SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — Approximately 12 million people 40 years and over in the United States have vision impairment according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). For Julius Campbell, his impairment started at the age of eight years old when a needle punctured his right eye, causing it to become legally blind. At the age of 10 years old, he was hit in the eye with a brick, which caused him to become totally blind in his left eye.

“It ruptured my eye and so I was completely blind for a number of months and then after a series of surgeries, and prayer, I got partial sight back.” he said.

He continued, “My vision is not where I’m totally blind, it’s like when you look through a plastic bag, there are days when it’s just completely cloudy, and then there are days where it’s just a little bit blurry. I’m able to do for myself as it relates to clothing myself, unless I put the wrong colored socks on, then my wife will tell me about that. On a good day, I can see colors but it depends on whether it’s a deep color or a light color.”

Julius and Darria Campbell. Photo provided by Julius Campbell.

To some, there is more to Campbell than meets the eye. He is a husband to school teacher Darria whom he met at his church, Deliverance Prayer Tower, a dad, TEDx Talks speaker, Minister, and founder of Offender Alumni Association Savannah (OAA Savannah). He also works full time as a Life Navigator with the Deep Center’s Work Readiness Enrichment Program (WREP).

“A life navigator is a system-impacted person whose had lived experiences as it relates to the courts. I help mentor young men who have also been system-impacted.”

The WREP program is a collaboration between the Chatham County Juvenile Courts, the Savannah Chatham County Public School System, and the Deep Center which works with students between the ages of 14 through 17. They assist those 18 years old and up in getting their GED and with employment opportunities.

It was created to reduce the number of youth being committed to the Department of Juvenile Justice. At the time of its creation, Chatham County had twice the amount of court-involved youth as any other county in Georgia.

Campbell (standing) working with male students in the WREP program. Photo taken by Hollie Lewis.

WREP serves male youth aged 14-16 who have seen chronic suspensions, are behind in school, and have a history of court involvement. 

Concerning what made Campbell go into this field of work he said, “I myself at one time was incarcerated. I was incarcerated for over 26 years. When I came home, I recognized that there were a lot of people in need of a lot of resources that did not have access to them. So, I started an organization where we provide a safe space for men and women who are coming home from incarceration and it went from there to working with system-impacted young people. So, that started me in the field of mentoring and motivational speaking, and that’s what I do at the Deep Center.”

Currently, there are 10 students in the WREP program, one in middle school and the others in high school, that Campbell and his team are helping to get back on track academically.

“We have our teacher with us, along with Life Navigators, and the directors and the coaches. We all kind of like get in, hands on, and work with them. If it’s not our area of expertise, well we have a teacher. My job and the other navigators jobs is not the academic part of this program, but more so the social and the emotional and the mental aspects.” said Campbell.

WREP team at the Frank Callen Boys and Girls Club in Savannah. Julius Campbell, Life Navigator (front left), Sarah Purvis, teacher (front right), Ni’Aisha Banks, Life Navigator (middle left)
Michael Hamilton Life Navigator (back left) and Jerome Davis, Director of Work Readiness Enrichment Program (back right). Photo taken by Hollie Lewis.

Speaking about working alongside Campbell, Sarah Purvis, a WREP teacher said, “He is the glue that holds us all together. I have to play bad guy some days because I am the teacher. He does remarkable things for these kids. Any time the kids need a ride, he’s the first one to make a phone call. He makes us all laugh, he keeps us all positive.”

She continued, “If we need supplies, and honestly, he made me cry last year, because working for the BOE, and with COVID and everything, I have asked for supplies, I’ve asked for things for kids. Nobody has ever been able to just give it to me, he made one phone call, I had a room full of supplies sitting here and I was literally in tears”.

Life Navigator with the Deep Center Michael Hamilton, said “Julius is a real laid back guy, a real good guy. I took him under my wings when I saw some good points about him. He’s a good guy. He loves kids.

Julius Campbell demonstrates how he uses a portable CCTV system to work with the students. Photo taken by Hollie Lewis.

In order to better assist students, Campbell uses a newer portable CCTV system.

“It allows me to see around my environment. For example, when I do PowerPoint presentations, some people may be far distant from me and what I can do is zoom in where ever I need to zoom in on the room. Then I can have a split screen, I can take notes while the presenter is presenting. I can be watching and I can be writing at the same time. Most of the time, when people are doing PowerPoint presentations they are not really cognizant of someone in the room not being able to see. So, therefore, this is ideal for visually impaired people.”

“My MacBook has been modified for the contrast of color. White backdrops blind me. So, my whole MacBook has been modified with a high-contrast color so that I can flip and invert colors when I need it. I can also add a feature that will read all the characters to me. My telephone is modified where the night vision and it also will read text messages or emails and my keyboard is also modified to where the colors are different for me as well.”

When he’s not working with youth, he works with adults through OAA Savannah where he assists system-impacted men and women as they come out of prison.

“My passion is motivated first by my faith. The reason why I say by my faith is because I was given a second chance and because I was given a second chance, I believe that others should be given a second chance as well. Too often we look at people with judgmental eyes, not really understanding that person’s story. So, in the organizations that I have, one of the main things that we do is we provide a safe space for returning citizens. A returning citizen is a person that’s been incarcerated and they’re returning home to society. The organization provides a platform for returning citizens to share their stories. Stories matter. Our stories matter because they encourage, they educate, and they empower.” he said.

The organization also provides returning citizens with resources to help them get access to employment opportunities, housing and healthcare.

The organization has also impacted youth with its first-ever Visual and Verbal Intervention program that consists of a 4 week intense gun and gang violence prevention mentoring program. The young people were able to listen to stories from mothers who lost loved ones to gun violence, as well as from formerly incarcerated people. They also took a trip to a funeral home and received information from a speaker.

“At the end of those four weeks, we had a graduation where our 10 students came in and they were able to tell us how they were impacted by these 4 weeks of intense conversation. When they first started they were typical young men from 14 to 17, kind of stoic, and hard and distant, but at the end, somewhere shedding tears, all of them were open and transparent and just talking about what was going on in their lives.”

Last year, Georgia was ranked 9th in gun violence in America with 40% being homicides. The rate of gun homicide among African American people in Georgia increased 50% from 2010 to 2019 according to everystat.org.

“Changing the narrative. A lot of people have promoted this false narrative that when a person gets incarcerated, that they’re automatically going to go back when they get out. Well, one of the things that I try to do is to change the narrative and say no, I may have started out wrong but look at me now, I’m finishing strong. So, that’s my passion to go and tell my story to another young person that might be headed down that wrong path and that changes his story.”  said Campbell.