Marker of Faith

Willie Bodrick. Photo: Justin Knight

If ministry is a call, Willie Bodrick II had a clear response for most of his life: No.

"People say you run to your calling, but I ran from mine," Bodrick says. "Everyone told me all my life, 'You ought to be a preacher.' I never really felt like I was able to sculpt my own personality; everyone was imposing something upon me. So I found ways to avoid ministry."

An irrepressible wordsmith and Southern charmer who knows how to engross you in a story, Bodrick was born to an educator mother and a Baptist pastor father and raised in Atlanta.

"The trinity we had going in our household was church, family, and sports," says Bodrick, who devoted himself to athletics as a kid. His work on the playing field and in the classroom carried him all the way to Georgetown University, where he played Division I football for four years.

"We're an athletic family," Bodrick says. His younger brothers are athletes at Morehouse and at South Georgia College, and his parents were both collegiate athletes. "My parents used athletics as an opportunity to explore education, but also as something that taught values, such as teamwork, hard work, and made you focus and helped you understand how to multitask."

After graduating from Georgetown in 2010, however, Bodrick got honest with himself. He thought of playing professional football but found that he just didn't have the spark.

"I calculated the cost," he explains. "What would bring the greatest benefit to me? I had some good chances to play in Canada or overseas, but I'm not sure the National Football League would've been immediately in my scope. It was one of those things where I got to 'I don't really want to do it at all.' "

Bodrick took a job at SEED Public Charter School in Washington, D.C., as a part-time resident assistant, where he also tutored youth in reading comprehension. He enjoyed the work, but ministry was tugging at his sleeve.

"I bargained with God," Bodrick says now, recalling the story of how he came to HDS. "I thought, 'I'm not really 100 percent for this idea, but if I'm going to do this, please put me in the best place.' "

He applied to just two schools—Harvard and Yale—still half-hearted about it all.

"I knew if I got into both of those schools, I wouldn't have been able to choose. I was supposed to get Yale's letter before Harvard's, so I really thought I'd be going to Yale," he says. "But I got Harvard's instead. It was one of the best days of my life. I was ecstatic; I thought, 'I guess, God, you're right. It's what you want me to do.' For some people it was coincidence; for me it was a marker of faith."

Even so, Bodrick wasn't completely sure that his decision to enter the ministry was the right one until June 2011. That's when he gave his first sermon at his father's church in Watkinsville, Georgia.

"I'd never felt more comfortable than when I preached that sermon, and that affirmed it for me," he says. "I'd finally accepted my call."

Now in his second year in the MDiv program at HDS, Bodrick has started his own nonprofit, Black Men Overtly Leveraging Development, Inc. After graduation, Bodrick says he may head a church, or he may pursue another graduate degree, though he's not yet sure what in. Meanwhile, he's thankful for the support he received from the William and Lucille Nickerson Scholarship at HDS, which provides him the time and comfort he needs to grow and to help others.

"Financial aid has allowed me to go to school and actually focus and not be burdened by the thought 'Can I actually pay this bill?' That builds character, but takes away focus from academics and just trying to mature. I'm very thankful HDS has given me the funding to have this opportunity, because I know, with two other brothers in college, it's just not fiscally manageable for my parents. I'm grateful and I'm going to make the most of it."