Odis Bellinger


The Detroit News - - Front Page -

Odis Bellinger is in the dream busi­ness. For 26 years, he’s spent vir­tu­ally all his free time men­tor­ing ado­les­cent boys in Detroit with his pro­gram, Build­ing Bet­ter Men.

His goal is to get kids, many of whom don’t have fa­thers ac­tive in their lives, to value them­selves and vi­su­al­ize their hopes and am­bi­tions.

“He al­ways said, ‘Write it down. Put it on your re­frig­er­a­tor,’ ” said Wal­ter Wa­ters, 33, in se­cu­rity at Detroit Com­mu­nity High School who was in the pro­gram in el­e­men­tary school.

“As a kid grow­ing up in the in­ner city,” Wa­ters added, “Odis helped me make the right de­ci­sions, not the wrong ones.”

Bellinger, 50, is the re­cip­i­ent of the An­gelo Hen­der­son Com­mu­nity Com­mit­ment Award.

De­spite hav­ing a step­fa­ther he came to love and ad­mire, Bellinger never knew his bi­o­log­i­cal fa­ther, a fact that caused the young man much grief.

Build­ing Bet­ter Men — now a pro­gram divi­sion of Detroit’s Matrix Hu­man Ser­vices, where Bellinger is an as­sis­tant di­rec­tor — was born out of an ado­les­cent’s de­spair.

“At 12,” Bellinger said, “I knew if I was able to do some­thing pos­i­tive in my life, I’d start some­thing for young men who felt like me.”

With a master’s de­gree in coun­sel­ing from Wayne State, Bellinger cre­ated a vol­un­teer af­ter-school pro­gram that fo­cused on lit­er­acy, con­flict res­o­lu­tion, and — doubt­less the big draw for boys — bas­ket­ball.

“The game,” ex­plained Bellinger, “teaches team­work, and how to win and lose.”

Young­sters are en­cour­aged to brain­storm and ar­tic­u­late a ca­reer goal, af­ter which Bellinger matches them with pos­i­tive role mod­els in that field.

“They need to see what they want to be­come,” he said.

But Bellinger’s not in­ter­ested in fan­tasy ca­reers.

“We do not want ‘ath­lete’ or ‘rap­per,’ ” he said. “If you’re blessed to achieve those things, great — but you need to have a backup plan.”

Bellinger’s work has won no­tice. Last year he trav­eled to Wash­ing­ton to ac­cept the Pres­i­dent’s Vol­un­teer Ser­vice Award at the White House.

Kelvin Wheeler Jr., who now works in spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion, called Bellinger “pos­i­tive and con­sis­tent,” and re­called life les­sons pro­found and small. “Mr. Bellinger did things like teach­ing us how to tie ties,” he said, adding with a laugh, “and he al­ways made sure the boys wore belts so their pants didn’t sag.”

For those who know him best, Bellinger — a prod­uct of Detroit’s Bene­dic­tine High School — was al­ways bound for some­thing good.

His mother, Yvonne Bellinger, re­called a child with un­usual drive.

“Odis was am­bi­tious,” she said, “and al­ways looked out for other peo­ple. So I thought he would go a long ways.” Ed­u­ca­tion: Bach­e­lor’s de­gree, Fayet­teville State Univer­sity; master’s de­gree, Wayne State Univer­sity Fam­ily: Two daugh­ters Why hon­ored: Re­cip­i­ent of the An­gelo Hen­der­son Com­mu­nity Com­mit­ment Award for help­ing young men craft their dreams and build bet­ter lives

Michael H. Hodges

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