By Je’Don Holloway Talley
For the Birmingham Times
It was on Highway 80 just outside of Livingston, Ala., Kristopher ‘Kris’ Campbell, then 15 years old, was in a collision that killed his second oldest brother, Katrell, and severely injured his 14-year-old sister, Kiera. Campbell was in a coma after the wreck in 2010. When he came out of it two weeks later, he was paralyzed on the right side of his body and learned that his brother had died.
Campbell, now 25, is a weekend disc jockey at 95.7 Jamz (WBHJ-FM), an adjunct professor at Miles College, and a mentor to several college students across Birmingham. Still, despite all he’s accomplished and how much he’s persevered, the accident is never far from his mind.
Campbell vividly recalls what happened before the tragic accident. He and his family were living in Mobile and they received a call that his brother’s girlfriend was in labor in Birmingham.
“We hopped in the car to go [to Birmingham],” Campbell said. “My mother told my sister and me, ‘Don’t go,’ but we went anyway.”
“My brother was killed instantly [in the accident]; his heart was crushed on the steering wheel. My sister’s femur, [thigh bone], was broken. I suffered broken ribs and was paralyzed on my right side. I lost fine motor skills in my right hand and suffered nerve damage in my right arm. And I had a bruise on my brain and a broken neck. [For a few months], I had to wear a halo brace, one of those big medical devices with the screws in it that goes over your head. … I also had to undergo three surgeries just to learn to walk again.”
After the accident, Campbell and his sister were flown to the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Hospital, where they both underwent emergency trauma surgery. His brother’s girlfriend had given birth to their newborn daughter, Kyra, at the same hospital.
“That was the whole reason we were even [in Birmingham],” Campbell said.
“I learned a valuable lesson, [though]: … you should always listen to your parents,” he added with a laugh.
Campbell didn’t know his brother had died until after awaking from his coma, and even today he doesn’t remember any details about the accident. There are other lasting effects, as well.
“I have a bruise on my brain in the area that controls emotions, so whatever I’m feeling, … it comes out. I can’t control it,” he said.
Campbell made a slow and steady recovery, re-learning to walk and write, but there were some things he could no longer do.
His football career at Mobile’s Mattie T. Blount High School was over.
“When I couldn’t play anymore, I became an all-out creative,” he said. “I love to write, sing, rap, dance. I like to paint. … Everything creative is what I like to do.”
There were challenges for his family, too. Besides the car accident involving his second oldest brother, the family had suffered another traumatizing ordeal.
“Our house got shot up while we were in it,” Campbell said. “People were trying to kill my oldest brother, Kamel. … My mom and sister [were not home], and that was a blessing because there were bullets on my sister’s bed.”
“The next day, when we came home from school, our mom had packed up our whole house and said we were moving. … A few hours into the drive, we got a call that somebody burned our house down.”
Nonetheless, Campbell persevered academically and professionally. He earned a bachelor’s degree in mass communications from Jackson State University (JSU) in 2015 and continued his education at Texas Southern University, where he earned a master’s degree in professional communications and digital media in 2016.
While a senior at JSU, Campbell won a national competition and landed a co-host spot alongside rapper and actor Shad “Bow Wow” Moss on the BET Network’s former daily television show 106 & Park. Campbell’s opportunities with BET didn’t stop there: he was selected to host the network’s College Tour stop at JSU and embarked on the summer-long 106 & Park: Road Tour in 2015.
Throughout his college years, Campbell also interned as an entry-level production assistant with BET, as well as with Revolt Media and TV and Essence Communications.
Though teaching was not part of his initial plans, Campbell considers it “part of my purpose,” which is the reason for his work at Miles.
“I am a change agent,” he said. “I’ve learned that the younger generation will listen to me … more because I look more like them.”
“I decided to step up for the next generation of creatives looking to make a way for themselves in this industry. I am here to inspire other millennials and people my age to do what they want to do, despite whatever they’re going through.”
In addition to being a presence on the Miles College campus, Campbell has also made his presence known on various media platforms.
Campbell is on the air for 95.7 Jamz every Saturday and Sunday; he learned about the radio industry as an intern for CBS Radio Houston and earned his first solo show under the tutelage of 95.7 Jamz lead personality and midday host Nicole “NuYork” Prempeh. He also has a blog, Fluentishh (fluentishh.com), and hosts one of his mentorship programs online, as well as during a portion of his radio show, The Fluent Xperience.
The students who participate in Campbell’s programs and events serve as his “hype squad.”
“They come and hype the crowds for my events. They intern and write for my blog. They learn how to work events, set up and put up backdrops. … They learn what it takes to be a production assistant.”
Campbell mentors a total of 18 students from colleges across Birmingham: “I take six from UAB, six from Miles, and six from Lawson [State Community College], and we have monthly intern meetings,” he said.
The Gift of Sharing
Campbell believes, “God rewards those who aren’t afraid to share their testimonies. The more you go through and the more you share it with the world, the more of a change agent you become.”
“Your life is a gift to you from God,” he said. “What you do with your life is your gift back to Him.”