Herbert L. Bellamy Jr. sat behind the desk of his father, Herbert Bellamy Sr., in the Founder’s Office inside the new Black Achievers Historical Museum at 1490 Jefferson Avenue last Wednesday afternoon, soon after the ribbon was cut to officially open the museum.
Bellamy Jr.’s ever present smile was beaming as he spoke with great pride and reverence about his dad, who founded the Black Achievers Award 48 years ago to recognize African Americans in our community from all aspects of society, who were regularly overlooked by white society, and recognize them at a fancy testimonial dinner for their accomplishments. Since those humble beginnings, nearly 2,000 Black Achievers have been recognized during a black-tie dinner event before large audiences in the Buffalo Convention Center.
The Founder’s office is the first stop for museum visitors, especially the youth, so they can hear and see the story of Bellamy Sr., affectionately known as “Mr. B.,” who was born in Burgaw, North Carolina as one of 12 children whose father was a sharecropper. Bellamy saw, experienced and heard first hand stories of slavery, bigotry and systemic racism but that never held him back from pursuing his dreams of living a better life, providing for his family and giving back to his community. He came to Buffalo after high school, joined the United States Marine Corp. and upon his return, studied at The Dale Carnegie Institute and Buffalo State College while starting a career of more than 30 years as a successful businessman, political leader and activist while building an equally strong resume in community service.
His son will tell the youth who walk into the Founder’s Room, which is filled with plaques and photos of his dad with former Presidents of the United States and famous professional athletes and entertainers along with him proudly standing with the first class of Black Achievers in Buffalo and one of him standing with more than a million people behind him at a Million Men March on Washington D.C. years ago.
There is a very good chance, some 40 years earlier, Bellamy Sr. could have been seated behind his desk, either in his office as a Buffalo Councilmember at Large in City Hall or at his successful liquor store on East Ferry St. or more likely, at 1490 Enterprises, which he founded in 1969 on Jefferson Avenue in the wake of the racial uprising that swept the county. In Buffalo, the riots took over Jefferson Avenue and was one of the reasons the Buffalo Bisons International League baseball team could no longer play night games at War Memorial Stadium (they played them in Niagara Falls at what is now Sal Maglie Stadium) and eventually forced the team to leave Buffalo and re-locate to Winnipeg, Manitoba in Canada leaving Buffalo without a professional baseball team until 1979.
Mr. B could have been surrounded by fellow Buffalo councilman and businessman Clifford Bell; former Council President George K. Arthur and community activists, who always looked for ways to help others, especially the youth, Johnnie B. Wiley and Charlie Fisher.
Much like his son did this past Wednesday, Mr. B probably sat behind his desk, smiled and spoke to his friends with great pride about the success of his namesake and how Herb Jr. would carry on the traditions of the annual Black Achievers Award banquet and how he would be entrusted to continue the mission and growth of 1490 Jefferson.
“It is an honor for me to carry on the traditions my father began,” Bellamy Jr. said with an equal amount of pride for his dad. “What touches me most are the lives we have been able to touch by presenting them an Achievers Award and then hearing their stories. Our recipients are selected and sponsored by local organizations and companies and many of them never thought they would ever be recognized for what they have done.
“It brings tears to your eyes to hear these stories,” he continued.
Willie “Hutch” Jones grew up with Bellamy Jr. and competed against him on the basketball courts in the city and in high school. While Bellamy followed in his dad’s footsteps in the community, “Hutch” continued to pursue basketball in college at Vanderbelt University and in the pros, eventually joining the Los Angeles Lakers before embarking on a seven-year pro career in Spain and Italy.
The 6-foot-8 gentle giant returned to Buffalo, used his degree in physical education to teach and coach in the Buffalo Public Schools while starting the Willie “Hutch” Jones Education and Sports program more than 30 years ago. He is a Black Achievers Award recipient and for several years has sponsored a recipient.
Dr. Willie “Hutch” Jones, Ph.D. had this to say about his friend, Bellamy Jr.: “As a Black Achiever recipient in 2002 who has had the opportunity to grow up with Mr. Herb Bellamy Jr., I truly appreciate that both Herb and his father have taken their precious time to honor individuals from our community that have made positive contributions to mankind. Any person who takes time to uplift and honor other individuals for their success are truly God sent. To the entire 1490 team, please never get distracted from the mission you are accomplishing. Even in these times of social distancing, racial discrimination, and Covid-19, TEAMHUTCH continues to endorse and support your efforts and endeavors!”
Cedric Holloway, the son of the late Johnny B. Wiley; executive director the Wiley Amateur Sports Pavilion on the site of the former War Memorial Stadium; founder of Omega Mentoring and a recently retired Buffalo Police Detective Sargent, who headed up the city’s SWAT team, is a two-time recipient of the Black Achievers Award and knew Herb Sr. very well as he does his son.
Holloway said: “Herb Jr. and I had great examples of strong men in our lives. Like myself, it’s good for us to continue with our father’s great work of serving our community. We both had great role models who served to better the lives of those in our community and we are just trying to do our part in hopes of making a difference and providing hope for our youth.”
Thurman Thomas, the Buffalo Bills Hall of Fame running back who married his Oklahoma State College sweetheart, the former Patti Mariacher of Elma, relocated here upon retiring and they both began The 34 Group, which has become a major player in construction management. Thomas should have received his Achievers Award years ago but he was always out of town on the event day and he said he would only accept if he could be there in person.
Thurman and Patti had this to say about Herb Jr.: “Herb Bellamy is the definition of a pillar in the community. The City of Buffalo is so blessed to have someone so energized when it comes to uplifting the Western New York region in every possible way. Herb has employed, chaired, developed, honored and loved this city beyond measure. We are all honored to call him a friend.”
Laura Zaepfel, Vice President of Community Relations for Uniland Development Company, said the Montante family’s third generation company has been a proud supporter of the Black Achievers organization for many years and was the proud recipient of the Black Achievers President’s Award in 2018.
“We are committed to fostering, cultivating, and preserving a culture of diversity, inclusion and belonging as we strive to achieve superior business results,” she said of the Amherst-based construction management and property development company. “We recognize that human capital is our most valuable asset and the sum of our individual differences and unique capabilities enhances our success. Involvement with the Black Achievers Scholarship Academy enhances our interface with students of color at area high school and colleges which strengthens our ability to mentor and recruit.
“Herb Bellamy Jr. is clearly following in his father’s footsteps and it is so gratifying to see,” she explained. “His dad must be so proud to see how his son has taken this organization to the next level by focusing attention to what is needed to support and promote youth in our community.
“Transitioning from high school to college is a huge step and we all know the importance of education and the doors it opens. The Buffalo Black Achievers recognizes the importance education plays in the lives of our area youth as it is one of their pillars of success,” she continued. “Through the creation of the Black Achievers Youth Academy, now housed in the Black Achievers Museum, establishes an exceptional education resource center for African American culture and history.
Through the creation of the Black Achievers Youth Academy, now housed in the Black Achievers Museum, establishes an exceptional education resource center for African American culture and history.
“Knowing their focus will be on assistance with transitioning from high school to college, scholarship applications, mentoring workshops, monthly speakers, career shadow days and even connecting with paid internships, is unique in its approach. The Academy will give students access to computers, the internet and education on former Black Achievers for possible career choices. It is very exciting.”
The significance of the museum’s ribbon cutting last week, occurring the day after the Presidential Election; eight months after the COVID-19 pandemic began that has killed nearly 250,000 Americans but mostly, after a summer of horrific abuse against blacks by the Police in several U.S. cities, was not lost on the government leaders in attendance.
“This has been a very, very tough year,” acknowledged New York State Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul. She was representing Governor Andrew Cuomo, who authorized $50 million from the Buffalo Billion set aside for development along East Side corridors, including Jefferson Avenue and the museum and Bellamy Commons, the building that houses the museum and 30 affordable apartments.
“The historic injustices faced by African Americans for hundreds of years in our country but now people are starting to acknowledge it and most important, they are doing something about it,” Hochul continued. “I truly hope this is a turning point in our nation’s history because we desperately need to see it. It was a tragedy what we all watched occur on that street in Minneapolis with a police officer’s knee on his neck to show these issues to White Americans of what African Americans have known and experienced far too long.
“White America has finally had its eyes open to this systemic racism and the injustices of racism that for far too long has been prevalent in our society,” the Lt. Governor added with extreme passion. “I remain an optimist and I do believe that with strong leadership and people not afraid to come to the forefront and saying ‘no more’ about this happening in our country, we will continue to see great things and continue to celebrate the lives and stories of more young black achievers.”
Buffalo Mayor Byron B. Brown, who called the Black Achievers award he received in 1989 while serving as Erie County’s Director of the division of Equal Employment Opportunity, one of his proudest moments, was equally passionate about the racial injustices that have been brought to the forefront of all Americans this year and how, in a small way, this museum could help make a difference in educating our youth about successful stories of the past while giving them hope for the future.
“During global protests about systemic racism and racial inequality of Black people that have suffered for more than 400 years, and to change policing policies, we now have a museum that celebrates Black achievement opening in the City of Buffalo,” he said during the press conference. “During a global health pandemic, we have a museum opening in Buffalo’s Black community. How many communities across the country and across the globe can celebrate what we are celebrating today?”
During global protests about systemic racism and racial inequality of Black people that have suffered for more than 400 years, and to change policing policies, we now have a museum that celebrates Black achievement opening in the City of Buffalo.
New York State Senator Timothy M. Kennedy, credited Bellamy Jr. for carrying on the legacy of his father and what a huge task that is because “Herb Bellamy Sr. was such a great visionary, a spokesman and advocate but mostly, a respected leader in our city.”
Kennedy was equally impressed about the educational opportunities the museum will have for the youth. “We stand on the shoulders of those black achievers who still give back to our city every day. Their stories give our youth an opportunity to see where we have come from and a vision of where they could go.”
Another strong supporter of the Museum and 1490 Jefferson is New York State Assembly Chairwoman Crystal Peoples Stokes. She received comments of appreciation from Bellamy Jr. and the speakers as he was not there because of the recent death of her daughter.
Back in the Founder’s Office, Bellamy Jr. said the museum includes six digital touch-screens that features the stories of the honorees from 2010-2019. Let’s hope they receive funding soon to continue the screens for the remaining decades.
Reflecting on what was just said by the influential political leaders and considering the times we are in, Bellamy Jr. added, “My father began presenting these Black Achievers Awards out of a need to address the inequality and lack of recognition of Black Americans. That was important then and it is equally important today.”
The final paragraph in Bellamy Jr.’s bio page in this year’s Virtual Awards Banquet’s program book could be an ideal closing statement for those touring The Founder’s Office: “I encourage you to continue to strive towards the realization of your dreams and I encourage you to ‘Change your thoughts, Change your world.”
(Reservations to tour the Black Achievers Historical Museum can be made by calling 716.884.1490. The museum is open Saturday from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. For more information, visit www.buffaloblackachievers.org or to donate visit www.buffaloblackachievers.org/donate.)