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  • Kimberley Guillemet

World Changer of the Month — May 2023: Bebe Moore Campbell

Elizabeth Bebe Moore Campbell was born on February 19, 1950, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Doris Edwina Carter Moore and George Linwood Peter Moore. When her parents separated in 1953, she went on to live with her mother and maternal grandmother in Philadelphia during the school year and her father in North Carolina during the summer. Her experiences growing up in both the North and South gave her a unique perspective on racial segregation in the United States.

Campbell attended Philadelphia’s Girls High School and upon graduation was admitted to the University of Pittsburgh where she was the only African American student in her dorm. She graduated with her Bachelor of Science degree in elementary education in 1972, and began teaching in the Atlanta public schools. In 1975, Campbell moved to Washington, D.C., where she continued to teach. After enrolling in a class led by Toni Cade Bambara, a renowned African American author, Campbell transitioned out of teaching to become a writer.

In the mid-1970s, Campbell was published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Essence, Ebony and Seventeen, among other publications. She also appeared as a regular commentator on National Public Radio. Campbell’s first book, a fictional work entitled Successful Women, Angry Men: Backlash in the Two Career Marriage, was an analysis of the relationship between a woman’s career and her marriage. Sweet Summer: Growing up With and Without My Dad, her second book, was a memoir of her childhood in a divorced family. Her most critically acclaimed novel, Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine, inspired by the murder of Emmett Till in 1955, describes the impact of this senseless crime as experienced by the victim's family, and explored southern racism. It was described as one of the most influential books of 1992 by The New York Times Magazine, won an NAACP Image Award and was named a “New York Times Notable Book” for 1992. Campbell was also the author of three New York Times bestsellers: Brothers and Sisters, Singing in the Comeback Choir, and What You Owe Me, which was also a Los Angeles Times "Best Book of 2001.”

Campbell was a mental health advocate who worked tirelessly to shed light on the mental health needs of the Black community and other underrepresented communities. While navigating the mental health system in an effort to secure care for her own daughter, actress Maia Campbell, Campbell realized that there was a dearth of mental health resources in communities of color. In response, Campbell founded the Inglewood chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) to help support her daughter and others like her, who suffered from mental illness. “Stigma is one of the main reasons why people with mental health problems don't seek treatment or take their medication,” Campbell once said. “People of color, particularly African Americans, feel the stigma more keenly. In a race-conscious society, some don’t want to be perceived as having yet another deficit.”

Campbell's interest in mental health was the catalyst for her first children's book, Sometimes My Mommy Gets Angry, which was published in September 2003. This book won the “NAMI Outstanding Literature Award” for 2003. The book tells the story of how a little girl copes with being reared by her mentally ill mother.

Campbell succumbed to complications from brain cancer and passed away on November 27, 2006, at age 56. Campbell’s personal archives are housed in the Bebe Moore Campbell collection at the University of Pittsburgh Archives Service Center. In May 2008, the U.S. House of Representatives announced July as Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month in recognition of her efforts to bring awareness to the unique struggles that underrepresented groups face regarding mental illness. In 2017, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors named a branch of the Los Angeles County Public Library in her honor.


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