New Haven Police Chief Anthony Campbell ’95 DIV ’09 spoke about his childhood in Harlem, New York, and his journey to becoming the head of the New Haven Police Department at a conversation about love at Yale on Thursday evening.
Yale Students for Christ, whose slogan is “living out faith, hope, love in our campus, city and world,” has hosted a series of three talks this semester, each emphasizing one of the organization’s three qualities. For the final seminar, YSC brought Campbell to campus to speak about the last of those qualities: love. When Charmain Yun ’95, who works for the Chaplain’s Office as well as YSC, and the rest of the YSC staff were deciding whom to invite, everyone agreed Chief Campbell was the best choice, Yun said.
“He embodies faith and hope, but love is what we have seen him embody throughout the years,” said Yun, who has known Campbell for more than 25 years since they were students at Yale together.
Campbell spoke about how his early life shaped his definition of love. He grew up in Harlem, New York, in the ’70s. His mother was only 15 when she was pregnant with Campbell; his father was just 16. Campbell said he grew up in New York during the crack epidemic, an environment he described as “tumultuous.” His mother was a New York City corrections officer on Rikers Island, but his father was on “the other side of the line,” selling marijuana and eventually crack cocaine.
“You had to imagine this picture. … [My father] was on the corner a couple blocks away from the apartment selling drugs,” he said, “and my mother is a corrections officer who would put her uniform on and go to work at night.”
But both of his parents emphasized the importance of education, he said. His father would tell him, “You’re smart, you’ve got a chance and you’re going to stay in school.”
So that’s what Campbell did. He was accepted to Yale — making him the first person in his family to go to college. Campbell said he will never forget the first time he had to make a payment to Yale. His father told him not to worry and then gave him $1,500 dollars — in singles.
“What am I supposed to do with this? I am riding the Metro!” Campbell said.
When he first arrived at Yale, Campbell’s goal was to become a Jesuit priest. But during his sophomore year, he met a new student to whom he felt immediately drawn.
“By senior year, I knew that I was in love with her. So I was like, ‘I’m clearly not going to be a priest.’” He has now been married to his wife, Stephanie, for 18 years; the couple has three children.
After deciding against priesthood, Campbell was initially driven to prison ministry. He said his dad seemed to be closer to God during his prison stays, but that his father lacked a community of faith when he came home. His mother told him that rather than ministering to people in prison, he should work to prevent people from getting in trouble with the law.
One week later, he saw a bus going down Elm Street with an advertisement featuring an African American female police officer and the words “Now Hiring.” Below it, a slogan read, “Police others as you would have others police you.” The message inspired Campbell, and he turned in his paperwork immediately.
Seven months after he graduated in 1995, his father, who was 40 years old at the time, committed suicide in Campbell’s family home, using Campbell’s mother’s service weapon.
“We were devastated. Even though he was in and out of jail, he was still my hero,” Campbell said. “He was the one who instilled in me my work ethic. He told me that I was going to do better, reach farther.”
After his father’s death, he took time to receive counseling to cope with the loss and to support his mother.
Campbell joined the New Haven Police Department in 1998, excited to serve. He was assigned to the downtown walking beat.
“The same streets I would walk as a student, I was now walking as a police officer,” he said. He said he was inspired by the NHPD’s policy of community policing.
Campbell acted as lieutenant for four months in 2013 until he was asked to become assistant chief. He rose to become chief of police in June 2017.
“My story is a story of God’s faith and persistence in my life. He has been there every step of the way,” he said. He calls himself a cop — “a Christian on Patrol” — who gets to live out his ministry every day.
“When someone’s been gunned down, you are there to comfort them,” he said. “When you encounter kids and people who are just lost, you can be a person that is a lamp under their feet.”
Attendee Tony Xu ’21 said he was interested in the “way Campbell injects his faith into his career.”
“I was shocked by his story and how committed he was to service,” said Baher Iskander ’16. “It’s very rare at Yale to see people go through their four years and not end up succumbing, at least somewhat, to pressures of pursuing wealth, power or influence.”
Sammy Westfall | firstname.lastname@example.org