Ten years ago, he was a legend on the playgrounds of Washington, an all-Metropolitan basketball player with several offers of college scholarships that could take him far away from his Anacostia neighborhood.
Ten days ago, Charles (Jitty) Campbell, 29, once a known drug user and convicted felon, was found on Martin Luther King Avenue in Southeast Washington, bleeding profusely from three bullet wounds in his chest. He died later that night of Dec. 5.
Dozens of friends and relatives came to pay their final respects at Campbell's funeral last Friday at Mason's Funeral Home on Good Hope Road, not far from the Ballou High School gymnasium where Jitty Campbell spent the most enjoyable days of his life.
Some of them tried to explain why it had happened, why yet another promising athlete never fulfilled the dreams of his youth.
"The streets killed Jitty," said William Parker, a former teammate and all-Met on the championship Ballou team in 1971. "I've only seen Jitty twice since he left Virginia Union, but I had heard he was having a tough time.
"The last time I saw him, he had just gotten out of Petersburg (Penitentiary) and stopped by my apartment," said Parker, a graduate of Virginia Union and a teacher in a middle school in Richmond. "We talked a long time and Jitty told me he was getting his life in order. All of his friends talked to him and we always kept that optimism he would change. We told him if he continued to do the same kinds of things, something like this might happen. Everyone wanted him to change."
But little had changed from that day in 1971 when Campbell told a reporter: "If I spend three more months around here, I'll probably wind up in jail."
Campbell's trouble began the day he left Virginia Union in Richmond in September 1971. He had been awarded a full athletic scholarship to the school. But on the day he registered for classes, he was mistakenly told he owed $550. Instead of checking with the basketball coach, he panicked, called his mother and came home. The money actually had been paid through a federal grant. Only Campbell's signature was needed on a form.
"We tried to get him to come back and he promised he would," Parker said. "We talked and talked but Jitty didn't came back. Coach (Tom) Harris still wanted him the next semester. His money was still there. Jitty wasn't dumb and I still believe, had he stayed one semester, he would've been fine and we wouldn't be here today."
Campbell did visit Langston University in Oklahoma in January 1972, but stayed only three days. Still harboring the dream of being a top-flight college player, he later registered at Prince George's Community College, withdrawing after 21 days after being contacted again by the Virginia Union coach. He never returned to school.
After that, Campbell's friends and relatives say, his problems began. Unable to find a job, Campbell spent most of his time on the streets of Southeast. He often went by Ballou to cheer on his little brother Randolph, then a senior and all-Met basketball player in 1972, now a patient at a federal drug rehabilitation facility in Danbury, Conn. The brothers even talked about going to college the next year on a package deal, but it never happened.
"Things sort of went downhill for Jitty then," said Campbell's mother Gladys, who has six other children. "He wasn't a big problem at all. He kept to himself and was a proud person. He didn't want any handouts. He tried to find work but it's rough on the young people out here in Southeast. There's no recreation facilities out here, the kids can't get jobs and some kids get in with the wrong people. Jitty got into trouble just because he was out there."
According to Campbell's friends, the well-built, handsome young man nicknamed Jitterbug because of his dancing ability as youngster, started dabbling with drugs. And that, in the vicious cycle of the streets, eventually led exactly where Jitty Campbell had predicted.
He was arrested in 1974 and convicted of possession of stolen checks; he was sentenced to six years. He was paroled from Petersburg (Va.) Federal Peniteniary in 1977 and stayed out of trouble for about eight months. He got into trouble again for failure to report to his probation officer, but was not jailed.
He spent three weeks in the D.C. Jail last February on what police described as a "marshal's hold." A police source said Campbell was not charged with any specific crime but was suspected of parole violation. No charges were filed and he was released in March.
"He didn't commit any major crimes, just a few petty things," said his brother Curtis, 22, a former Howard baseball player and the youngest of the seven children. "All of his trouble revolved around his not finding a job. He always could cook and, while he was in prison, he perfected the skill. But when he was released, he never could find a job as a chef. He always seemed to get bad breaks and it was one thing after another. Nothing ever fell in place for him."
Since last March, Campbell had lived at his mother's Congress Heights house and had managed to stay out of trouble, although the people who cared about him were concerned; he still did not have a job, he still had serious problems.
"As far as I know, Jitty hadn't been in any trouble," his mother said. "If he was, he kept it from me. I assumed he was cured of any drug problem he had in the past."
Glenn Harris, a longtime friend of the family, said he talked with Campbell at length two months ago, and that "he looked like he had cooled out, like he was getting himself together."
"Jitty told me things were getting better and he was headed in the right direction," said Harris. "He always listened to people he respected and was not a bad person. He was thinner but in good spirits. No one knows exactly what happened to Jitty in the last 10 years, but it doesn't seem fair that he should be killed on the street and left like that."
There are conflicting reports on Campbell's death. Police have listed it as a robbery attempt, but there is some talk on the streets of Southeast that his death may have been drug-related. "Some people say it could have been drugs, but right now, we just don't know," Curtis Campbell said.
"I saw Jitty quite often and he wasn't doing nothing wrong," said a friend, who refused to give his name, at the funeral. "Him getting shot doesn't make any sense. Folks get killed every day out here and everywhere else. Jitty just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Just because a person gets involved with drugs once, doesn't mean he's still doing it. Jitty messed around a while but he had cooled out. Man, we loved Jitty. He never hurt nobody. If him getting shot has something to do with drugs, it's news to me."
Lloyd Goodwin, another former Ballou teammate, concurred that his friend was trying to get his life in order.
"I saw him just Wednesday (three days before Campbell died), and he told me he was okay," said Goodwin, who went to Virginia State. "I know Jitty had his faults, but no one would have thought this would happen. You face all kinds of problems in life, and maybe Jitty couldn't handle all the pressure he felt. You look around in here and you see how many people wanted this guy to succeed."
Herman Daves, his coach at Ballou, said he seldom saw Campbell but was aware of his problems. "He got in with the wrong people," Daves said. "You can tell kids about the opportunities, open avenues for them and just hope. There's not a lot you can do after that."
Area basketball fans will remember Jitty Campbell, a 6-foot-2 player who averaged almost 30 points a game and led the Knights to the Interhigh League championship, a 23-3 record and the No. 1 ranking in the metropolitan area in 1971.
There was one particularly memorable game: Jitty, Randy Campbell and Parker leading a small Ballou team over a tall, talented St. Anthony's squad coached by John Thompson for the Knights of Columbus championship in the final game of the year.
"I remember they beat us pretty good and I definitely remember Charles Campbell," said Thompson, the Georgetown coach. "He was an outstanding shooter, a great high school player. You find a kid whose only way out is basketball and when that doesn't work, there are very few options left. This is shocking, very unfortunate."
The Jitty Campbell who had had the accurate jump shot and quick moves to the basket hardly looked like himself when he was interviewed at the D.C. Jail last March. He was wearing baggy blue prison overalls, and he was thin, almost haggard.
Campbell said then that drugs had put him in jail, but that he was through with them. He said he would stay drug-free and find a job. He didn't know what kind of job. Anything would do.
Asked what words of advice he would give to players on the 1981 all-Metropolitan team, he said, "I'd tell them to stay away from drugs, and that something that looks free ain't really free."
Throughout the interview, conducted by intercom phone through bulletproof glass, Campbell was subdued and melancholy. As he walked off to the door that led back to his cell, he turned, smiled and raised a fist, as if to signify his resolve.
Nine months later, Jitty Campbell was dead on the street.