Football is the heart of this Miami town and it helps save its youth. The legendary Luther Campbell founded the youth football team, Warriors of Liberty City, 29 years ago and many NFL players have trained under him in this program. Now a television show, Campbell gives us insight into the seriousness of the violence and the talent in his community.
ATM: What does the word “warrior” mean to you?
Luther: A person that does not take no for an answer and goes hard in the paint. They fight for whatever they need to fight for.
ATM: Who were your mentors growing up at the same age as the boys and girls in the youth program?
Luther: My dad and mother were my mentors. I spent a lot of time with my uncle. I really looked up to these guys. My mother taught me the do’s and the don’ts of the world. Also, how cruel and great the world could be.
ATM: Name the most emotional story.
Luther: Devonta Freedman who is the running back for the Atlanta Falcons. He was the smallest guy and walked around with the limp. We had always thought there was a deficiency with the leg. One leg was longer than the other. There was always something about this kid. He has a good soul and always kept a smile on his face. His body started to catch up in the middle of junior high school. He had a breakout year during senior year. He ran 1000s yards in the playoffs. No one saw this coming. He received a scholarship to Florida State. He went on to play in the Superbowl and National championship. This story just is always emotional. He was the person no one thought would make it to the NFL. My wife and I always get emotional when talking about this story. There is a true believer in God.
ATM: How do you have patience with these young boys and girls?
Luther: It is almost like planting a tree. I have seen these kids at the ages of six and seven. I have seen Lil George and his crew on the cover as children. It is like they are coming and checking into the military. You see them mature and grow into young men. They become unbreakable. You see them grow through the program. No one can tell you anything about them that is not noticed. This is why we extended our program to high school. People were talking bad about them once getting into high school. We were able to see them going in the right direction.
ATM: If I were to ask one of the children on the cover what morals and value were learned, then what would their answer be?
Luther: Those kids love me like their uncle. Lil George would say “Coach is there for us. He makes us happy.” A conversation with Devonta would say, “He gives you good information if you listen.” Each one will tell you something different. The young lady will say “Coach walks in the park saying this is ladylike and that is not ladylike.” These few words make them think.
ATM: Explain the weakness and strengths of your first year.
Luther: I was a baseball guy but always loved football. I had always wanted to have a football program. It was an overwhelming response. I was at the height of my career and the biggest thing coming out of Miami at the time. Hundreds of people showed up and signed their names. It was a major impact for the area in which I grew up. It was fairly new. I got people in high school to come to coach. We got beat up our first year and now we are doing the beating.
ATM: Just how bad was the violence?
Luther: It was and still is very bad. My mother always taught us, “There is always trouble to get in and trouble to get out.” People would show up at people’s houses a night back then. You would find yourself on the floor because of the shooting. You can always find trouble on every block. They also shoot in the daytime. The docuseries shows they are trying to make their way out. The fathers and mothers are trying to have the kids get out. You will see kids on the team that gets murders from drive because of shootings.
ATM: How does it make you feel turning these young kids dreams into a reality?
Luther: It makes me feel really good. I am a weird person. I do not get overly excited about anything. It just always worked. I always think what to do better for the ones that get incarcerated. I really good for the ones that do make it. I feel good for them to listen. The successful ones remind me that the non-successful ones did not listen. There is still more work to be done. I am always happy. I have girls that I want to see become doctors and lawyers.
ATM: What has this 29-year journey taught you about yourself as a man?
Luther: It taught me the importance of being humbled and that I made the right decision. There were many things I could have done. My career could have been a lot more successful. It was not about me but was about my community. I made the right decision to stay in my community and to save lives. Saving lives does not happen overnight. You have to plant the seed and watch it grow. I am happy the world gets to see what we planted and what the families go through. They will have a better respect for people living in projects and government housing. Some people think they are lazy and want to live here. People have stereotypes about these types of people, but this docuseries shows they are working out to keep their kids alive.
Campbell would have been a record executive if he did not step out to take a risk. A lot of these young boys that have matured into men would have never occurred. He is dedicated to helping the youth in his community Campbell wants to see little girls and boys become better women and men in the future. Listening to his parents and painting with his uncle was a part of how Luther become who he is as a mentor.