Raised in the town of Denmark, South Carolina, January 2011 IMPACT Leader Bakari T. Sellers is a product of the proverb, “it takes a village to raise a child.” Growing up the son of Dr. and Mrs. Cleveland Sellers, Bakari has always been involved in local community activity. Education being a top priority, Bakari graduated from the South Carolina public school system, and then proceeded to Morehouse College where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree. He earned his juris doctorate from the University of South Carolina School of Law.
Bakari began his journey in the realm of politics by working for United States Congressman James Clyburn, Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, and the Southeastern Regional Director of the NAACP. While at Morehouse College, Bakari was elected Student Government Association President and, by virtue of his position, served on the College’s Board of Trustees. These experiences have inspired him to engage in “not politics, but public service.”
Bakari’s grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Cleveland L. Sellers Sr. and the Rev. and Mrs. E.W. Williamson ensured that he be grounded in faith while remaining steadfast in his convictions. Rev. Williamson, a Baptist minister, and Mrs. Ruby Williamson, a retired school teacher, now reside in Memphis, Tennessee. The late Cleveland Sellers Sr., a well respected local businessman, and Mrs. Pauline Sellers, a nutritionist at the Denmark Area Trade Center (now Denmark Technical College), were pillars of the Denmark community for over 75 years.
There is no doubt that Bakari’s passion for both education and activism have been instilled through his family lineage. His mother, Gwendolyn Sellers, has been in higher education over 20 years, while his father, Dr. Cleveland Sellers has been a champion for civil rights in South Carolina and served as the Director of African American Studies at the University of South Carolina. He is now the President of Voorhees College, in Denmark, South Carolina.
With the strong moral and ethical grounding of his grandparents, the never-ending thirst for education of his mother, and the undying passion for equal opportunity of his father, Bakari has returned to South Carolina. He hopes to continue the Sellers’ legacy of walking in faith, while creating change that benefits all persons – no matter race, color, or creed.
At the age of 26 Bakari is an employee at the Strom Law Firm and represents District 90 (Bamberg, Barnwell and Orangeburg County) in the South Carolina General Assembly.
QUESTION AND ANSWER WITH BAKARI SELLERS
1. As you note in your bio, your grandparents kept you spiritually grounded. How would you say your faith provided you a solid foundation for your accomplishments?
My faith is a priority that guides my life. Growing up in rural South Carolina, my faith has afforded me with the foundation and strength to move my community out of degradation and despair. Understanding that I have a purpose has kept me grounded and focused on attempting to create tangible change and hope within my community.
2. What was the impetus for you running for office?
It was quite simple actually. My community was on the decline socially, economically, and educationally. It was time for a change. I wanted to give back to the community that had given me so much. I felt, “if not me then who, and if not now, then when.”
3. How do you balance being an elected official with a thriving law practice?
Finding balance is the most difficult part. Attempting to successfully practice law, have some semblance of a personal life, and represent my constituents to the best of my ability often becomes overwhelming. However, I have a passion for service. I have come to understand that my wants and needs will many times be replaced by the wants and needs of others, and I am content in knowing that.
4. What advice would you give other young professionals who desire to run for office?
If someone want to run for political office, do it because there is a desire to leave a mark, change the world. This is not a career or profession that one should engage in simply to satisfy some curiosity or because you deem it a fad. Politics can consume you. You must use it a vessel to make someone’s life better.
5. What’s been the best experience of your career thus far (or the most rewarding experience)?
The best experience of my career thus far was securing funding for a library in my hometown. I truly believe, “Education is the gateway to the American Dream,” so it felt good for that to be my first project in my district.
6. What’s next for you, career wise? What should we look out for?
I have no idea. I am truly blessed to have to opportunity to represent my constituents. I will say though, the Governor does have a nice house.
7. Lastly, give me three words to sum up Bakari:
Faith, Education, Service.