy: Yup.

Jones: Well that was a heavy duty one, and you stayed with it right?

Rhonda Bellamy: Exactly. And of course the morning of, I had just finished news on my other stations, and had just reported that a plane had flown into the Twin Towers. And we were thinking at that point, oh, this is an errant plane. It's gone way off course. And then one of my coworkers, Kitty Fitzgibbon, came in and said a second plane has crashed. I said, that's terrorism. And so, of course, I was in the middle of a phone call with a local who was griping about some local issue and, you know, our world is falling apart here. So she said, oh, and by the way, this is the caller, by the way, I think that there's another plane that crashed into the World Trade Center. I said, I know. I'm trying to go to a break if you'll hang up the phone. And so we hang up the phone and we realize what happened on 9/11.

Jones: Rhonda, how did you get so involved with the 1898 commemoration and Habitat for Humanity and anything else that you're doing? I've heard from various sources, and I don't know how accurate they are so I won't give their names, but that you also are involved with the Boys and Girls Club. Maybe it was just showing up. Would you tell us about that? Wilmington has become your home. You're here now. You've got roots here, of a sort. Your kids are here, now a grandchild is here, and you're involvement is making a difference. Can you talk about these things and why you've chosen them, or did they choose you?

Rhonda Bellamy: They chose me in some instances, for example, my affiliation with the 1898 centennial foundation. I was approached in 1997, the year prior to the centennial commemoration, to serve as co-executive secretary, along with Becky Long, for this year long commemoration. And I gave it some thought and decided why not. Both my parents who were born and raised here never knew what 1898 was about. They knew that there was an underlying tension but didn't really know what to attribute that to. And so I thought that it was an excellent opportunity to learn more about it myself and to use some of the skills, my skill set, to advance this cause of educating the community about what happened in 1898. In terms of some of my other involvements, they are some of the most rewarding things that I do. Cape Fear Habitat for Humanity, I'm a present board member now. And as we see Wilmington grow and we know that everyone is not growing with it. We know that income hasn't risen at the same level as land values, for example, and people who work and contribute so much to this community are placed out of it, or more appropriately, priced out of it. And so the opportunity to have someone be able to own a home is just so incredible to me, because I, for years, was a renter. I lived, for the first ten years that I was in Wilmington, I must have moved as many times. And so when I was finally able to buy my house, I had my keys in one hand and a can of paint in the other hand. Because I had been in apartments so long and living with white walls, and never being able to have something to call my own, it's an incredible experience. And so to be able to help other families achieve that is very rewarding to me.

Jones: Do you speak to other families? Do you speak to kids, teenagers? Do you go out and show that you are an example of if you've got a dream, you've got a plan and you work hard enough, you can do it.

Rhonda Bellamy: Yes. I average about 50 speaking engagements a year. I've been the commencement speaker at Miller Motte Business College, Lakeside High School. I'm always in schools.

Jones: Tell me about Lakeside. What do you think of that? Are they accomplishing what they are supposed to be doing?

Rhonda Bellamy: I think that we have to give it time. We're gonna have to give it more resources and we're going to have to make certain that the instructors and teachers that we put there have experience in dealing with populations that are underachieving, for whatever reason. So I'm hopeful.

Jones: That brings me around to something else that we've all been hearing about here recently, and that's how they're going to populate their schools. We are the grandparents of a brand new teacher who picked a school and picked a grade where she wanted to teach, and that's Freeman Elementary. And she is very happy doing what she's doing, and yet I'm hearing that parents are complaining about their kids having to go a further distance to make things equal. Well they're not. You've got to, and they never will be. Lakeside was separated because, as you said, problems or not, you have to have special teachers. And it all boils down to educating the kid to be responsible, sometimes in spite of their parents. Do you feel this way? I've talked to Bert Time [ph?], who's a friend. I've talked to Nick Rhodes, who's a friend, and I'm so glad he was elected because they want to make sure that these kids are educated. That's the basis of everything. Do you think this will make a difference if it can be done, if the schools have-- how do you feel about education, I'll put it that way? Do you believe in what they call bussing? Do you believe in having certain percentages of different ethnic groups-- how do you feel about this, having been involved yourself? You got kids coming up. You've had kids.

Rhonda Bellamy: Yes, my kids are out of the school system, thank you, but my kids always went to the school closest to our home. And that's a noble cause. A noble ideal I should say. But we can't ignore the fact that we do have segregated housing populations here, and when you realize that you have kids of a certain socio-economic status, and I don't care about the race, who are clumped together in one school, you don't have the parent involvement, differing levels of parent involvement. And I don't think that you have the same expectations, because when it's all said and done, we are still human. And teachers are human. Administration is human. And so I think that some of the natural tendencies, some of the programming, our early programming, has to be overcome in order for us to see the big picture. Now you mentioned Nick Rhodes, and one of the things that he wanted to talk about was maybe looking at the socio-economic index, if you will, to see-- because it doesn't matter if the child is a poor white child or a poor black child, the fact of the matter is they come with their own unique set of challenges. And there's a commonality there. And so if you look at those challenges, you look at trying to break down those challenges, then you realize that you're going to have to put more resources into these schools, and you're going to have to make certain that you have, not just qualified teachers, but super qualified teachers at these schools.

Jones: When you talk to these youngsters, and I'm so glad you do, I would be glad for anybody to go out and-- I think the mentor program should have a higher profile than it does. There are a lot of people who are capable of doing this. And they don't have to be economically deprived kids. There are a lot of deprived kids who come from families that can afford to buy them everything except love. Do you find that they listen to you and that they're getting what you talk about?

Rhonda Bellamy: I think they do and I think that the entrees, because they hear me on these radio stations, that's the entrée for them. Not necessarily because of Rhonda Bellamy and a talk show, most of the youth at least aren't even listening to talk radio. The time I'm on, they're in school for the most part. But there's a sense of celebrity that comes with local radio, if you will, and I think that that again is the entrée to get them to listen, because other than that they'd probably just shut you down. One of the other points that I wanted to make, particularly as it relates to education, I do not want to minimize the role that parents must play in having their children educated, but you have to remember that we have had a full generation of children who have been raised by single parents, you know. Sixty-seven to seventy percent of a whole generation of children raised by single parents, and you're going to come with some emotional baggage. I remember Dr. John Marvis [ph?] saying, you know, you can't believe the baggage that these kids come to school with. Because there's a yearning for a sense of completeness, and that generally comes through their peer groups, and it really depends upon what those peer groups stand for, what they do. But I think that we're going to have to recognize that we're expecting something, though it's, you know, the ideal, we're expecting something from a group of people who really don't have it to give.

Jones: Well, what is the answer?

Rhonda Bellamy: The answer is ensuring that we keep the teenage birth rate non-existent. I mean we have to lower the teenage birth rate. We have to keep telling kids about sex, and not only about sex, because as we're finding out with the latest health scares, that pregnancy might be the least of your worries, you know. With HIV and AIDS in epidemic proportions, primarily here in the South, the message has to be driven home. And I think we are seeing some decreases in the teenage birth rate. We also have to tell kids about how to form appropriate relationships because they're having sex because they don't know how to form relationships, good relationships. All of the relationships seem to be based on sex, and to the exclusion of a lot of other things like getting an education and volunteering in your community, those types of things. So it's a very complex situation that I don't have all the answers to.

Jones: Would they listen to people closer to their own age? Do we have people available, or even bring them in from somewhere else, who can say, look, I was like you, but this is what I've done. You can do it. Now that's easy to say, I know that. It's very easy to tell a kid, but here again comes the mentor program I think. How do you feel about that?

Rhonda Bellamy: You know, it's interesting, because I speak to a number of people. Kenny House, who's the clinical director of substance abuse services, George Figueroa over at Wilmington health access for teens, poll after poll, survey after survey, shows that kids, more than anything else, listen to their parents, more than to each other. And so parents have to realize, just going back to this whole notion of a whole generation being raised by single parents who've pretty much kind of thrown at-- they're exhausted, they're tired. I remember so many times when I probably should have chastised my children. I was worn out. I just finished working, you know. I had gone to the grocery store. I had washed the clothes. I had done all of that. And then they do something and it's like, I don't have the strength. I just don't have the strength. I mean there was some half hearted effort to correct you so that you don't make that mistake again, but frankly we just don't have the time. Now one of the solutions, I think, is to get men, whether or not you're a part of that family unit or something, engaged. Because these young children, and primarily boys I'm worried about, and I have a son, have to have someone to model themselves after. And if they don't, they're gonna model themselves after the latest rap star or bad acting basketball player or what have you, so I think that that's something that we can do within the community. If you know of a family that has children, a mother who's struggling with children, or even a father struggling with children, make yourself available to them.

Jones: I think you're right. It's easy to say, and it's easy to go in and talk to kids doing senior projects, for example, or retired people, but it takes, I think, a generation just about. Let's go on just a little bit. Who do you admire? Do you have a role model? Who have you admired that brought you this far?

Rhonda Bellamy: My mother.

Jones: Your mother? That's wonderful. Does she know it?

Rhonda Bellamy: I think she does. I think she does. I try to tell her as often as possible. She just was the- just a pillar of strength. Always working, always staying involved in our-- wherever we lived, she was the president of our block association. We always had hot meals, you know. And those are the things that most people appreciate. At least I do anyway. And just a model of what a woman should be.

Jones: That's nice. How about anybody else? Anybody that you admire, that could be local or on the international scene? Everybody has somebody that they really are in awe of somehow. It's kind of like putting them on a pedestal. Maybe you don't have that, you're lucky enough, you've got your mother and you're so involved that you may not need that. I think sometimes people need this to go on, you know.

Rhonda Bellamy: I've never been of the groupie mentality, if you will. I do respect an awful lot of people for an awful lot of reasons, so it's really difficult for me to pick one person over the other. I will say that I'm very thankful, particularly in radio, for Hannah Gage, and for Don Ansell, for giving me my start in radio if you will. In terms of on the national scene, I'm, as a big reader, Toni Morrison is one of my-- the turns of phrase and the intricate storylines, I'm just so in awe of that. In terms of people in the political scene, you know, that changes. Sometimes I, you know, I like them, sometimes I don't. It really depends upon, you know, where they're standing at any particular time. So I wouldn't say that I don't like any politicians, but there's no one that I'm terribly enamored of.

Jones: I think you're probably about average there, from what I've been hearing, particularly today, the last week. Rhonda, where do you see yourself, if you can share it with us, where do you see yourself going from this point on? You're not going to stand still, you can't, and as tired and busy as you might be, certainly you've got some kind of dream or you've got some place you'd like to be in five years, ten years, whatever. Now we all know this whole area is bulging at the seams and growing. I mean look where we were ten years ago. I think New Hanover County had something like 80,000 or less, now it just capped out at 106,000 and growing. And Brunswick County is the fastest growing in the country. So with that comes all kinds of openings, and with that comes trouble too. But where do you see Rhonda?

Rhonda Bellamy: Where do I see Rhonda? Carroll, you know, I never really think in terms of that.

Jones: You live day to day?

Rhonda Bellamy: I live day to day. That's so trite sounding actually. And I'm a very spiritual person. And I have to feel led to something. Now would I like a national talk show? Sure. Would I want to just go anyplace in order to achieve that aim? I don't know, because I'm very particular about where I want to be. I'm definitely an East Coast girl, I'll say that. And I've entertained a number of interesting offers, but the offer hasn't come yet and until the offer comes, I'll stay put.

Jones: One thing we haven't talked about, and that is your involvement with the theater. I mean from a girl who got the award you did in high school, you deviated about three times back and forth. And I do know that you are involved, at least a few times a year, in local theater. What's up now?

Rhonda Bellamy: Well I'm also the founding board member and president of the Black Arts Alliance, which was founded eight years ago on my birthday. I had a birthday party and there was Grenaldo Frazier and the late Margaret Freeman and the late Bernadine Boyce [ph?] and Maxwell Page [ph?] and all of us. And we're all sitting around and someone said, you know, we've got so much talent in this room, why don't we kind of harness it and see if by working together we can produce something that is greater than we are individually. And we had a few more drinks, and word got out to a reporter that was in town at that time, Jenna Dedova [ph?] that there was gonna be this Black Arts Alliance forming. And she called me and said, is it true that there's a-- so I said, yeah, and she said, well I'd like to do a story on it. So there I am in the paper like this, and as soon as we see it we said, uh oh, we gotta do it now. We're in the paper, we have to do it now. And so it's been so very, very rewarding. One of our signature productions is Cine' Noir, a festival of black film, which is entering it's sixth year now. And we're really, really excited. Each year we bring in more than 30 independent shorts, feature length, documentary, animation and now even music videos, that include either an African American writer, director or producer. And it has been phenomenally successful. We are even regarded internationally now because of some of the films that we've brought in. And it's just wonderful to be able to showcase, in this film center here in North Carolina, what's going on around the world. And also to allow filmmakers, visiting filmmakers, to see what we have to offer in terms of the infrastructure.

Jones: I was going to ask you about visiting people, or nationally, do you get much in the way of response, or questions, from people, from up and down the east coast, the west coast. They've heard about you, you've been invited to enter any kind of festivals, other than the one that you have yourselves here?

Rhonda Bellamy: Right, well we're not a producing organization, we're a presenting organization. So we're not necessarily invited to other festivals.

Jones: You don't have anyone who's doing, for example, films in this same genre?

Rhonda Bellamy: We have had a few local filmmakers, but most of our filmmakers come from the New York and LA areas, because they have the support groups that they need in those areas. Not that we don't have it here, in fact that's one of the reasons why we host the film festival, to say look at us, you know. And we do work with other festivals, sharing information about who has a film out, we're trying to get the contact for that person. And ours is a juried festival, so we offer cash prizes for the top films in each genre, and that's a change from some of the other film festivals where some of your lesser known films don't get the attention that they deserve. And so we pride ourselves on being able to recognize talent early on, through our emerging filmmaker award and also to recognize those who've been at it for a while, with our distinguished filmmaking award.

Jones: You are so involved. You're a happy person?

Rhonda Bellamy: I'm very happy. I really am.

Jones: That is terrific. Do you have plans for, these endeavors that you're involved in, for expanding that. Get back to this business of the growth of this area, which offers opportunity as well as headaches, but that's going to happen. What do you feel needs immediate attention here? Don't be afraid to-- if it's traffic or sewers, I mean that's just forever going on. What do you like about it? What do you think has been accomplished and what do you think needs attention? Where do you think we're going?

Rhonda Bellamy: First of all I'd like to say that I like growth, you know. Being raised in New York City, I just love the architecture and the grandness of New York City, so I'm not a foe to growth. But I think that we have to manage it and I think that you have to realize what you already have in place, how much you can accommodate with these present systems, and then not put the brakes on growth, but certainly pace it so that we allow the infrastructure to catch up with itself. I'm going to go back to something I said earlier about my involvement with Cape Fear Habitat for Humanity, and that is affordable housing. That's a big issue here. Whenever you have teachers and police officers and hospital workers who have to travel across a bridge in order to come to the place that they provide the services in, that's not good. That's not good that they are priced out of the community. And so I think that we have to pay attention to that. And we talk about the explosive growth, and we've seen that, and we talk about the fact that Wilmington is 95% built up, and we've seen that. But if you take an aerial view of New Hanover County, there's plenty of land here. And there's no reason why we can't build affordable housing that allows more of the people who actually do the work, the grunt work here, to be able to stay in this...

Jones: Who's responsible for this runaway housing? I mean everyone wants to lay the blame someplace. It's like we will build it and they will come. Well, I don't know. The housing market's going down a little bit. I know a lot of cases of policemen, firemen who sell their duplex up in the Bronx, moved down here and bought a small patio home with landfall. They could afford it. I mean that's the way it is. But the little retirement homes seem to be going for 3 and 400,000, little ones, so that they must be doing-- who's responsible for this? You've got a finger on the city and what's going on, and somebody has to put the brake somewhere. The green space used...

Rhonda Bellamy: First of all, I don't think the developers are gonna put the brakes, because that is...

Jones: That's how they earn their living.

Rhonda Bellamy: Exactly. And I don't begrudge them that. But I also think that we have to-- our municipality, the city of Wilmington, has to look into that. New Hanover County has to look into that. And the non profit sector. And I'm encouraged by some of the action that's come out of the affordable housing coalition, and the fact that they are trying to at least, perhaps create land trust. We'll give you a house, maybe you can't necessarily own the land, you can own the land for 99 years, I think, is the premise behind that whole land trust issue, but something. Because if we allow, or if we wait for development or developers to come in and build affordable houses, when it's not affordable for them to build affordable houses, then we're going to lose a lot more of our grunt workers, if you will. So I think it's our government and our non profit agencies have to collaborate on this.

Jones: I can't help but wonder, see if you agree with me or if you have a solution, that in this county, maybe it's the southern way, I don't know, that it takes forever to discuss one issue. We're still talking about issues they were talking about 9 and 10 years ago. We're still talking about a convention center. We're still talking about a bridge. And now the new thing is whether or not to take away the parking lot and make a park over at Thalian. This will go on and on and on. It doesn't seem to me these things happen in New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, they're kind of done. Now maybe it's because people don't care, there's so many people. But also, I can't help but wonder too, if we have so many people on these commissions and in these bodies that are fairly new to the area and they really don't understand yet what needs to be done. Is that right or not?

Rhonda Bellamy: I don't believe that's right, because I believe that most of the people, at least those who are sitting on present boards and commissions, have been here for a while. Most of the city council members are natives, if I remember correctly. I think that Pat Delair, our newly elected city council person, is from another place, and Laura Padgett. But I mean Laura Padgett has lived here for years and years and years.

Jones: She's lived here, yeah.

Rhonda Bellamy: Right. County commissioner's the same thing. You've got almost lifelong residents that are on these boards. Now I do wonder, particularly in the case of the board of commissioners, whether or not we have enough commissioners making decisions that impact county residents.

Jones: You think perhaps because of the size they might increase this?

Rhonda Bellamy: At least go to a 7 member board.

Jones: That's an interesting thought. Is there anything that you would do differently if you were sitting on a board? For example, how do you feel about the convention center? How do you feel about putting a park in and taking away a parking lot, which the elderly say that they need to have? How do you feel about a flying bridge over the Cape Fear River from Water Street? Bringing in-- well that's enough for right now.

Rhonda Bellamy: Okay, convention center. I actually sat on a convention center task force under former mayor Hamilton Hicks. And so I...

Jones: That far back?

Rhonda Bellamy: That far back. It's been talked about for...

Jones: Forever.

Rhonda Bellamy: Forever. But during Hamilton Hick's administration I sat on the task force, and we were looking at a lot of the same things that this present task force is looking at, and that is primarily a public-private partnership, with both sides bringing something to the table in order to make this happen. Because it- the hotel part of a convention center was the sticking point for us, as well, and so that's what we were primarily looking for, someone who would come in and run the hotel. Now I will say that I was taken aback when the price for the convention center shot up by about 20 million dollars in, you know, in like 2 weeks' time. So I was a bigger proponent of the convention center about 20 million dollars ago. I also was underwhelmed by the design of the convention center. I didn't see that as a 50 million dollar building and-- even with banners outside. It just didn't cut it for me. I think that there are ways that we could have done it for-- we could have gotten more building for our buck. But I'm not so involved in the technical aspects that I can say that. I'm just saying what I think, just looking at the design. And I also think that there have to be clearcut parameters for what the developer of record is going to do and what the city's going to do. And I think that one of the other concerns I had was that they were using the same stream of revenue-- prior to the latest legislation they were using the same stream of revenue to say that they could pay for this thing 20 million dollars ago as they did when it became, you know, a 50, 60 million dollar building. That didn't jive with me. So as long as there are safeguards that the taxpayer-- it will not come out of general funds, I think it could be a good thing, an economic engine for southeastern North Carolina. I told you earlier that I worked in continuing medical education at Duke, and we always wanted to bring conferences to Wilmington. But you have medical specialties with 1500 doctors and there was no place to put them here. So that's why the notion of a convention center was good to me. I thought that that was a good idea.

Jones: I agree. It is something that should be carefully looked at. It is being carefully looked at. But I hope it's happening. I hope it can work. Is there anything else that you feel that needs attention here that you could find yourself getting involved in? Not that you have any spare time, but, you know, we have the theater, we have music, we have the riverfront, we have a possible convention center coming up, we've got a growing university which is getting better and better all the time, we have a lot of people moving here. My understanding is that we have the largest concentration of retired Fortune 500 middle and upper echelon members of all these corporations. And some of them don't live here year round, but they do pay taxes here. So there's an awful lot of untapped resources to do things. And if that's the case, is there anything special that you feel we really could do and haven't done, that you could get involved in.

Rhonda Bellamy: One of the other things-- well, you know, the plight of the elderly concerns me. We're getting ready to go through another revaluation, in fact that process is underway, and people's home values are going to shoot up. CNN.com and Business 2.0 magazine have said that land values are going to appreciate to the tune of 37%, while most of the rest of the country is going to see that bubble finally busting. So when you have someone whose property has just doubled in value, you have to press your government to make certain that they implement or enact revenue-neutral budgets, which means that just because my property doubled, the property taxes that I pay shouldn't have to double as well. Because you're still-- the whole concept of revenue-neutral budgeting means that you're not going to take from us more than it takes to run this government. And we have, for this small pocket of land that we occupy here in southeastern North Carolina, we spend a lot of money. And a lot of that is going towards some of these human services that the elderly population needs. The Department of Social Services, their Medicaid budget, out the wazoo. Why? Because we're now having to pay for people who have to go into assisted living situations, because we have an aging population. So I think we're gonna have to pay more attention to that. And I think we're gonna have to ensure that people are not going to be priced out of-- those who can still stay in New Hanover County aren't priced out of their homes.

Jones: Well this is what I've heard too. And as one of the aging population, I have to think about it, but fortunately I'm not there yet, you know. I think this is also something, going back to schools, that the enrollment, for elementary schools at least, has dropped in New Hanover County. And I'm sure that's not because people have stopped having kids. They've moved across the river where it's a little more affordable. So that's-- Rhonda I'm so glad that you came. Have you got any words of wisdom for all of us, a guiding method of how to live your life happy, busy? You're exhausted. You hope you're going to go home and go to bed. Are you ever going to own the radio station?

Rhonda Bellamy: If you help me buy it, Carroll.

Jones: Well, Don's got one in Fayetteville he says he might sell.

Rhonda Bellamy: Who knows? If I'm led to do that...

Jones: You've had business background, you know this area, you've got your finger on the pulse of all kinds of things going on, you're a perfect candidate. Just...

Rhonda Bellamy: Speaking of candidates, someone wanted to write me in for yesterday's election, so...

Jones: Well, there you go. There's another dimension there.

Rhonda Bellamy: Yeah, I'd love to own a radio station. I mean, who wouldn't?

Jones: I don't know. I think it could bring a lot of headaches, too, but, you know, you know it. You know it.

Rhonda Bellamy: I do know the business. And again, as I mentioned at the start, it is very helpful in radio to know both sides of the business. And it's easy for someone to turn on a mic, but, you know, most of the real work is going on behind the scenes.

Jones: There is one last question and this will be my last question. We have to rely, basically with the exception of turning on your television and watching Fox, CNN, whatever, we rely on the Star News and we rely on radio for news. And a lot of the older people we've just been talking about them, I've heard them say, well, I can't see the TV that well anymore. I can't hear it. I can't do this. They'll listen to the radio. And some of them, they may take the Star News, I don't think they read it, but those are the only two things they have to rely upon what's going on in the world. Do you think we're doing a good job at getting all the news to them?

Rhonda Bellamy: I think we do as good a job as we can, realizing the confines of whatever media they choose to get their news from. I know my stations, we do the very best we can. Again, we have five stations in this market. We have morning news on all of them, with a particular emphasis on our news talk station. And anything that's happening, whether through the interviews, for the guests that we bring in, people calling in with news, because very often I'm just as informed by the listeners as the listeners are informed by me. So there's a symbiotic thing going on there.

Jones: But they're not always right.

Rhonda Bellamy: Not always right, but I always check up on it. I never, you know, I have to consider the source if you will.

Jones: You have one caller who, and I believe this, she does not read the newspaper, by her own choice, she doesn't read any newspaper. She gets all her news from WAV radio. I'm sure you know who that is.

Rhonda Bellamy: Yes, I do. Yes, I do. And there are a number of people like that. And all you can do is give it your best shot, you know. You keep your ear to the ground, as I mentioned earlier, trying to find out what it is going on in your community, how many people are affected by it, how many people care to know about it, and just put it out there.

Jones: When you're not on the air, do you listen to the radio?

Rhonda Bellamy: No. (laughter)

Jones: No station whatsoever?

Rhonda Bellamy: No. I mean I keep our stations tuned in, you know, if I-- but if I'm in the car, I listen to WAV because it's news talk. Information is evolving throughout the day and so, you know, I still keep my ear to the ground. But typically, no. I'm a big reader, you know. So my head is constantly stuck in a paper or a book or a fax or on email.

Jones: Do you read bestsellers? Do you read fiction over anything else? Do you read biography? Or do you just read everything?

Rhonda Bellamy: Fiction. I love fiction. I absolutely love fiction. And as I mentioned, Toni Morrison is one of my favorite authors. But in terms of nonfiction, most of it comes through magazines, news magazines, newspapers, those types of things.

Jones: Well this has been a rare treat. We enjoyed having you.

Rhonda Bellamy: I've enjoyed being here.

Jones: I wish I could talk to you about a lot of other things, but right now, can't do it. And all I can tell you is that it's been a privilege to have you as part of our oral history group for today. It's very important. And perhaps in a year or so we can go back and talk to you again about some other things.

Rhonda Bellamy: Would love to do that.

Jones: Thank you so much, Rhonda.

Rhonda Bellamy: Thank you.

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