HUNDREDS OF mourners have paid tribute to their “warrior queen” Joan Campbell, a stalwart of the community, who has died after devoting decades of her life to helping victims of gang violence, while also uniting warring families caught up in the gang culture.
The much-loved grandmother, who was blessed with a phenomenal public spirit, lost her fight against lung cancer and the effects of a stroke at the age of just 55, last month. Her funeral service was held on Thursday, December 5.
Those who honoured her at the New Testament Church of God in Birmingham, called her their “empress” and their “village general”.
Leading criminologist Craig Pinkney, who worked with Joan summed it up by saying: “Our community weeps. Not only have we lost a friend, a sister, a daughter, a mother, a grandmother, we’ve also lost a warrior, a fighter for peace and justice. A woman who believed in supporting and uplifting our community.
“I don’t need to go into the detail of what Joan did but the people here today all know how she supported families and the victims of serious youth violence. You know how she touched every single one of us.”
While Rev Dr Carver Anderson added: “I said to God – ‘What do you do when from a village you lose a general?’ Joan was a champion in our village and I ask God why has she gone so early?”
Nathan Dennis added: “We salute you Joan our warrior queen. A true soldier who served well on the battlefield.”
Her two daughters Tonia and Simone Shepherd and son Khari Campbell-Shepherd, who lost their father earlier this year, all gave moving, personal tributes, recalling the affectionate nicknames they used for their loving mum. They are all determined to carry on with the vital community work she started. Her grandchildren C’yena-Mai Shepherd and Remon Shepherd-Brewster spoke of their “beautiful super gran who loved her colours”.
Some of them read several of the many poems Joan herself had written – and listening in the congregation was Joan’s 93-year-old mother.
David Jamieson, West Midlands police and crime commissioner, said it was an honour to speak at Joan’s funeral. He said: “Joan was truly an unforgettable person – compassionate and caring with a formidable personality and intellect. She was not someone to whom you said no! She has been an inspirational leader whose work included supporting former gang member and their families.
“In 2011 Joan established Community Vision which runs which runs a specialist BME support service for those affected by serious crime. It focused not just on the individual but on the whole family. Her work expanded into a dedicated domestic violence programme.
“Three years ago Joan carried out research which fed into the Commission on Gangs and Violence in Birmingham. The work she did on trying to reduce gang violence has made a difference nationally not just locally.
“She worked with girls, women, families affected by gang culture, inspiring them to rise to better places. In recognition of all the work she had been doing, last year I was proud to present her with an outstanding citizen award, known as the Pride of Birmingham Awards.”
David Jamieson, West Midlands police and crime commissioner presents Joan Campbell with an Outstanding Citizen Award in Birmingham
Author and academic professor Gus John gave his tribute in the form of a letter thanking God for Joan, who he worked with many years ago at University College London. He met her through Joan’s sister Rosemary Campbell-Stephens MBE, an educational consultant. They were part of a core team to remove barriers for black educators wanting to head up schools.
He said: “Joan shone like a light in the world and especially in the light of the young people and families with whom she worked. Thank you God for enriching her with such a warm and courageous spirit; her spirit guided and protected so many young people to realise their purpose and potential in life, guiding them to grow in knowledge, wisdom and understanding.
“We give you thanks for the life she spent demanding, safeguarding and extending children’s rights, giving them hope and the strength and resilience to face adversity. We thank you for the many lives she inspired and the life chances she extended and improved.
“Joan’s life was one of selfless giving, a life lived with purpose; a life that strove to mend the present, so those coming after her might enjoy a better future. As we reflect upon her life today and the myriad ways in which she enriched ours, may we discover all the things that unite us and dismantle the barriers that stand in the way of us being a fulfilled people.
“We must embrace her legacy and honour her spirit by being true to her ideals and working to bring about healing in our hearts, healing in our homes and peace in this deeply divided nation.”
Close colleague Camille Ade-John, a former head of the mental health foundation COPE, told of how she asked Joan to join her to launch the Birmingham Family Forum where parents and families from gangs across the city’s postcode divide could meet support each other rather than focusing on their differences. It was based on a family model of intervention supporting those from different lines of conflict.
She praised Joan’s three children and other volunteers who have since stepped up to support the work after Camille decided to spend more time in Jamaica.
She said: “Jo-Jo became so much a part of my life in so many different ways and has left an immense vacuum. She was a formidable person in the way she analysed issues, developed ideas and oh my goodness could she write a report. She was on another level. Rest in peace hon.”