Kwadjo Campbell wears many hats, to say the least. He is the president of the Poe Mill Neighborhood Association, chairman of the English department at Legacy Charter School, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, the CEO of his own economic development company, and a former city council member in Charleston. But above all else, he is a dedicated servant to the people of the neighborhood he lives in, Poe Mill.
Campbell was born and raised in downtown eastside Charleston and still works to help the underserved communities there because of his family roots, but Greenville has become his home. “When I first moved to Greenville, I asked a friend to show me the hood, because I wanted to know where it was, and he drove me straight to Poe Mill. Little did I know, I would end up as president of the Neighborhood Association,” Campbell says with a laugh.
Campbell describes Poe Mill as “a traditional, lived-in community with beautiful mountain views.”
“It’s a very diverse community, with whites, blacks, and Latinos, and it is primarily working class,” he adds. “We have a lot of strong families with good American, core values. And we have our challenges, but we are working to eradicate them. It’s a community with a tremendous upside.”
Campbell has plenty ideas of how to continue improving the Poe Mill area, and he knows exactly what he needs to do to accomplish them. From his personal experience of growing up in a low-income area to his degrees and business experience in community and economic development, he is the perfect person to get the job done. But Campbell realizes that to achieve the big picture, he needs to take it one step at time.
The first step is an upcoming career fair that he organized for the residents of Poe Mill and surrounding areas. “The main employer will be Greenco, the beverage company,” he says. “They want to hire people from the community, and there will be some forms of prescreening, but there won’t be background checks. There will be other businesses in the area, like the Chick-fil-A at Cherrydale, and they are just working hard to hire from the community.” The fair will be held at Soteria CDC, 210 Shaw St., on March 2 from 1-5 p.m.
Campbell also recognizes the continued draw of the revamped Poe Mill Skate Park. The project, which has brought in national attention, is currently run by skaters. Campbell is currently applying for national grants that would go toward additional improvements. He is also hoping for the allocation of funds from the city but knows that can be a waiting game. However, Campbell is confident the skate park will be completed soon. “It’s coming,” he says. “Oh, it’s definitely coming.”
Campbell is aware of the challenges that exist to complete different projects and initiatives in underserved areas, and he recognizes the need for strong community partnerships to accomplish goals. “The most important thing is to build relationships and partnerships,” he says. “I couldn’t get any of this done by myself.”
Among Campbell’s big-picture goals is to address home ownership and affordable housing in the Poe Mill neighborhood. “Long term for the community, I want to see more home ownership opportunities for residents that live in that neighborhood,” he says. “I’d like to see more youth activities in the community. I’d like to see us establish more partnerships with employers, and I want to see us get a solid nonprofit or for-profit affordable housing developer that targets the Poe Mill area for housing developments.”
And even though Campbell knows these initiatives will be tough to accomplish, he has a clear plan to implement each and every one.
“One of the biggest issues in this community is the stigma. I mean, Poe Mill has been rough for a long time,” Campbell says. “There is a lot of alcoholism and drug abuse, and we need to combat those things with law enforcement but also from the bottom up.” Law enforcement, he adds, “can’t be the only solution but also can’t be absent from the solution.” Campbell says the roots of crime, such as addiction, also need to be addressed.
In the future, Campbell is planning to run for Greenville County Council — assuming his friend Xanthene Norris doesn’t run again. If she does, he wants to support her, because while Campbell believes he would be an ideal candidate, he ultimately just wants the people of his community to have a voice. “It’s about having someone in there to address the issues that are facing poor communities in the county,” he says.
Campbell credits his wife, Rashida Jeffers-Campbell, and four children for inspiring his work in the Poe Mill area. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without her. She is my partner in everything,” he says of his wife. “We are the two biggest nerds when you put us together, because we love this stuff so much.”
For Campbell, his involvement in revitalizing Poe Mill is shaped both by his past and desire to make a lasting impact on his community. “If you know anything about me, you know that I haven’t always been squeaky. I’ve had run ins with the law; I don’t deny that,” he says. “But I know that I have a certain responsibility, and I use that experience from the hood and triumphing over the obstacles that have been put in my way, by myself and by others. And being where I am now, I feel blessed to try and give it back,” Campbell says.
Campbell realizes that there are many obstacles to overcome going forward, but he is up for whatever challenges that may bring. “The stigma of how people see Poe Mill is an issue,” he says, “but it’s one that we are overcoming day by day, project by project, article by article, news story by news story. Change comes in seeing the value of a community that is fighting for itself.”