Pamela McKelvy Hamner never thought she would run for political office. After all, she was a reporter for 30 years. She knew what politics were like—brutal.
“I never really thought of myself as being on this side … because, first of all, I knew the work,” the Southaven, Miss., candidate for the local Board of Aldermen told the Mississippi Free Press. “You don’t make any money, you get ragged on. People don’t appreciate the people that really do put the commitment and work into it to effect change. So I was like, I don’t want that life.”
In January 2021, Hamner felt betrayed by Mississippi’s state leaders in Congress after seeing U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith and Reps. Michael Guest, Trent Kelly and Steven Palazzo vote against the certification of the presidential election results in Congress. Only two leaders from Mississippi—Sen. Roger Wicker and Rep. Bennie Thompson—voted to certify the election.
“It felt personal,” Hamner said. “Knowing that I had a capacity to start a fight to ensure the future or representation for African Americans and for anyone that was disenfranchised—poor people, women—I felt like it was something I could do, and I should do.”
Eight years after local members of the Federation of Democratic Women started approaching her as a potential candidate for local office, Hamner decided to run.
“(Mississippi) has so much great potential, and there’s a large number of people here in the state who I think feel the same way that I do,” Hamner said.
Talking to other community members has convinced Hamner that Mississippi might be waiting on a change.
“They’re ready for Mississippi to have a new narrative,” Hamner said. “They’re ready for Mississippi to step into the new millennium; they’re ready for Mississippi to stop being last in education and economics; they’re ready for Mississippians to have adequate health care; and they’re tired of the government that exploits them, and then blames them.”
Speaking Her Own Truth
Born in Detroit, Mich., Hamner moved with her family to Kansas City, Kan., with her family at about 13 years old. In 1986 she graduated from Washington High School there. Years later, she worked as a television reporter and weekend anchor for WDAF-TV in Kansas City, Mo., from 1992 to 1995.
Hamner earned her bachelor’s degree in mass communications from Grambling State University, a historically Black university in Louisiana, in 1990. In 1991 she worked at KAMR-TV in Amarillo, Texas, as a television reporter. Soon, in 1992, she became a morning anchor, reporter and producer for WIBW-TV in Topeka, Kansas.
In 1995 Hamner moved on to a job as a reporter and anchor at Memphis’ WREG-TV and stayed for a decade, appearing on the 5, 6 and 10 p.m. broadcasts. In 2008, Hamner worked at 98.9 KIM FM radio in Memphis for the Morning Drive Broadcast. She worked as a co-anchor for the 4 p.m. broadcast at WMC-TV 5 from 2013 to 2015.
Despite her long media resumé, Hamner isn’t interested in working as a journalist again; she needs to speak her own truth.
“(Journalism is) no longer for me—unless I’m on the side of like a commentator or something—because I can’t not say what I think or have opinions anymore, particularly when I see something that I know is not true or accurate,” Hamner said.
Although she has departed from journalism as a profession, Hamner still researches topics as much as she did when she was reporting.
“I’m grateful I am doing it even though it’s a tremendous commitment—because I take it very seriously—and I’m making mistakes, but I’m committed to it,” Hamner said.
‘She Knows a Whole Lot’
Hamner’s dedication to understanding complex issues hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“She’s a real bubbly-type person who’s very serious, and she knows a whole lot … she does a lot of research,” Theresa Gillespie Isom, president of the DeSoto Marshall County chapter for the Democratic Women’s Federation, told the Mississippi Free Press. “She’s a person that loves to bring and research things.”
The Mississippi Roses chapter of Links inc., a nonprofit, invited Hamner to speak about her experience as a breast-cancer survivor. Isom, now a candidate for the Board of Aldermen in Olive Branch, was the chair of the Mississippi Roses chapter’s Health and Human Services Committee at the time Hamner spoke.
Years later, after Isom decided she would be running for the Olive Branch Board of Alderman, she decided to contact Hamner again.
“I reached out to her when I decided I was going to run for alderman,” Isom said. “I thought that she would be someone that also would be an asset to her community.”
From Miss America to Making Pesto and Campaigning
On Easter Sunday, Hamner served pesto she made from her own garden’s basil alongside her family’s meal. Gardens surround her home where she lives with her husband, Dabney Hamner, and 16-year-old son. She has dozens of species of plants on the property—but no kudzu—and spends plenty of time caring for them.
Gardens aren’t the only beauty Hamner has been complimented on.
Hamner was Miss Kansas in 1992. Later, she competed in Miss America and finished as the third runner-up in the 1993 competition—but she won a preliminary award in the talent contest by singing “I am Changing” from the musical “Dreamgirls.”
Although Hamner showcases her ‘90s pageant photos on Facebook, she doesn’t brag about it. She didn’t even mention it.
First Woman of Color Elected in Southaven?
Kelly Jacobs was the second vice chair of the DeSoto County Democrats until early 2021, when she resigned to help train new Democratic candidates.
Jacobs held trainings for six weeks, every Wednesday night, for two hours. Speakers like U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, State Rep. Hester Jackson-McCray of DeSoto County and former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy came to help the class.
Last week, Jacobs and Jackson-McCray, a Black legislator who won her seat in 2019 and staved off an attempt by her white woman opponent to get her election overturned, announced the ballot initiative for early voting in Mississippi last week at the Mississippi Capitol.
Hamner didn’t miss a single session of Jacobs’ trainings for candidates.
Since meeting Hamner, Jacobs has gotten to know what she describes as the candidate’s “effervescent” personality.
“She bubbles and has wonderful ideas,” Jacobs said. “She sends out beautiful thank-you notes (that) I think that reflect her, and she seems very thoughtful, contemplated and considerate.”
Although Jacobs likes Hamner’s messaging, she expects her to have a difficult time campaigning.
“No woman of color has ever been elected in Southaven,” Jacobs said. “We had a woman of color who ran four years ago and (people) stole her signs. They told voters that she didn’t even live in her district so they couldn’t vote for her, which was not true.”
Only one woman, Lorine Cady, has ever been elected to the Board of Aldermen in Southaven Hamner and Jacobs say. Cady, who is white, is now the executive director of House of Grace, a shelter for victims of domestic violence in Southaven.
Hamner believes elected officials should work to bring people together across divides and to move forward together.
“You’ve got 330 million people, you’re going to have differences,” Hamner said. “It’s like a marriage. You’re going to have arguments but it doesn’t mean that you divorce; it doesn’t mean that you have domestic violence.”
“You work on the marriage, you iron out the kinks, you make it better, when you make a mistake you say, ‘OK, look, this was wrong, let’s go back and correct this,’ you acknowledge it, and then you go forth from there,” Hamner said. “We have a tendency to kind of brush over our mistakes, sweep them under the rug, and then they become a molehill that becomes a mountain.”
This profile is part of an ongoing series about Black women running for local office in Mississippi. These profiles are not endorsements.