While Greenville earns its way onto dozens of “best” and “top” lists – “Best Small City,” “Top Foodie City,” “Best Main Streets,” – Bajeyah Eaddy wants people to remember that Greenville is also a place where people struggle to earn their way out of poverty.
“People are seeing Greenville as one of the best places to retire, one of the top places to live. Those things are great,” says Bajeyah Eaddy, who has worked for 20 years in local politics.
“But there’s also another part of Greenville that will continue to produce beauty from ashes, where people rise out of poverty and are elevated to a different way of living.”
Last month, she took her oath of office as a member of the Joe Biden/Kamala Harris administration. She is a special assistant to the chief of staff at the Small Business Administration.
“I’ll always be proud to be one of those persons who beat the statistics.”
Eaddy grew up in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Greenville, in a complex now known as Shemwood Crossing, near Old Augusta Road.
According to the U.S. Census 2019 survey, about 70% of Greenville’s population is white, and 23% is black. The same survey shows that 30% of the black population lives below the poverty line, compared to 7.6% of the white population.
“We didn’t realize how poor we were until we became adults,” Eaddy says. “We saw poverty and drug deals each day walking to school. We were told that we would become the statistic.”
Eaddy defied those predictions to become one of more than 200 African American women appointed by Biden so far.
“I go to work every day, whether it’s virtual or in person, very thankful because I realize a lot of people won’t get this opportunity,” she says. “A lot of people will never see outside the community where I grew up.”
Eaddy found her purpose after making her way to Barber-Scotia College, a historically Black college in Concord, North Carolina. She studied, but she also encountered and survived dating abuse and domestic violence.
Ironically, the abuse dictated her path. She published a book, “Through the Eyes of a Survivor: A Journal for Surviving Domestic Violence,” and founded a nonprofit organization, Standing Against Violence Every Day.
“It was set up to help victims and survivors of domestic violence because that’s what I survived in college. But part of its mission is giving back to the community,” she says.
Project Feed 5000 began about eight years ago. Her nonprofit, now known as SAVE, partners with churches, organizations and 700 volunteers to provide Thanksgiving dinner at Phillis Wheatley Community Center.
“We’ve fed over 70,000 individuals,” Eaddy says.
The abuse also propelled her into politics.
“I wasn’t happy with some of the things that happened in my own domestic violence case. I wanted to know, who hires the prosecutor, who hires the solicitor?” she explains.
“I developed a love for politics. I wanted to know how legislation was passed. I wanted to know who could write legislation.”
Eaddy began working for Karl Allen, a Greenville Democrat who served as a state representative from 2001 to 2012 and has been a state senator since 2013.
“He gave me my first shot, to tag along and work his campaign. It grew from there,” she says. “I feel like you can’t better your community if you’re not in your community working.”
Her mentors include the late Greenville County Councilwoman Lottie Gibson and Ray Lattimore, who founded Marketplace Professional Staffing in 1996 and has served on the boards of Phillis Wheatley Center and United Way of Greenville.
Gibson inspired Eaddy to run for a County Council seat in 2016. She lost but was not deterred.
“I didn’t go curl up in a ball,” she says. “From that, I started sitting on different boards and stayed involved with the community to understand why we had such a low voter turnout.”
Eaddy is proud that South Carolinians turned out in record numbers for the last presidential election. But she wants to see those voters at the polls for local elections, too.
“A lot of people don’t understand, voting is local. It starts with the school board, the county council, the city council,” she says.
Even so, Eaddy jumped into Biden’s campaign during the primary.
“He is the one candidate I’d work for without getting paid. He started the Violence Against Women Act. In my opinion, it saved my life to have those tougher laws protecting women. I’ve always respected him. It was easy deciding to go work for him.”
Her respect never dimmed. “He is exactly who you see. He remembers you. He’s traveled the world, but he remembers you.”
Eaddy’s resume and references landed her a spot with Biden’s presidential campaign.
“After the South Carolina primaries, they wanted to reassign and promote people. I was lucky enough to follow this thing all the way into the administration,” she says.
Her final assignment with the campaign was with the Presidential Inauguration Committee.
“No one’s ever done a campaign during something like COVID,” she says. “We had to be creative and try new things. And it worked. It just worked out for us.”
Now, as part of the administration, her job at the SBA will be to engage with the community.
“Black-owned businesses, women-owned businesses, veteran-owned businesses are growing,” says Eaddy, who moved to Virginia to be closer to the SBA offices in Washington, D.C. “I want to make sure they have a voice at the table. I want to advocate for those who don’t have a voice or whose voices aren’t as loud.”
But Eaddy’s heart will bring her back to Greenville frequently – whether it’s checking on family (her parents, four sisters, nieces and nephews) or her work in the community.
She credits her parents for much of her success. “They would tell us: ‘Work hard. There’s more to the world than just the community you see.’ My family is still my strongest asset, my closest bond.”
They also taught her to survive and thrive. “No one is coming to save you. There’s no superhero. You’ve got to get up and save yourself.
“I live by that, every day.”