While learning about world leaders, inventors and artists in middle school, James Cameron asked his teacher why the lessons featured no black achievers and was told that there were none.
Cameron then began a personal quest to learn about his heritage and to teach other black children about the achievements of people who looked like them.
“Having that personal experience, he wanted black children to know the contributions of black people and all the possibilities of what they could become,” said his son Benjamin Cameron of Atlanta. “He provided a strong foundation. He instilled pride in African-American history.”
Known as Baba Jim, Cameron died Sept. 5 at Atlanta Medical Center at the age of 64. He suffered cardiac arrest while recovering from a ruptured spleen, his son said. His funeral will be at 11 a.m. Sunday at Willie A. Watkins Funeral Home in Atlanta.
He was born on May 20, 1951, in Flora, Miss., the eighth of 15 children.
After graduating from Jackson State University, Cameron joined the Army as a second lieutenant and became a member of the elite Airborne Rangers.
He retired from the Army in 1980 and lived in Miami before relocating to Atlanta in 1984 .
While working for the Boys and Girls Club, he received a master’s degree from Georgia State University in 1986. Two years later, he co-founded the Wa’set Learning Academy, before returning to Jackson to teach in the public school system and as a professor at Jackson State.
In 1995, Cameron moved back to Atlanta and volunteered as an educational consultant for the Florence Jackson Academy until the school closed in 1999.
His plan to home-school his son led him to start the Sankofa Center, an African-centered home-study program for boys, after former Florence Jackson Academy parents asked him to home-school their sons, too.
One of those parents was Sango-Folade Abimbola, who sent her youngest two sons to Sankofa, where they learned African culture, cooking and gardening along with academics. Cameron also took the boys, who he called warriors, camping and taught them survival skills. He also taught her dyslexic son to read, she said.
“They definitely got a well-rounded education about African culture and their responsibilities as fathers, brothers and good citizens on the planet,” said Abimbola, now a resident of Owings Mills, Md. “Baba Jim will be missed. There was nobody he didn’t help if he could.”
When her 22-year-old grandson was suffering from depression, Janet Saboor of Atlanta said Cameron helped turn his life around.
“Baba Jim was so compassionate with him and patient with him,” Saboor said. “Baba Jim gave me back my grandson. He’s not in that dark space anymore. I could never repay him for saving my grandson.”
Cameron also co-founded Man-Up, a men’s support group; worked as a drug rehabilitation counselor and helped to form and implement Reach for Wellness and the African American Men Empowerment Network.
A music lover, Cameron was a deejay at WRFG in Atlanta, where his Rebel Running reggae program aired on Saturday mornings from 1986 to 1999.
He retired in 2013 and began traveling. Six months later, at the behest of parents, he resumed his Saturday program and twice-a-year camping trips.
Before his death, Cameron was looking forward to teaching in Grenada.
“My dad had a strong sense of community,” his son said. “If he saw a void, he could try to fill it. He always did it because it was bigger than him. It was a legacy of love.”
In addition to his son, he is survived by sisters Bennie Lou Jefferson, Hattie Walker and Velma Cameron of Detroit, Susie Ward of Canton, Miss., Doris Chambers, Matilda Casey, Shirley Brown, Gloria Martin and Linda Middleton of Jackson; brothers Donald Cameron of Perry, Ga., Ronald Cameron of Stockbridge, Rickey Cameron of Brussels, Belgium, and Charles Cameron of Jackson.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.