For decades, the Rev. Benjamin P. Campbell has been a champion of racial reconciliation, social justice and ecumenical activities in Richmond.
His work forming Richmond Hill, an ecumenical residential retreat on Church Hill, and with various boards and anti-poverty initiatives has earned him a place among the respected movers and shakers — white and black.
Campbell, who was instrumental in forming the Richmond Slave Trail, is a seventh-generation Virginian. His father was a civil rights lawyer, and his mother was on the Arlington County School Board that voluntarily tried to integrate schools after the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954. The General Assembly later adopted Massive Resistance and stripped Arlington residents of their right to elect a school board.
Campbell recently transitioned out of the top position at Richmond Hill to help facilitate the next generation of leadership. But wherever there has been a community conversation or event on building bridges between racial and economic groups in the Richmond area, Campbell likely had a hand in it.
As an advocate for Richmond Public Schools, Campbell has mobilized thousands of interfaith volunteers in the Micah Initiative, based out of Richmond Hill. The retreat center has become a meeting place for prayer turned into action, what he believes to be a central tenet of Christianity.
"Community transformation is what Christianity is about, as far as I'm concerned," Campbell said.
The pace of change doesn't seem to bother Campbell, who instead focuses on the opportunities the Richmond area has to shape its future. The contrast of Founding Fathers espousing "all men are created equal" and the state's sponsorship and willingness to go to war "to promote the exact opposite" is an intriguing conflict Richmond still wrestles with, he said.
"There is something tremendously exciting about the possibilities for transformation in metro Richmond," Campbell said. "As people reckon with what they really believe, you can feel the energy, you can feel the release of guilt and sense of hypocrisy."
Campbell has received numerous awards from organizations for his community development. And he shows no signs of stopping.
He is currently on the transportation committee for Mayor Dwight C. Jones' Anti-Poverty Commission. He is working with 12 Church Hill clergy to establish a freshman leadership program at Armstrong High School. He is forming Friends of Richmond Public Schools to enhance resources in the school system. He is also a part of RVA Rapid Transit, which seeks to establish a network of public transportation to connect low-income city residents to jobs in the counties.
He is also on the Slave Trail Commission that is working to get the site of Lumpkin's Jail excavated. Of the ongoing efforts to mark Richmond's African-American history, he said: "We're going to tell the story the right way sooner or later in this city."
IN HIS WORDS
A small moment in life with a big impact
One day, soon after I moved to Grace Street on Church Hill, I was looking out the window. I saw a lady walking on the other side of the street with a group of students. Curious about what was going on, I went out to meet them and asked them what was happening. The leader said she was a teacher for the humanities center of Richmond Public Schools, that her name was Nancy Jo Taylor, and that she was leading a tour of some of the unmarked African-American historic sites in Richmond. We agreed to meet up later, and she gave me her information on those sites.
The next year, in 1993, a big international conference came to town, hosted by Hope in the Cities, and they were interested in the history of race in Richmond. I told them about Nancy Jo’s list of sites, and an extensive walk took place, moving from site to site. At the time, nobody in Richmond knew of the slave trade here, or Lumpkin’s Jail, or the African Burial Ground. From that walk came Richmond’s Slave Trail. I have been involved with that history ever since and, out of my research, wrote a book entitled "Richmond’s Unhealed History."
"Brave New World," by Aldous Huxley. Huxley presents in bold contrast the choices between a life of lifeless material ease and a life of struggle, love and purpose.
Alternate profession or course of study
American history. I have become aware that our history is just as powerful — or even more powerful — when we do not know it. It provides the hidden “givens” that are the foundation of what happens now. When we think we are free to decide something, we do not realize how powerful the foundations are.
The Rev. Martin Luther King. He believed what is true, and he put his life on the line for it. He was a superb tactician.
Something that might surprise others
I have a twin brother.
Something you’d like to do
Visit the Middle East and East and West Africa.
The foundation of Richmond Hill.
Favorite thing about Richmond region
This is a beautiful small city, one which you can fully be a part of. It is historic and intriguing. There has been great tragedy here, and there is incredible opportunity in the redemption of its past. It was once one of the most significant places in the world, and with vision, effort and hope, it will be again.
BENJAMIN P. CAMPBELL
Position: Episcopal priest; adjunct pastor at Richmond Hill; pastoral associate at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church downtown
Born/hometown: Feb. 2, 1941; Arlington
College: Williams College (bachelor's in political science), Queen’s College in Oxford, England (master's in theology), Virginia Theological Seminary (master’s in divinity)
Family: wife Annie; children Philip, Susanna, Matthew Dolci and John Dolci