On a bright day last winter, several of the city's top black business and community leaders gathered in Academy Prep Center of Tampa's gymnasium.
Among them was Oscar Horton, president and CEO of Sun State International Trucks, one of the largest commercial truck dealerships in the southeast; Tom Forward, chief of the Tampa Fire Department; Julius Davis, president and CEO of Volt Air engineering firm.
Sitting across from the group were dozens of young boys, all intently watching and listening as each speaker rose from a long table at the head of the room and introduced themselves.
The nonprofit school serves economically disadvantaged fifth- through eighth-graders mostly from impoverished communities in east Tampa.
In their brief speeches, each imparted words of inspiration with the students: Do well in school. Set goals. Go to college or obtain some post high school training. Have a desire to do and be better.
At the center of the table sat Hugh Campbell.
He told the students that his quest to be successful started with one simple idea.
"I just decided at a young age, I wanted to make something of myself," he said.
Campbell, a West Point graduate, has done just that. He's well-known in Tampa Bay's business and technology circles as the co-founder and CEO of telecommunications company Advanced C4 Solutions.
Advanced — also known as AC4S — is a federal contractor that provides cyberspace operations and logistics support around the world to the several U.S. government agencies, including the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency.
The company is Campbell's second venture in the Tampa Bay area. He also co-founded Internet company Accelacom, Inc., which he sold in the economic downfall after Sept. 11, 2001.
Established in 2002, AC4S employees hundreds of employees and is headquartered in Tampa.
Last year, AC4S's generated revenues of $38 million, Campbell said.
It has pulled in a total of $350 million since its founding, he said.
When AC4S started, military contracts made up the majority of its business, but these days, military contracts make up just 15 percent of the company's work, he said. He adjusted and created new revenue streams as defense spending declined.
A mailer from the U.S. Military Academy caught Campbell's eye when he was in high school, and a visit to the campus sealed his desire to attend West Point.
"I said, there's no way I'm not going," he said.
But West Point would test Campbell in ways he hadn't anticipated.
A West Point tradition is for freshmen cadets to serve upperclassmen during meals.
Campbell said fulfilling this duty often meant the kitchen would close down before he could eat.
After weeks of eating little food while juggling a demanding academic schedule, he decided he'd had enough.
"I didn't like it," he said. "I almost quit."
But Campbell didn't leave. Instead he chose to overcome the challenges and get more involved in school activities.
A big help was his singing with the Cadet Gospel Choir, which traveled to black churches all over the country.
Seeing church and community leaders and young black people beam with pride at his and other choir members in their uniforms was heartening, he said.
"I always understood the opportunity that (attending West Point) was," he said. "While it was difficult, there were hints along the way that it's meaningful."
After building and operating two successful multimillion dollar businesses, it would appear that Campbell would be within his rights to cruise easily until retirement.
But Campbell said he's looking forward to deepening his involvement in community causes and organizations.
Recently, he's turned his attention and resources to Academy Prep Center of Tampa.
According to its website, the students' families face numerous hardships, including inadequate housing, lack of education, unemployment, poor health, lack of positive role models, a family history of crime or abuse, addictions and mental illness.
It's these students who need to see more examples of successful black business and community leaders, Campbell said.
The visit from Campbell and the other speakers made a huge impression on the students, said school principal Lincoln Tamayo.
"That was huge," Tamayo said. "The boys were talking about that for the next few weeks. It washed over them."
Good friend Jonathan Graham said Campbell's attachment to the school isn't a passing fancy.
"He stays on stuff," said Graham. "He isn't one to start something and not finish it."
It's imperative that Academy Prep's young boys know that success can be achieved outside of the sports and entertainment industries, Campbell said.
They can own businesses and be fire chiefs — but first they must know that doing well in school is the foundation for that success, he said.
"Education is the difference," he said. "It's all the difference in the world."
Contact Kenya Woodard at [email protected]