Brad Mays’ work-in-progress documentary film, I Grew Up In Princeton, shares its name with a Facebook group that has become very popular with people who live or grew up in town.
Mays is an active member of the Facebook group, but he does not administer the site. (To add some confusion, there is a Facebook group for his movie, called I Grew Up in Princeton – The Film.) Rett Campbell, Princeton High class of 1970, is a moderator for the group, and that is how Campbell and Mays came to be acquainted.
Today, the core group of regulars at the Facebook group tend to be contemporaries of Campbell, or even older, but Campbell said the group was actually started by someone much younger — someone whose mother, he believes, was a member of the PHS class of 1979. Campbell regrets that he does not remember the group founder’s name.
“The story goes that one day his mother asked him are you still involved in I Grew Up In Princeton, and he told his her a bunch of old people came in and took over and ruined it,” Campbell said with a laugh.
When the founder lost interest, he made one of the newer members a moderator, and that member in turn bestowed the role on Campbell. At that time the group had around 375 members, but at press time the count was over 1,700, and Campbell has an ambition to grow still more.
“I know there were 1,700 people in the high school the year we all graduated, and that was just one period of time,” Campbell said. “I have sales personality type; I can’t let it stay there static. It needs to grow. Instead of 1,700 members, we need 17,000 members.”
Campbell said around 40 or 50 people of that 1,700 make the majority of posts. Users put up photos of homes with captions telling who used to live there, or post photos of people they’ve lost touch with, asking if anyone knows what became of them.
Campbell, 60, lives in Ewing with his family. He is president of the Pennington Road Fire Company, as well as president-elect of the Ewing Kiwanis. He is also a co-producer on Mays’ film, along with Pamela Henning.
Like Mays, Campbell was a participant in the 1970 demonstrations at the Institute for Defense Analyses in Princeton. Now an emergency manager with FEMA, Campbell remembers the protest well. He said protesters tried to prevent anyone from entering the IDA, but would allow them to leave. Some people in IDA refused to leave, and they were allowed food and water.
Eventually, though, the Mercer County sheriff’s department responded to a request from Princeton University security, and things got tense.
“After a few days of us hanging out singing ‘Kumbaya,’ the sheriff’s department showed up with battle shields and batons,” Campbell said.
Most of the demonstrators dispersed in the face of the police presence, but a few fought against the sheriff’s officers and were arrested, including Mays.
Over the course of Mays’ filming, the protest has come to be a major part of the narrative. Some members of the I Grew Up In Princeton Facebook group have been vocal in opposing the focus on the protest, but Campbell says it’s useful for the film to have a focal point.
Mays said he is willing to interview anyone who wants to be interviewed, and will do whatever he can to work all viewpoints into the story.
“I think if there is a truth to this film, it is a collective truth,” Mays said. “I’m not answering any questions. I’m asking questions. Ultimately, we’re getting bits and pieces that don’t add up to anything. It’s simply an aesthetic experience. This is not a flower-power hippie tome.”