Editor’s Note: Tony Campbell ’85 M.Div., associate general secretary and director of mission engagement of the Reformed Church in America, died unexpectedly last week. YDS student Gabby Cudjoe Wilkes wrote the following remembrance of Rev. Campbell. More on his life and career be found in this obituary article.
By Gabby Cudjoe Wilkes ’18 M.Div.
I first met Rev. Tony Campbell in November 2016. I was a second-year M.Div. student serving as President of the Yale Black Seminarians (YBS). I received a call from Susan Olson ’93 M.Div. from the Office of Community Life and Career Services at the Divinity School with a message that an alum was looking to connect directly with the students of YBS. This alum had himself been YBS president in 1985, and now he was returning to campus to recruit students for a future endeavor that he was leading. The alum was Tony Campbell.
I was elated to welcome him, and we instantly hit it off. He met with YBS and made a lasting impact on each of us during his time on campus. I, however, had the honor of getting to know him deeper. Rev. Campbell quickly became a mentor. Two months after his visit to Yale, I introduced him to my husband, and the three of us began having conversations about the church universal, the needs of black and brown communities, and the duty that theologically trained clergy have to invest in our communities. Somehow, in a couple short months, Rev. Campbell had become a close confidant and mentor. I felt like I had known him for years.
That bond lasted until the time of his unforeseen death. I had been in conversation with him just three weeks before he passed. His passion for the work of the church and our communities was electrifying. His vision was clear, and anyone who connected with him couldn’t help but be moved by it. It was as if he had seen the future of the church and society and had an urgent need to share that vision with his colleagues and those he mentored.
I was not the only Yale Divinity student who Rev. Campbell had taken under his wing. He had made himself accessible to many of us, including Arthur Thomas ’19 M.Div., the incoming president of YBS this academic year. Rev. Campbell was clear about his desire to train a cohort of leaders for church and society, and that indeed was the work that he began with us.
When I think about Tony Campbell, I can’t help but be overcome with gratitude for the Yale Divinity School community. The relationship between alumni and students is incredibly powerful and life-changing. We as seminarians are given the unique gift of being surrounded not only by dynamic faculty and staff, but also by alumni who graciously give of their time because they see Yale Divinity School students as extended family. The alumni pave the way for us. They share their wisdom. And they pass along opportunities when and where they can. Rev. Campbell was doing groundbreaking work with the Reformed Church in America, and he was eager to build an intergenerational team of individuals committed to systemic change and revitalization in urban communities across the nation. When it was time to build his team, he started with his alma mater. For that I will forever be grateful.
Rev. Campbell welcomed each of us with open arms. It’s hard to believe that my relationship with him lasted a short seven months. The impact that he had on me will last throughout my lifetime.
Gabby Cudjoe Wilkes is a rising third-year M. Div. student who has served as a Yale GPSS senator, YBS President, and Yale Dwight Hall Magee Fellow. She will serve this year as a Senior Brand Strategist for Yale University’s Dwight Hall Center for Social Justice & Public Change. Gabby is also a Young Adult Pastor at The Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral of New York.