“You forgive and let go of all that angers you, all that’s tying you down, that’s holding you back, that’s clenching your fists. You let that go, and now you’re able to truly experience life, where you could give without expecting anything back, and you learn what your true purpose is,” Kelly said.
For him, forgiving his mother began at a gas station in Lexington.
One night in college, Kelly was pumping gas at a Shell station at the intersection of Red Mile Road and Broadway when it started raining. Two women who had walked to the station asked him for a ride. When they got in the car, they asked to be driven to the women’s center at the local Salvation Army.
They were addicts and talked to him about their children.
After sharing with the women that his mother was also an addict, Kelly said, “I don’t understand how you can say you love your child and you want to do all of this for your child, but you obviously don’t love him more than you love your addition.”
“Honestly, the only thing that got your mother coming back was you,” one of the women said in response. “That addiction was such a sickness, such a craving, we can’t even explain it. We love our kids. It’s a true sickness.”
Kelly said it took that insight to help him understand Marcia’s sickness, and “the immense love that she had for me allowed her to come back.”
Marcia was bed ridden for most of her final year of life. She was small in stature, Kelly said, “but she was feisty. … It didn’t take her long to let you know you weren’t going to walk over her. She raised me the same way. Don’t take junk from anybody. This world’s not going to give you anything. You’ve got to be tough.”’
Marcia’s kidneys ultimately failed her, likely a result of a staph infection.
“She couldn’t fight anymore,” Kelly said.
Marcia died at the age of 46. Before she did, she told her son, “Champ, I’m sorry. I wasn’t the mother that you deserved. But I want you to know that I loved you with everything in my body,”
“She owned up to her mistakes,” Kelly said. “She did love me and she showed me strength through her death.”
Kelly said forgiving his mother was “probably the best thing and the hardest thing, but also probably the biggest showing of strength that you could have.”
“[Marcia] really encouraged Champ,” said Allen, Kelly's best friend. “I can see how her memory lives on through him and the type of person he is, and how he tries to influence other people’s lives around him.”
Kelly’s father, Michael, “cleaned up his act” when Kelly was in high school and is a bigger part of his son’s life now.
“I want him to be a grandfather for my three little girls,” he said.
Kelly takes his three daughters Claire (5), Chloe (3) and Carolina (6 months) to Campbellton to stay with his grandmother every year in the house where he grew up. They’ll also take the 20-minute drive to Dothan, Ala. to visit his father and cousins.
“I want [my daughters] to experience and understand that part of their life, their history as well,” Kelly said. “Being in an interracial relationship, you have to be intentional. We live in the suburbs, we don’t even run across many minority people up here sometimes. I have to be intentional about making sure my girls understand this side of where they come from.”