Janet Silvera, Senior Gleaner Writer
WESTERN BUREAU:As a child, Delvon Bulby Campbell never once experienced what it felt like to celebrate a birthday.
He recalls at Christmas eating dinner from a plastic bowl and drinking syrup from an aluminum cup while seated on a verandah. “My adopted mother was a domestic helper and was not allowed to sit at her employer’s dinner table,” he told Outlook.
He has carried the memory of one particular Christmas dinner for almost 40 years.
“I was 16 at the time, when a member of my adopted family – a pretty wealthy prominent doctor – invited us to dinner. When we got to his house, I remembered seeing a very long table in a very large dining room with so much food that I had never seen before,” he reminisced.
Everyone was eventually invited to the table and, Campbell, felt he, too, was invited.
“As soon as I sat down, I was asked to leave the table and sit outside on this very large patio overlooking the city. I could see everyone eating, and I was never offered a bite,” he recalled.
LEARNING TO LOVE
That form of discrimination never got the better of him. Instead, it taught him how to love the less fortunate.
Campbell’s story is one that numerous children born in Jamaica in the late ’50s can relate to. In those days, it was common for parents to give away their children to relatives, friends, neighbours, and even strangers.
Born in Highgate, St Mary, Campbell’s biological mother was a 16-year-old helper, impregnated by her rich boss Oswald Campbell, whose wife knew everything that went on in her house but had little or no power to do anything about it.
“My father’s wife named me Delvon, and 11 months later, when my sister was born, she named her Delores,” Campbell told Outlook from his home in Miami, Florida.
Both he and his sister Delores were given away by their father. Their mother, Icilda Wallace, had no say in the matter. Her role, essentially, was that of a bedmate at nights and domestic during the days.
Campbell’s childhood was very difficult. At age 14, he was sent to St Patrick’s Place of Safety, where he spent eight months before he was transferred to Alpha Boys’ School, where he became a trumpeter. After leaving Alpha, he joined the Jamaica Defence Force, where he spent six years before migtrating to the United States.
A year ago, Campbell found out about his 24 other siblings whom he never knew existed.
Campbell, who operates a mobile grooming company in Florida, tellsOutlook that, on Christmas Eve of 2012, he and his wife, Marsha, were walking in the Florida Keys
Outlet Mall when he saw a store that looked Jamaican, called Natural Vibes (now Concept).
“I was searching for a Usain Bolt PUMA shoes at the time, so I asked the guy in the store if he had any. He didn’t have, but offered to source a pair and call me.”
Campbell said when he gave the proprietor, Andrew Roberts, his name and number, something clicked in the young man’s eyes.
“When I looked at him, he looked like one of my grand-uncles,” Roberts told Outlook.
He decided to call his mother. “I told my mom and she said he must be one of the sons that her uncle had gone back to Jamaica looking for between 1989 and 1991.”
Roberts said that, within half an hour, he knew Campbell was his relative. “He looks exactly like his father. When I looked in his eyes, I saw his dad.” The family began a round-up, bringing together Oswald Campbell’s children living in the United Kingdom, St Martin, and Jamaica.
While alive, Oswald Campbell visited Jamaica twice, trying to find the two children he had left in Jamaica. He found Delores, who now resides in Old Harbour. However, Delvon had moved to the United States.
Two weeks after finding his relatives, Campbell’s older sister, Lorna Campbell, who lives in the United Kingdom, was on a plane to Miami to meet her baby brother.
“When the phone call came through last Christmas that he was found, it was mind-blowing,” she told Outlook. “I, too, was given away as a baby. We had an immediate connection – I couldn’t even understand [it] myself. It was like I already knew him,” she stated.
“We had so much in common, compared to the other siblings. The love that emanated from him was different,” she said.
She recalled that it was impossible to contain herself en route to Miami. “I had a lot of questions: what is he like, what is his wife going to be like – it was amazing.” When she met her brother in the airport, she said they hugged tightly. “It was overwhelming. I just wanted to know everything about him.”
Her trip to Florida was scheduled for two weeks, but she extended her stay for an extra week, while they caught up on 53 years of not seeing each other.
“I didn’t want to leave when the time came around,” she quipped.
Also born in Highgate, Lorna’s life took a different path as she was ‘adopted’ by an uncle and his wife. Seven months after being discovered, Delvon went to England to meet the rest of his family.
His sister Lorna described that visit as phenomenal. “We had a family reunion of over 50 people,” she recalled. Now the local councillor of the London Borough of Lambeth and Cabinet member for equalities and communities, she told Outlook that she was not always this happy about what had happened in her life.
“At first, I was very upset and bitter, because I felt I was denied the opportunity to grow with my siblings, but I have reached a stage in my life where I have been able to forgive,” she says.
She said her baby brother has inspired her. “He is not bitter, he hasn’t dwelled on it. He is living his life to the fullest. He has so much love to give. He just loves humanity.”
On Christmas Day 2013, Delvon Campbell got his lifetime wish of having dinner with his family. He and his wife – and their two dogs – hosted 20 family members at Christmas dinner.
“I get the chance to host my first Christmas dinner with my biological family for the first time in my life. I am very grateful to the Almighty that I have gotten that chance while I am still alive to have this experience. I have never forgotten from whence I came. I was taken care of the best way they knew how to in those days,” he wrote on his Facebook page, two days before Christmas.
Yes, Delvon Campbell has forgiven his father for giving him away to total strangers!