Black History Month is a time to celebrate and honor those who stood strong in the face of life’s harshest circumstances and risked everything to spark change for themselves and others. Acknowledging the triumphs of black people is also to acknowledge the barriers that are often unique to the black experience. Being black and successful usually means having to endure, overcome, and persevere in pursuit of a dream, and a a black man, an athlete and an entrepreneur, New Jersey native Eugene Campbell III knows firsthand what it means to face and overcome adversity. He is also an example of using adversity as a catalyst for positivity and pursuing your passions despite life’s circumstances. Though he was forced to learn early on that nothing comes easy, Campbell also learned how to make the best of his situation and focus his energy on the things he could control, like being a good athlete and an even better student. By using his experiences to prove to others that it is not adversity that defines you, but how you react to it, Eugene Campbell III is proof that you can control your destiny no matter what life throws your way.
Born in Jersey City, NJ, Eugene Campbell III is an accomplished basketball player, business owner, and philanthropist. Campbell grew up in a loving home where he recalls sharing a love for basketball with his father and older sister and the support of his mother on his endeavors in sportsmanship. Despite the love they shared as a family, the Campbells were not immune to the violent and dangerous realities of life outside their home and in the surrounding neighborhoods. As a result, they found themselves moving frequently trying to find the best environment and opportunities for a safe and comfortable life.
The youngest of the bunch, Eugene Campbell III recalls how this instability affected his young life. From difficulty socializing with others, strained friendships, and a missing sense of belonging, this was one of the first challenges that Campbell would face as he learned about the complexity of the world around him. Over the course of his schooling, Campbell would attend 6 different schools. Not only was he challenged by the frequency of his family’s relocation, Campbell was also challenged by the circumstances in the locations they would move to. He recalls being the minority in his classes and on sports teams, a reality that presented its own set of challenges and contributed to the timeline of the next Campbell family move.
Through everything, Campbell remained focused on his studies because he knew his ultimate goal of being an athlete depended on it. He played sports throughout middle and high school, but hit a stumbling block that almost threatened his pursuit of sports all together right before his freshman year. In an event Campbell dubs “The baseball incident”, he experienced what it was like to be robbed of an opportunity, to feel like you had no control over your next steps. At the time, Campbell was not yet playing basketball, but had earned the title of one of the best baseball players in his school. Even as a child, he was still subjected early on to the consequences of what can happen when those with power misuse it for negative intent. Despite working diligently in school to keep his grades up, Campbell was cut from the baseball team when a teacher intentionally misinformed the school of his grade ranking. At the time, Campbell recalls feeling defeated, “When [the incident] happened, It was hard for me to play any sport, knowing that [this could always happen again], simply because of who I was.”
In a surprising and admirable gesture, Campbell held no hard feelings for the teacher that threatened everything he had been working for, instead he thanked them, and redirected his energy towards something he had always loved: basketball. "I would thank [my teacher] for taking me away from baseball because it motivated me to overcome the other obstacles in my life [and I learned that] life is filled with tests, you just need to learn how to deal with them. [That incident] was an opportunity for me to realize that basketball was my calling.”, he says.
In addition to basketball, Campbell’s parents also enrolled him in martial arts as an outlet for him to channel his emotions following his wrongful rejection from baseball. Although this event marked one of the most trying times in Campbell’s journey, unfortunately, it was only one of many similar incidents that would follow. It was also a significant turning point in Campbell’s life because it taught him to focus on the things he could and instead of letting this incident consume him, he used it as a stepping stone to the next chapter.
With the support of his sister and parents, Eugene Campbell III set his sights on sportsmanship despite ongoing scrutiny and roadblocks. He learned that his skill and talent were not only transferable, but better utilized on the court than on the field. Over the course of his high school career, Campbell learned discipline and dedicated himself to becoming the best at the sport.
Campbell attended New Jersey City University, and as he always had, committed to his studies just as much as his athleticism, he also became a proud brother of Psi Sigma Phi Multicultural fraternity Inc. which he credits with having a huge impact in his life as well. Campbell earned 3 college degrees including a Master’s in Psychology and dominated the sport of basketball, setting and breaking records at NJCU. Following graduation Campbell coached the sport for a few years before making the decision to pursue a professional career.
Today, Eugene Campbell III has played basketball across the globe and is currently playing in Portugal. He is the owner of a clothing brand, "dif_fer_nt” and founder of the non-profit organization, walkamilenourshoes, as well as a brand ambassador for companies that align with his values. The message behind dif_fer_nt’s brand, says Campbell, “is to inspire others to be themselves no matter what, [to show them] being different is good and it makes us who we are''. His non-profit, walkamileinourshoes “hand delivers essential goods to communities in need all over the world”, including some of the European countries Campbell has played in.
Campbell's achievements at just 25-years old given all he has been through is a result of always keeping a positive attitude, being resilient and remaining ambitious. His advice for others is “make sure that every day you are working towards your dream and don’t let anyone or anything stop you. We all have the same 24 hours in a day so make sure yours are productive and goal-oriented. As long as you work hard and trust the process, all of your dreams will become a reality.”
A true dream chaser, Eugene Campbell III has managed to defy others’ expectations, make a name for himself, and give back to others despite the hand he was dealt in his own journey. See where life takes Eugene Campbell III next by following him on Instagram @i_am_gene_campbell, Twitter @iamgenecampbell, and on Facebook @Eugene Campbell.