By Luana M. Graves Sellars

Images by Lloyd Wainscott

With a deep voice and height of over 6 feet, Melvin Campbell has dedicated his life to standing tall for what he believes in, and doing all that he can to make his community into a better place.

Sometimes labels like “Native Islander” give an indication about one’s identity, their roots or their generational foundation. And roots are important to many of us. The word “roots” can refer to our generational background, but it’s also associated with trees. Roots can be shallow in some trees, and in others, incredibly deep. The literal definition of a tree is: a woody perennial plant, typically having a single stem or trunk growing to a considerable height and bearing lateral branches at some distance from the ground.

Sometimes people are like trees. They can be strong, grounded in family culture and tradition, determined, devoted to sharing their experience and knowledge, as well as capable of weathering life’s storms.

If you were to compare Melvin Campbell to one of the island’s trees, it would be one of the sturdy oaks, draped in Spanish Moss, that populate the island. It’s a tree that is indigenous to the area, aged, yet solid, with high and expansive branches.

Campbell has that kind of presence. With a deep voice and height of over 6 feet, he has dedicated his life to standing tall for what he believes in, and doing all that he can to make his community into a better place.

Mel Campbell
Mel Campbell
Photo Credit | Lloyd Wainscott

Campbell has such an incredibly strong connection to his island home, it’s easy to see why the path that he has taken in life continues. Grounded in rich Gullah family traditions and connections to the island that stretch over six generations, it’s no surprise that most of the Campbell family has made an indelible mark on the island, from cultural preservation to civic involvement.

Most days, Campbell can be found working for the Gullah Heritage Tours family business. It’s not just a job for him, it’s a lifestyle and an important element of Hilton Head living that needs to be shared with all who will listen. Campbell isn’t just a tour guide that points out random locations of interest. He provides tourists and residents a snapshot of how life was for Gullahs in the past and how time and outside influences have affected the culture.

A retired educator after 39 years, Campbell began teaching math in Boston before returning to Hilton Head High School for 23 years, where he was named “Teacher of the Year” in 1999. As a basketball coach and mentor, he shared his time and knowledge with children through the Boston Schools Leadership Program, Junior Images, Inc. (a student advocacy-developmental program), as well as other local mentoring programs.

Campbell’s extensive volunteer work further demonstrate his love for his community. He has dedicated his time to inform, educate and improve the lives of the island’s youth about the importance of not only remembering the past, but providing the skills necessary to improve their future.

For years, he has served as a board member of the Wilborn Scholarship Fund, which raises money to give local graduates a positive start in college. He’s also member of the MLK Celebration Planning Committee, of which he was the chair for 22 years and a member of the NAACP and Native Island Business and Community Affairs Association (NIBCAA). In addition, his loves for serving the community and its children, led being elected to his current position as the Hilton Head Island representative for the Beaufort County School Board.

When time permits, Campbell enjoys playing golf, always trying to improve his game. However, over the past year, he’s been instrumental in obtaining private property easement authorizations for the Town of Hilton Head by going door to door in the native island community in an attempt to help residents gain access to sewer connections and receive overdue infrastructure improvements to the entire island.

Considering Campbell’s work ethic and dedication to bettering the island, it’s no surprise his philosophy and favorite quote speaks to his motivation and character:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

– Martin Luther King, Jr.

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