Against All Odds
March 2020 Issue
By Cynthia Robinson
Photography by Mike Force Photography
From the time Marjorie Campbell was born to a poor teen mother in Jamaica, she found herself constantly having to prove to people that she was not only going to survive, but thrive.
“I was born weighing only 2 pounds and was in the hospital for two months. I was sick a lot and we were poor, really poor,” said Marjorie, who later had three younger siblings. “I went to school hungry every day and with no shoes. The one thing my great-grandmother, grandmother and mother said was ‘education is the key to opening many doors. A good education will never decay and with a good education, you can also encourage others.’”
Marjorie and her siblings took that to heart. She and her two sisters became teachers and her brother is a business manager. “I give my mother (Jennifer Watson) the credit. Even though she didn’t graduate high school, all four of her children have college degrees,” she said.
But getting her education was a major challenge. After graduating high school in 1989, Marjorie went to work at various jobs to financially help her family, including medical receptionist, accounting clerk and loan officer, before taking on yet another challenge, joining the Jamaica Constabulary Force (police) in 2003. “In Jamaica, you have to be 5’6” to be on the police force and I’m 5’5”. They told me I was too short. I asked them, ‘You’re going to stop me for an inch?’ So, they ‘gave’ me an inch, and I proved them wrong by working on the police force for 10 years!” While working as corporal, she attended Mico University in Kingston, earning an associate degree in secondary education in 2009, followed by a Bachelor of Science degree in guidance and counseling in 2011.
Although she continued her work on the police force, she also joined the staff at Paula Bogle High School in St. Thomas, Jamaica, where she taught English, social studies and worked as a school counselor. Despite her busy work schedule, she volunteered in her community as a victim support counselor for both adults and children who had been traumatized, something she had experienced in her own life.
“In the 1990s, I was visiting a friend when I was robbed at gunpoint and abducted. They thought I was someone else, and I thought that was probably going to be the end for me. They wanted me to drive, but I did not know how to drive a stick shift. So, they drove around with me for about 30 minutes and were talking the whole time about ‘what are we going to do with her?’ I started praying. They finally slowed down and pushed me out. I ran faster than I had ever had in my life. I met a man riding a trike and he gave me a ride to the police station.”
Marjorie said one of her abductors was caught by police and sent to prison, while the second kidnapper was killed by police in a shootout. “I survived that night because of prayer,” she said, and her pursuit of her careers in teaching, counseling and police work were ways for her to give back to others. “It was terrifying, but prayer is powerful, and it got me through it.”
As Marjorie’s life continued to excel, one thing she wanted, but seemed impossible, was to have a baby. “My mother told me I would always be an aunt,” after her doctor said she would probably be unable to get pregnant because of re-occurring fibroid tumors. She was shocked that on her 40th birthday, she found out she was pregnant. “I had always said if God wants me to have a baby, I’ll have a baby, but it was a surprise!”
To celebrate and get in some retail therapy state-side, the self-described “shop-a-holic” traveled to Georgia. “In Jamaica, people judge you by what you wear and how you present yourself, not your skin color. But it can be expensive to put that kind of image out there. My aunt, Gloria Smith, who lives in Brunswick, paid for my trip to come here and go shopping. I was going to stay for a month, but a week into the trip I got sick—my feet and hands were swollen.”
Marjorie went to see local OB/GYN Jason Joseph, who told the mom-to-be she had gestational diabetes and high blood pressure and could not travel. “I was very defiant,” she laughed, “I was preparing to go back as planned, but was seeing the doctor every other day. I went in one day and my blood pressure was so high he told me ‘you need to go into the hospital,” said Marjorie.
She had developed preeclampsia, a pregnancy complication that if left untreated, can lead to serious, sometimes fatal, complications for both mother and baby. “I didn’t really feel sick, but one time I looked at the blood pressure machine and it was 200 over 180! That’s when I had to have an emergency C-section. Dr. Joseph told me both me and the baby had a 50-50 chance. That was so terrifying. Luckily, I had my mom and aunt with me.”
Marjorie gave birth to her son Ayden, who weighed four pounds and 10 ounces at birth. After the pair spent 10 days in the hospital, they said she could resume her jobs with the police department and school. However, there was yet another roadblock standing in their way. When her mother looked at Ayden’s passport, she discovered since he was born in the United States, he was not a Jamaican citizen and could only stay in the island country for two weeks.
Marjorie had to make the heart-breaking decision to send Ayden back to the United States, while she continued to work both jobs to support them. “The plan was for me to come back to Brunswick to visit him when he had doctor’s appointments. In early January 2013, my mother and aunt told me he had a cold, but not to worry. They were both mothers and they were giving him medication. But then he got a fever.”
That led to a trip to the hospital ER, where doctors diagnosed the infant with a respiratory infection and admitted him. “That’s when I had to make the hardest decision I had ever had to make—to choose between my child and my career. After he came out of the hospital, I chose to turn in my resignations in Jamaica.” While she was thrilled to be reunited with her baby, her career went back to square-one while she got the proper paperwork in place to work in the U.S.
“I was desperate. My mom was working on Jekyll Island in housekeeping.” Although she’d never worked in housekeeping, it was the only position Marjorie could get at the time. Her life at that point involved working long hours in housekeeping, laundry and banquet services. “I had no car, I had to catch rides as I could. It was a sink or swim situation, and I wasn’t going to drown.”
Because she couldn’t afford her own home, she and her son lived with her aunt and family. “It was crowded, so for a year and eight months, I slept on the floor.” But there was a glimmer of hope for the future. “She (aunt) didn’t make me pay for anything and saved all my money for me and matched it, so I could afford my own place.
Even with her aunt cheering her on, she continued to work hard and save. “After being a shop-a-holic in Jamaica, the only places my aunt took me shopping here were Goodwill and the Salvation Army,” she laughed. “She would remind me what I was saving for. It was a humbling experience.”
Her aunt came to her aide again when she got her own, better paying, but more physically demanding job in housekeeping at Villas by the Sea. “That job was the hardest ever,” but things were going in the right direction. After marrying in 2014, she finally purchased her own home and her paperwork towards becoming a US citizen was moving forward.
Shortly thereafter, Marjorie found she could continue her education with an online dual master and doctorate degrees in psychology and forensic psychology. She was on her way again. Over the next four years, she continued working long hours while completing her schoolwork during breaks at night. “It was hard, but I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.” I started taking my backpack to work and everywhere else I went.”
After completing her studies, Marjorie said facing her dissertation was a big challenge for her, “but I found in life, if you stay on goal, have a good attitude and are willing to listen to and accept criticism, you will get there.” Taking her own advice for the dissertation, which was judged by three committee members, paid off. “Sometimes I’d be in tears (from one member’s criticism of her writing), but I would dry them and take her advice. I found she saw my potential and wanted me to succeed. So, I listened and took it gracefully.”
Marjorie said the night before her 2019 Walden University oral exam she couldn’t sleep, but when she learned she’d passed, she was crying. “I was so emotional.” She attended Walden’s graduation ceremony in January in Tampa, surrounded by family and friends.
Now that she’s finally earned her long-anticipated degree, Dr. Marjorie is concentrating on taking care of her son. “I’m a full-time mom, and I substitute teach at his school, Altama Elementary.” She added she and her aunt also buy and renovate properties they sell or rent and have a cleaning business as well.
“I will be getting my psychologist license, and I eventually want to go back into law enforcement, or maybe down the road, into private practice.”
Despite all the roadblocks, Marjorie believes she’s right where she was meant to be.
“I survived, and I’m still here to tell my story.”