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His Journey from the Big Band to the Big Screen

by Doris D. Shadouh -

He’s been featured in commercials for big corporations, written comedy skits for Buzzfeed, starred in movies, and just recently, he was featured in a film that earned an Academy Award.The list of achievements just keeps growing for Norfolk State alumnus Zeus Campbell who has even bigger plans for the future.

His hard work, vision, and willingness to take risks in his career are all things he credits for his success, but he remembers where the journey to his dreams began — right here at Norfolk State University. College was a long shot for Campbell.

He struggled in high school and never thought higher education was even possible, but that never stopped him from dreaming about a better life. Although Campbell is excelling in the film industry, his first love was actually music. He was a drum major in high school and he always held a special place in his heart for the Spartan Legion.

His band director was a former member of the Legion, and he saw Campbell’s talent and encouraged him to try out. Campbell took his director’s advice, showed off his skills and it earned him a spot with the band and a partial scholarship. But he had yet to become an official student.

Although he had passing SAT scores, his GPA did not meet the minimum requirement. On the day he graduated from Norview High School, still dressed in his cap and gown, he and his mother marched up to Norfolk State University’s admissions office on a serious mission.

He asked for an emergency meeting with the director of admissions and begged her to give him a chance. She allowed him to go to the University for one semester and told him if he failed any classes he wouldn’t be allowed to continue.

He took on that challenge and never looked back. “I got into Norfolk State, and I never failed any classes. I had better grades in college than I ever had in high school,” says Campbell. Since that time, Campbell has been unstoppable.

He’s gone on to do incredible things in the film industry and has even started his own company called Tight Rope Zeus and created a brand that he calls “LiveYour Dreams.” Campbell worked on a few projects in Hampton Roads, and later had the opportunity to work with an agent based in California where he currently resides.

He has appeared in several movies including Hump Day Romance, Bird, Confused, the Great Moments in Black History miniseries, he narrated the television show Homicide City, and was featured in the short film Skin, which earned an Academy Award.

Campbell knows what he wants, creates a plan of action and goes for it. He was excited about the Oscar win, but says this was a part of his master plan. “I ordered it. I saw it. I’m not surprised, but I’m extremely pleased,” says Campbell.

Although he is proud of his accomplishments, he doesn’t spend much time dancing in the end zone; he’s busy working on the next adventure.

“I’m a Renaissance man. Every aspect of my life, I don’t see it for what it is — I see it for what it can be.” He is not the only visionary in his family. He comes from a proud line of Spartans who have all had the opportunity to shape their lives after graduating from Norfolk State University.

His mother, Janice Campbell, tirelessly worked her way through school for several years while she continued to care for her growing family. “I stand on the foundation of her sacrifices,” says Campbell.

Although she still had a few classes to take before her graduation, she continued to push and encourage Campbell who graduated before she did. After they both earned their degrees, she then convinced her husband to further his education as well. All three are now proud Norfolk State Alumni. 

Campbell recently returned to Norfolk State for a special screening of the movie Skin and a panel discussion afterward with students and faculty.

In the future, Campbell plans to pour even more back in to the community that gave him a chance. He wants to launch an HBCU workshop for students to help them develop their skills in the film industry. His ultimate goal is to clear a path to make it easier for those also wish to live their dreams as he has done throughout his life.


-photos courtesy of Lateef Gibson

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