By Wiley Henry
MEMPHIS, TN — Stanley Campbell Sr. has been feeding and clothing the homeless for more than 30 years. But a dream he had in 2011 was confirmation from God that he needed to do more.
On Nov. 25 – Thanksgiving Day – Campbell expects to feed, clothe, and dispense hand sanitizer, hygiene products, socks, gloves, hats and scarfs during the 15th annual “Forgotten Souls Fall Festival” from 9 a.m. to noon.
More than 300 homeless men, women and children benefit from Campbell’s benevolence and charity four times a year during each spring, summer, fall and winter “festival.”
This season is no different. The homeless will find their way to the parking lot of Campbell’s House of Mtenzi at 1289 Madison Ave. in Midtown Memphis, where a chockful of necessities awaits them.
The House of Mtenzi, a word meaning artist in Swahili, is a museum of historical significance – from civil rights-era artifacts to family mementos in honor of Campbell’s mother, the late Thelma Brownlee, who bore nine children.
Known by his nickname, “Cam Mtenzi,” Campbell refers to his large family as “Ma & 9 Mustard Seeds.” He is guided by the spirit of his mother and embraced by his siblings.
It was his mother, he said, who taught her children to always think of people who’re less fortunate. He remembers tagging behind her to community events as early as six years old and witnessing charity and philanthropy in action.
“I saw her working in the trenches in the community [in South Memphis],” he said, “and I couldn’t help but follow my mom.”
When Campbell managed Hardy’s Shoe Store in his early 20s, for example, he purchased up to 100 pairs of new and discounted tennis shoes with his salary and gifted them to kids in the housing projects.
“I did this for about three years,” he said. “This was the beginning stage of me taking the bull by the horns.”
In 1997, Campbell managed Marty’s Clothing Store in the Frayser community and took a two-week vacation to experience living homeless on the street.
“It was early November; it was cool nights,” he said. “I experienced the underground lost society of the homeless.”
After his experience, he was able to relate more to the homeless in their own world with greater understanding and empathy and do as much as he can to help mitigate their plight.
It was in 2011 when Campbell’s dream came to him as a directive of sorts to increase his commitment to the homeless. His dream may seem bizarre to some. But to Campbell, it was a calling from God.
Campbell saw himself in his old neighborhood at the top of a hill looking down. “The hill was made of dead people,” he said. “The whole landscape was made of dead people – the parking lot, the buildings. The whole city was deserted, almost.”
The sordid images of dead people were enough to jar him awake, he said, after which a voice came to him when he was fully conscious. He surmised the voice to be that of God giving him a directive.
“The voice of The Most High said, ‘Clean it up!’” which Campbell interpreted as his mission to clean up the homeless population in Memphis. It seemed a daunting task, but not impossible given Campbell’s decades-long work in the homeless community.
“It blew me away,” said Campbell, who first started having dreams and visions in 2008 and writing them down. This one was inscribed on his heart and in his mind, and he responded forthwith.
The “Forgotten Souls Fall Festival” is the byproduct of Campbell’s experience with the homeless population and his temerity to fulfill a dream after heeding the voice of “The Most High.”
Campbell has the will and the determination to help people who’re less fortunate, but there aren’t any grants so far to match his big heart. He does receive small donations – both monetary and in-kind – from individuals, small businesses, and organizations.
He calls them “The Forgotten Souls Coalition.”
When hungry and homeless people are brought to Campbell’s attention, he springs into action, with or without funding, he said. Funding simply helps to defray the cost of bringing his ideas to fruition.
Either way, Campbell is driven to tend the needs of the homeless population – even if he must spend his own money.
“They’re still our brothers and sisters,” he said. “That’s why I never stop.”