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Adrian Walker

Andrea Campbell broke her family’s cycle of troubles, but now comes another challenge

Boston City Councilor Andrea J. Campbell. (Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/File) Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

City Councilor Andrea Campbell sat among the dignitaries at Roxbury Community College Thursday morning, celebrating the life of Chuck Turner, the former councilor and community activist.

Across town, at Boston Municipal Court, her older brother Alvin R. Campbell Jr. was living a very different experience. He was being arraigned for a heinous crime, accused of picking up a woman who was waiting for an Uber outside a bar near TD Garden, and driving her to Rhode Island, where he allegedly raped her.

For the city councilor, the contrast between her life and that of those close to her is nothing new. Her twin brother, Andre, died in state custody at 29, after years in correctional facilities and hospitals. Other members of her family have also compiled substantial criminal records. All the while, she was the determined exception, the graduate of Boston Latin, Princeton, and UCLA Law.


The one who made it out.

“As you know, I come from an extremely challenging background of serious loss and pain,” she said Thursday. “I have done everything in my power to break that cycle — for myself, my family, and my two sons.”

Alvin Campbell’s arraignment was chaotic. He initially refused to enter the courtroom, even when multiple court officers attempted to drag him in. At the insistence of the judge — who said Campbell had to appear in some form, to ensure that he understood what was happening — he stood outside the courtroom in a hallway, in view of the judge, but shielded from others in the courtroom.

Given the allegations against him, it’s no wonder he wouldn’t show his face.

A Suffolk County prosecutor told the court that Campbell’s DNA taken from a victim’s rape kit matched that of three other unsolved assaults. He had two other pending criminal cases, including an alleged assault of a woman outside a Theatre District bar last year. His legal woes may be just beginning.


When I asked Andrea Campbell about her brother, she quickly turned the focus instead to his alleged victim.

“I am, of course, thinking about the victim who had the courage to come forward,” she said. “I will continue to pray that the victim gets the justice she is entitled to, with compassion and love.”

Her brother Alvin, she said, had been in and out of trouble over the years, including several years behind bars. But he had seemed to be pulling himself together over the past few years, or so she believed. “I’m shocked by all of this,” she said, choking back tears.

From the beginning of her political career, questions of why some people overcome challenges while others don’t have driven Campbell. No wonder: By her early teens, it was clear that she and her brothers were on radically different trajectories. That has never really changed.

“I talk about schools a lot because that’s a big part of it,” she told me during her first campaign, in 2013. “The schools I went to had things that the schools [Andre] went to didn’t.” Education has since become her signature issue.

Campbell — who was City Council president until earlier this week — is often discussed as a probable mayoral contender, possibly as early as two years from now. She has won plaudits for her intellect and conciliatory manner, and her ability to advocate without alienating opponents.


She could be running Boston someday. Her brother is obviously moving in a completely different direction.

So on Thursday Andrea Campbell wasn’t a politician. She was a heartbroken sibling finding it impossible to muster a lot of words of support, struggling to make sense of something incomprehensible.

Campbell has never had the luxury of forgetting where she comes from, but she has used her platform to improve the odds for others.

As her brother faced his demons, she was left to ponder — not for the first time — why she thrived when those she loved never found the way out.

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. E-mail him at adrian.walker@
. Or follow him on Twitter @adrian_walker.