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Jewels & Jeans Event to Honor Local Visionary

Author: Emily Campbell

“So much of our future lies in preserving our past.”—Peter Westbrook

The Foundation for Educational Excellence focuses on our future: the students of Beaufort County who will one day be leaders in our world. This year, at their annual “Jewels & Jeans” event, the future-focused foundation will honor one of the greatest preservers of the Lowcountry’s Gullah heritage, Dr. Emory Campbell.

The foundation Established in 2007 to support Beaufort County public schools, the Foundation for Educational Excellence supports student innovative learning activities and projects through Innovative Teaching Grants, School Resource Grants and Student Enrichment Grants.

Each year, teachers throughout Beaufort County are encouraged to submit grant applications to the Foundation. Since 2009, the Foundation has awarded over $180,000 in grants to teachers and students ranging from purchasing infrared camera equipment to establishing a butterfly garden. Last year, over 10,000 Beaufort County students were directly impacted by the grants awarded throughout the district from pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade.

The event Grant winners are invited to the Foundation’s Annual “Jewels & Jeans” event to share stories about the impact the grants have had in their classrooms and beyond. These educators get so excited retelling their accounts of how greatly their students have benefitted from the equipment, experiences and education these grants have provided.

The proceeds from the “Jewels & Jeans” event go directly to funding these grants for Beaufort County teachers for innovative projects that are not fully funded through traditional channels.

At the event, the Foundation also honors a community member who has demonstrated extraordinary dedication, passion and skills that have influenced and inspired local students with the presentation of the “Peggy May Inspiration Award.” The award is named for former recipient, the late Peggy May, who served as county and state director of adult literacy, and board chair of the Foundation for Educational Excellence. Previous recipients include 2013 American Idol winner Candice Glover and Food Network contestant Orchid Palmeier. At this year’s “Jewels & Jeans” event, the Foundation will recognize Dr. Emory Campbell as the recipient of the “Peggy May Inspiration Award.”

The legend Emory Campbell is a local in the keenest sense. Born on Hilton Head Island in 1941, his family on his mother’s side traces back through five generations of native Hilton Head Islanders. Perhaps because the history of this area simply runs through his veins, Campbell has spent a lifetime contributing to the cultural and environmental heritage of the Lowcountry and South Carolina.

Emory attended Beaufort County public schools, where he began in first grade at a segregated one-room school in his Spanish Wells neighborhood on Hilton Head Island. He graduated from segregated Michael C. Riley High School in Bluffton as valedictorian in 1960.

As one of 12 children in his family, obtaining a college education was a priority to Campbell to accomplish his dreams. In 1965, he earned a bachelor of science degree in biology from Savannah State College, and in 1971, he earned a master’s in environmental engineering from Tufts University in Boston.

He was “called back home” in 1971 to start applying his education as an environmental health engineer at the Beaufort-Jasper Health Center. There, he worked for almost 10 years, addressing issues that affected the daily lives of island people—from housing, to education, healthcare and more. At the heart of his work was his strong desire to not only preserve, but enhance the unique and rich Gullah cultural and environmental heritage in the face of rapid development.

In 1980, he was named executive director of Penn Center on St. Helena Island. Penn Center, the site of the former Penn School, is one of the country’s first schools for formerly enslaved individuals. Penn Center is one of the most significant African American historical and cultural institutions in existence today with the mission of “Preserving the past, sustaining the future.”

Campbell worked hard to revive the center’s historical significance and its educational programs. To call attention to the center, he helped organize the now nationally recognized Penn Center Heritage Days Celebration. Today, over 30 years later, every second weekend in November, more than 15,000 visitors travel to St. Helena for three days of celebrating the culture of the Gullah people.

In 2002, Campbell retired from Penn Center after 22 years of service. In 2005, he received the National Education Association’s (NEA) Carter G. Woodson Memorial Award for 30 years of devotion to preserving the Gullah heritage, protecting the environment, and improving his community’s living conditions.

Campbell currently serves as the president of Gullah Heritage Consulting Service, where he conducts institutes on Gullah Cultural heritage and related issues through lectures, short courses and the Gullah Heritage Trail Tours on Hilton Head Island. Gullah Heritage Consulting Services is one of the leading providers of professional services, products, programs, and consulting regarding the history, culture, and preservation of Gullah Heritage. Campbell is the main consultant of this five-member firm, devoted to helping individuals, organizations, groups, journalists and scholars learn more about the Gullah cultural heritage.

Campbell and his wife, Emma, live on Hilton Head Island and are the proud parents of two adult children, Ochieng and Ayoka; and one grandchild, Carver.

See the article in The Lake here.


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