Professor & New Assistant Dean in CHASS

QUIANNE’ HOLMES | Correspondent 

Dr. Blair Kelley is a woman of many endeavors. Recently named Assistant Dean for Interdisciplinary Studies and International Programs for NC State University’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Dr. Kelley has been at NC State since 2002. She is also an associate professor of History.

She embraces the transition into the Assistant dean position because she is able to take her experiences and observations from her years in the classroom and apply it to making improvements for the college. Describing her position is an interesting new change, and she acknowledged that it is her honor to serve at NC State.

An expert in history, specifically African American Studies, Dr. Kelley received her B.A. from the University of Virginia and her M.A. and Ph. D. from Duke University. Her first book, Right to Ride: Streetcar Boycotts and African American Citizenship, won the 2010 Letitia Woods Brown Memorial Book Award from the Association of Black Women Historians.

However, despite her academic and professional achievements, she counts her greatest accomplishment as striving to balance between being a mom, wife, a professor, Assistant dean, along with volunteering in her community. Dr. Kelley has a lovely family with two children: an eleven year-old daughter, a two year-old son and a husband of thirteen years.

She tries to create balance between home and work life by making sure she dedicates enough time and effort into everything she does. In the community, she enjoys participating in her church and providing resources from her professional background to help keep people involved and engaged in the community.

Dr. Kelley is not only inspirational but she is also inspired by two important people whose efforts had a positive influence on the Civil Rights Movement. Ida B. Wells and Ella Baker are two historic African-American women admired most by Kelley.

She described Ida B. Wells as a “brave journalist,” whose ideas and courage were so modern even though she began her career more than a century ago. Kelley also suggested that Wells’ efforts to balance her roles as a wife, mother, and journalist was very admirable and before her time. Dr. Kelley highlighted the ways that Ida B. Wells received backlash for her brave attitude and outspokenness, yet she continued to fight for the rights of African-Americans.

Kelley also appreciates North Carolinian Ella Baker’s efforts to organize the Civil Rights Movement throughout the South. Baker helped lay the groundwork for the movement by recruiting new members to the NAACP in the 1940’s, helped Martin Luther King Jr. to found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and encouraged the students who sat-in at lunch counters throughout the South in the spring of 1960 to form the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Dr. Kelly admired Baker for her tenacity and her willingness to work without the national spotlight for the good of the movement.

Kelley’s inspirations have shaped her into the historian she is today. Her poise and drive are reminiscent of a modern day Ida B. Wells. Kelley steps outside of the box with her writings and especially in her podcast, Historical Blackness. She speaks about race, blackness, and social hierarchies in the American context and with her discussions has noticed that there are a lot of people outside of the academy who are interested in hearing information about our current situation and history. Of course, everyone who has opinions receives backlash and Dr. Kelley understands this and knows that despite negative commentary, her work has a meaning and a purpose.

Dr. Kelley’s advice for a college student: “College is a unique opportunity, never in your life will it feel like this. Enjoy your adventure because once time moves forward things get set and the likelihood of having such unique opportunities again is very limited. So travel, read, take classes that challenge your thinking. Don’t sit back, take advantage of what resources N.C. State provides.” Often times students don’t take advantage of all the resources available on NC State’s campus. Many times, African Americans don’t study abroad due to financial constraints which can limit opportunities to explore different cultures and learn new languages. If African-American students don’t become involved with student organizations, their participation in the advancement and improvement of the community is nonexistent. Change starts with one person, movement comes from support, and impact comes from the strength behind a voice.

What will you do to impact North Carolina State University? How will you use the resources on the campus to help you take on a new opportunity? What ideas do you have to help improve conditions at NC State? North Carolina is a school for academics but it is also a network for innovating and diverse creativity.

Writer’s message: With my best regards, it was my honor to interview such a modest professional African American woman. To know that a historian on NC State’s campus has such an influence in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences and in the community, it is a reflection of what I aspire to be. I encourage all students to take time out of their schedules just to have a conversation with Dr. Blair Kelley. It will be a worthwhile experience.