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Circle of Change

Michael Odupitan, bs '11, encourages development for minorities through his nonprofit

Michael Odupitan posing in the new building for Omni Circle, holding blue prints

(Michael Odupitan, bs '11, in the building Omni Circle purchased to become its new headquarters and a coworking space. Photo by Michael Snell)

From The Ichabod - Winter 2022
By Angela Lutz

When Michael Odupitan, bs ’11, moved to Topeka from West Palm Beach, Florida, in 2002, he didn’t know how that decision would impact the rest of his life – along with his new community as a whole. At that time, he was a wide receiver on the Washburn University football team with dreams of playing in the NFL, but he also cared deeply about helping people.

“There was a passion in Michael that he had even sitting in the classroom,” said Joan Bayens, bs ’80, who was an adjunct instructor in Washburn’s criminal justice department for nearly two decades before retiring in 2017. “He wanted to learn and play football, but he also wanted to make a difference.”

Odupitan earned a degree in criminal justice with a minor in human services, and he spent the next 17 years working primarily in juvenile detention centers and correctional facilities, as well as fostering children who were considered hard to place. Still, he felt like he could be doing more. In 2015, he left Topeka for Kansas City – and six months later, he lost his mother to cancer. After that, his trajectory shifted.

“That put me on a different path in life,” Odupitan said. “I went through a bit of a depression afterward.

I read a lot of books and was able to get myself out of that hole and put myself on the trajectory I’m on now – giving that information back to people to help them become the best version of themselves.”

In 2019, Odupitan moved back to Topeka and founded Omni Circle Group, a nonprofit dedicated to personal and professional development with an emphasis on minorities. Odupitan is excited for his organization’s growth – so far, Omni has served more than 150 people in the Topeka area. This local focus is important to him.

“People ask why I came back to Topeka, and it’s because I spent half my life here,” he said. “I felt like Topeka kept me out of a lot of things I could have easily gotten involved in if I’d stayed in Florida that were probably not the best for me. I always tell people I felt like Topeka saved my life.”

Through Omni Circle Group, Odupitan hopes to help people achieve their personal and professional dreams. When he works with clients, he concentrates on three phases of development which he defines as connect, collaborate and create. The first focuses on making sure basic needs are met before moving on to collaboration, which links people with opportunities, trainings and resources to help them overcome various challenges.

The final phase of Odupitan’s vision is still taking shape. Last year, Omni purchased a building in Topeka that will become a coworking space and the organization’s home base for small business development, career building and trainings to give entrepreneurs and business owners the tools they need to achieve success.

“We are all coming from a place of darkness – and sometimes when you’re in the dark you don’t know what the light looks like,” Odupitan said of his organization’s philosophy. “We want to get people from survival mode into creation. My purpose is helping other individuals learn these skills. That’s what keeps me motivated.”

In addition to helping men and women of color get to where they want to be, Omni Circle Group also promotes and encourages diversity and inclusiveness in the community at large. Coming from West Palm Beach, Odupitan grew up in a very diverse city, but he recognizes many individuals from small Kansas towns might not have this same advantage.

“Organizations like Omni are important because they shed some light on what diversity and inclusiveness look like when you’re working with people from different walks of life,” he said. “We typically stay away from things we don’t know, but when you get comfortable and you have the confidence and competence to work with people from different backgrounds, that changes the way we interact as a whole.”

Working with a variety of individuals to create and grow Omni also helped Odupitan hone his own leadership skills, which he first developed on the football field.

“Early in my time at Washburn I was able to be in that leadership role, and I carried that with me into my career,” he said. “Being a leader on a football field is tough because you have a lot of different personalities, but if you can do it on a football field you can almost do it anywhere. As I’ve grown as an individual, that part of me has also grown and it’s allowed me to be in the position I’m in today.”

“Michael has always been a change maker,” Bayens said. “If he wanted a change he didn’t wait for others to do it – he did it himself. That happened with his studies, with getting comfortable at Washburn, and now his return on investment with Topeka.”

The Ichabod Magazine Winter 2022 cover - Memorial Union with snow, pine needles in the foreground

The Ichabod tells our story with features on alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends, along with the latest campus news. View the current and past editions

 

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