The Liberty City Warriors youth sports league, the subject of a new Starz docuseries, has made quite an impact on its Miami community over the past three decades. Among the NFL stars it has spawned: Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson, Devonta Freeman, Antonio Brown, Duke Johnson, and Teddy Bridgewater.
But for hip-hop icon Luther Campbell, who co-founded the organization to help the youth in his rough Miami neighborhood, those aren’t his favorite success stories. He points to City of Miami Commissioner Keon Hardemon, who appears in “Warriors of Liberty City,” the six-part docuseries that premieres on Sunday night.
“He was a little kid, smaller than everybody else, and started out by playing baseball, then went to play football,” Campbell recalled. “He ends up going to college and becomes a lawyer. He comes back from being a lawyer, travels the world, works as a public defender, then he comes back to the program. Now he’s a commissioner of the city. That’s a success story. Yeah, we’ve got Chad, we’ve got kids playing the Super Bowl, we have all that. But when I look at him, he’s the most decorated one out of all of them. We’ve got doctors, lawyers, it’s a hell of a family. To be 30 years in and see the success stories… the football guys are going to get the praise, but there are a lot of other ones.”
Liberty City remains a troubled part of Miami, as residents continue to face high levels of poverty and violence. As the documentary series shows, the Liberty City Warriors Optimist Club not only keeps kids occupied by putting them in sports leagues, but it also demands that participants achieve at least a 2.5 GPA grade — and offers tutoring to get students to that level.
“You look back, 30 years, you never know of any business that will last that long,” Campbell said. “But when it’s the business of kids in that community, it’s still needed. That’s the sad part. You would think the issues that kids have in that community would have changed by now. It hasn’t changed. The only change that they see is in the program. If we build a new building. Or we get some new uniforms. Through the program, I use football as a luring piece. It’s really about education. I get them in and say, in order to play you’ve got to have a 2.5 GPA. Bring me your last report card. We’ll look at it and dump them in tutoring. Now they’ll be brought up to the standards. They’ll stay in the program year round — football, basketball, baseball.”
Campbell is an unlikely activist, given his roots as one of the leaders of late 80s hip-hop group 2 Live Crew — known for sexually explicit hits like “Me So Horny.” But ironically, it was attempts by Florida authorities to shut down the group and its performances that helped get Campbell politically involved. Campbell, who first went by the stage name “Luke Skyywalker” (that didn’t go over well with George Lucas) and later “Luke” or “Uncle Luke,” was among 2 Live Crew members arrested after performing their “As Nasty as They Wanna Be” album at a Hollywood, Fla., club. Simultaneously, a U.S. district court judge had ruled the album obscene, and at least one record store retailer was arrested for selling a copy. Eventually, the group was acquitted, and the obscenity ruling was overturned. Here’s an MTV News report from the 2 Live Crew trial:
As a result, 2 Live Crew and Campbell became First Amendment advocates; their 1990 single “Banned in the U.S.A.” (which interpolated Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” chorus, with his blessing) recounted their obscenity legal issues:
“That was the moment,” Campbell said. “As far as music is concerned, I talk about it in my book, my uncle would let me sit there and listen to all of these activist tapes. I couldn’t look at cartoons or any kind of TV shows at his house. So I was familiar with the struggle somewhat. Then when the government started going after me and I had to go through all these different courts, and appeals, and trials, getting locked up in all of these different cities, I had enough of it. I said, OK I’m going to take this platform to express myself because I know a lot of people are struggling. It was a moment. And from that point on, I became politically active.”
Campbell later wrote a column for the Miami New Times and even ran for mayor of Miami in 2011. Now, as “Warriors of Liberty City” launches on Starz, Campbell has a deal with Lionsgate to develop a movie based on his life story. He’s also looking to pitch more TV shows.
“Back in the day you’d put a story on a song,” he said. “In Miami, no one has touched our stories. Most of the stories are coming from California or New York. I’ve got tons of stories. Once we did the deal with Lionsgate for my life story, taken out of my book, I looked at the script and I said, I’ve got so many other stories that people don’t know about. We’ll pitch those stories.”
Evan Rosenfeld created, co-directed (with Andrew Cohn) and executive produced “Warriors of Liberty City,” which also comes from executive producers LeBron James, Maverick Carter and Jamal Henderson. Pam Healey, Dan Peirson, Ted Skillman and Luther Campbell are also executive producers.
“Warriors of Liberty City” premieres on Sunday, Sept. 16 at 8 p.m. ET on Starz.