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The Charlotte Observer: From a ‘Young Knucklehead’ to Team Owner

Théoden Janes
 
Ever since the day last summer when Brandon Bellamy announced he was purchasing a majority stake in Gastonia’s Atlantic League of Professional Baseball team, virtually every news story about has included the following phrase — or something similar — alongside it:
 
“The only Black majority team owner in professional baseball.”
 
That’s a big deal, obviously. But it’s something you’ll only hear the 49-year-old owner of the Gastonia Honey Hunters talk about if he has to.
 
“I’ve never done anything to seek that,” Bellamy says of the publicity, the pinnacle of which may have come back in June, when ESPN featured him in a mini-documentary for SportsCenter that also paid homage to the legend of Ransom Hunter. (The team’s nickname is a nod to both Hunter, believed to be the first freed slave to have owned property in Gaston County, and to the fearless, quick-to-pounce mammal known as the honey badger.)
 
“I’m introverted,” he explains. “And so yes, it is surreal that so many people know about it, that the story is such a big story, that it’s national and that it’s bringing so much attention. I would never knowingly do something that would bring myself that much attention.”
 
Bellamy is sitting on a stool at a high-top table inside the premium club at CaroMont Health Park on a late-July afternoon. Outside, down on the field, the first-year Honey Hunters are sweating through a game against High Point as the mercury soars north of 90 degrees.
 
He says that, just before this conversation, he was speaking to a group of high school students visiting the stadium, and he talked to them about his shyness. “I love y’all,” he told them, “but I didn’t really want to talk to y’all.”
 
‘You do as much good as you can’
But while Bellamy doesn’t go looking for ways to promote himself as the only Black majority team owner in professional baseball, and while he really, truly, would prefer not to give speeches to high school students, he is crystal-clear on the benefits of stepping out of his comfort zone.
 
“The question is, ‘Can I use that to inspire some other people?’” Bellamy says, referring to the publicity focused on the rarefied air he occupies. “If doing this helps move communities forward, if it gets capital to go to other under-invested areas, if it generates jobs and creates opportunities for people, and my story can help in any way inspire people to push through the struggle they’re having, then it’s worth it.”
 
As the CEO of The Velocity Companies — a 12-year-old real estate and development firm that has about 30 employees and historically has focused primarily on deals and projects in the Washington, D.C. area — he’s been down this road before. For example, explaining why he got involved in 2019 with the $250 million development of a mixed-use project called Hampton Park in Capitol Heights, Md., he told the Washington Business Journal, “I think I just wanted to help as many people as I could.”
 
That’s pretty much the same reason his company decided last year to commit $100 million of development in downtown Gastonia, its vision for the Franklin Urban Sports and Entertainment (FUSE) District, and the Atlantic League’s vision for expansion.
 
It wasn’t because Bellamy loved baseball. He didn’t play the sport much when he was growing up, and he was never a serious fan. And it wasn’t because he had a connection to the city. His dad had grown up in Whiteville, about an hour west of Wilmington, but otherwise Bellamy, who lives in the D.C. suburb of Accokeek, Md., was a stranger to North Carolina.
 
But in October of 2019, an old friend and mentor of his told him about what was going on in Gastonia: that there was a project similar to one Bellamy was working on in Prince George’s County, Md., and that the city needed help gaining momentum to pull it off. He booked a flight to Charlotte, drove out to Gastonia, started asking questions, and — long story short — even though he was advised there was no money to be made in minor-league baseball, he saw potential in the overarching FUSE concept and an opportunity to help a community that historically hadn’t gotten much help.
 
And this ties into one of his key guiding principles, which is equally simple: “You do as much good as you can,” he says, “’cause you never know how far it’s gonna go.”
 
He’s quick with an example of exactly the kind of potential he’s talking about.
 
“We don’t know that our investment here isn’t gonna create an office building that’s gonna give someone a job that (they) otherwise wouldn’t have,” he says, “and then they’re gonna be able to pay for their daughter to go to college because of that job, and that little girl goes to college and cures cancer. You do not know the downstream impact of the good that you’re doing right now.”
 
Bellamy’s road to success and significance
That’s Brandon Bellamy in a nutshell: a man with extraordinary means and a relentlessly optimistic philosophy who took a chance on an ambitious but risky proposition for a city that is trying to get people to take it seriously.
 
As for how he came to be that man?
 
It’s a long story, but here are the key points to help explain it, from a recent nearly two-hour conversation during which he talked about the people, places and things that shaped his life, his career and his outlook on both.
 
1. In one of the many stories published on him this year, Bellamy was quoted as saying he “grew up kind of poor.” He wants to clarify that statement a little.
 
Bellamy was born in Detroit and raised as an only child primarily by his mother, who made a living as a teacher. When he was 8 or 9, she moved him to D.C. to try to form a family with his father, who was from the area, but the relationship never gelled.
 
From that time until he was about 16, he spent the school year living in a series of rougher neighborhoods in and around the District with his mother, but traveled back every year to spend summers with his aunt and cousin in “a really nice, close-knit neighborhood” in Detroit. He attended an arts and humanities-focused public high school for talented and gifted students in Forestville, Md.
 
“My mom be like, ‘You tryin’ to make it seem like you was homeless.’ No. My mom was able to make sure that I had everything that I probably needed to be functional. I didn’t miss any meals.” A better way to describe their status, he says now: “The lower end of working-class.”
 
2. As a teenager, he fantasized about being rich. Not just any kind of rich, though — a very specific kind of rich.
 
“My aunt would ask me, ‘What do you want to do (as a career)?’ And I was like, ‘I don’t know. But I imagine my life some spring day where I’m driving down the street and I got on a suit and tie and the sunroof’s open and Anita Baker’s playing on the radio, and all I know is I’ve decided that I don’t want to go to this meeting I have to go to.
 
“I call my office and I let my assistant know I don’t want to work the rest of the day. I drive to the airport. I buy a ticket to go to the Bahamas with no luggage. I go to the Bahamas for the weekend and I fly back home. And whatever I did or whatever I spent, it didn’t matter. ... Whatever I gotta do to do that, that’s what I want to do.’”
 
And from the time he was 16 or 17 into his early 20s, Bellamy explains, he focused on that dream. “You know how life decisions happen and you have to make a choice, and you can either go left or you can go right? Whichever decision I thought got me closer to that mental picture, that’s the one I made.”
 
3. During that same period, he made some pretty bad life decisions.
 
During the latter part of high school, and after he graduated (Bellamy didn’t go to college), “I was running with some knuckleheads, doing what young knuckleheads do. Got in a little bit of trouble.”
 
He mentions that his father taught him how to box when he was young, and alludes to those skills having created some problems for him. He mentions just generally being “out on the block, doing things.” He mentions being on probation at one point. But he doesn’t provide much detail, except to say: “I’ve done some things that I’m not proud of. ... I shouldn’t have done them.”
 
4. Then one day, he snapped out of it. Or, at least, started down the path to snapping out of it.
 
He remembers he was sitting in a car, having just done one of those things he’s not proud of, and being struck by the feeling of having a complete lack of responsibility.
 
“Like, the average person would be going to work or someone would be going to school. There would be something that you’re supposed to be doing. ... But I literally didn’t have anything to do. It was so weird. ... And I was like, ‘Yo, this is a waste.’ I don’t know that I thought about it clearly, as I say it to you now, but I remember feeling, like, blahhh. Lazy. ... I had money. But there was nothing to do. And I just remember thinking, This just can’t be my life. This just can’t be my life.”
 
It wasn’t too long after that, having spent the three years since he graduated from high school “out on the block,” that Bellamy enrolled in courses to get his real-estate license.
 
5. He points to several things that set him down the path to success as young man trying to figure out his life.
 
One was having his son Alex at age 18, and eventually realizing he had a greater responsibility and purpose than just himself. (Bellamy is not married, but says he continues to have a good relationship with the mother of their now-30-year-old son.)
 
Another was his mentor, Dennis Crawford, who hired Bellamy to work in his Seat Pleasant, Md., hardware store when Bellamy was on probation — and who, 25 years later, was the one to inform Bellamy about the opportunity in Gastonia.)
 
And then two of the other key things that set Bellamy up for success, he says, were books: “Why Should White Guys Have All the Fun?” by Reginald Lewis and “Think & Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill, which he read at the same time. The former introduced him to a hero, a guy who grew up poor in Baltimore and became the first Black billionaire. The latter introduced him to a concept.
 
“‘Think and Grow Rich’ is all about the fact that a thought is a real thing. It’s an electrical impulse. It’s happening in your mind. It does not exist in the real world. But it’s real. ’Cause if you’re thinking it, then there’s a synapse going off in your mind, and that electrical impulse is a real thing. So I had an electrical impulse about this team. And now there’s a stadium. There’s a team. There’s 130 people working here. I’m talking to y’all. And it was an electrical impulse.
 
“So, ‘think and grow rich.’ Right? Or, ‘think and you can manifest what you’re thinking about.’ That is a crazy concept, but it’s true. It’s absolutely true.”
 
6. He credits his mother for helping him develop a love for reading at a young age, starting with comic books, and credits that love for reading with helping him in business.
 
“It helped me deconstruct deals. It helped me break down concepts. And it helped me triangulate knowledge points, so that I could understand it my way. Then I was able to use that. ... That’s why I tell people education is self-directed.”
 
He’s not saying he doesn’t think kids should go to college. He’s saying, “I believe in doing things the most efficient way possible. ... If you want to be a doctor I need you to go to college. If you want to be an HVAC technician, that’s great — go to trade school. If you want to be a Tibetan monk, you need to move to Tibet and learn how to do that. ...
 
“You put yourself in a place to learn. And so because I read a lot, I was able to read all these things, about entrepreneurship. ... All the intelligence, all the knowledge, all the wisdom you want to know exists in all these other books. You don’t have to figure everything out on your own. You don’t have to make every mistake. All these other people made these mistakes and they wrote them down, and you can learn from all that — and that’s helped me immensely.”
 
7. Perhaps the strongest of all influences in his life, though, is his faith in God.
 
Though Bellamy has gotten plenty of credit for what’s happening in Gastonia right now, it’s God, he says, who deserves it.
 
“Looking back across my life, I know — I know — because it doesn’t make sense otherwise. How I found out about the deal. The person that told me about it. The structure of the deal coming together. ... How sometimes the economics weren’t even working to my benefit, but it ended up still playing out.”
 
The new stadium, by the way, is built for 5,000 fans; according to Atlantic League figures, the Honey Hunters are averaging 2,123 per game. But as he’s mentioned repeatedly, he sees the baseball team as a piece of a much larger puzzle in the FUSE development. “I think that it’s supposed to happen. It’s supposed to bless people.”
 
8. Yes, he eventually lived out his fantasy of skipping work to fly to the Bahamas with nothing but the clothes on his back. It was everything he always dreamed it would be. But these days, money, to him, is a secondary measure of his success.
 
Instead, he felt truly successful in business when people started calling on him to get his help specifically because they believed he understood real estate development so deeply. The key word there, he says, is help. That’s his goal. Because ultimately, he wants to be significant even more than he wants to be successful.
 
And what helped solidify that feeling was being at the funeral of his father, who died of cancer a little more than a decade ago. With hundreds of people in attendance, “The pastor asked how many people had my father helped. I was in the front row, and I turned around ... and looked and there were all these people (raising their hands). I was like, Yeah, that’s what it’s about. That’s what you’re here to do.”
 
And this week: a Momentous development
On Monday, Bellamy announced the launch of Momentous Sports & Entertainment, described in press materials as “a turn-key sports and entertainment group.” It’ll launch with a comedy show at CaroMont Health Park on Sept. 11, and continue on Oct. 1 with a professional wrestling event.
 
The aim is, like he’s said before, to “push economic development and generate capital investment to go in under-invested areas, while bringing the type of events and entertainment that businesses and community organizations and citizens need and want to participate in.”


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