2021 Vanguard Honorees

Benny Napoleon

Benny Napoleon

(in Loving Memory)

Wayne County Sheriff

Benny N. Napoleon has dedicated nearly four decades to public service, possesses leadership experience in both law enforcement and county government, and is a practicing attorney. His focus has been on community education and crime prevention, and believes that collaboration among municipalities, businesses, community groups and residents are key to protecting the public during these tough economic times.

Napoleon was educated in the Detroit Public School system and graduated from Cass Technical High School. He joined the Detroit Police Department in 1975 as a trainee police officer and was admitted to the Detroit Police Academy in June 1975. He served the Detroit Police Department in many patrol, investigative, undercover and administrative capacities. He began his career walking a beat in the Second (Vernor) Precinct. He quickly rose through the ranks of the police department, being promoted to sergeant in 1983; to lieutenant in 1985; to inspector in 1987; to commander in 1993; to deputy chief in 1994; to assistant chief in 1995; and was appointed Chief of Police by the Honorable Mayor Dennis W. Archer in 1998.

After more than 26 years of distinguished service, Chief Napoleon retired from the Detroit Police Department in 2001. In 2004, Napoleon was named Assistant Wayne County Executive to help facilitate the administration of the nation’s 13th largest couty. He served in that role until his appointment as Wayne County Sheriff in July 2009. In November 2010, Napoleon received an overwhelming 73% the vote to retain the position of Sheriff through the 2012 term.

Some highlights of Napoleon’s law enforcement career include supervising the investigation that led to the successful apprehension and prosecution of the parties responsible for the felonious assault on international figure skating champion, Nancy Kerrigan; supervising the investigation that led to the swift apprehension of ten escapees from the Ryan Correctional Facility in Detroit; and drafting and implementing a crime reduction plan which led to an unprecedented 30% reduction in violent crime in the City of Detroit during his three-year tenure as Chief of Police.

Napoleon earned his Associate’s Degree in Law Enforcement, Cum Laude, from Mercy College of Detroit in 1980; his B.A. in Criminal Justice, Cum Laude, from Mercy College of Detroit in 1982; and his Juris Doctor Degree from Michigan State University College of Law in 1986. He is also a graduate of the FBI National Academy; the United States Secret Service Dignitary Protection School; the Northwestern University School of Police Staff and Command; the Aresty Institute of Executive Development t the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard University, Kennedy School of Government, Executive Education in which he was awarded a certificate of completion for the Senior Executives in State and Local Government Program in July 2011. He is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan and has been licensed to practice law since 1987.

Napoleon has also served the community as a baseball coach for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Michigan; a basketball coach for the Detroit Police Athletic League; a student mentor for the Detroit Public Schools; chaired the Michigan Civil Rights Commission; and is a life member of the NAACP. He is also an attorney with a private legal practice, 33rd Degree Mason, Prince Hall Affiliate and serves as an adjunct professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Phoenix (Detroit Campus). Benny Napoleon’s awards and honors are too numerous to list.

Jason Wilson

Jason Wilson 

Best Selling Author

Founder and CEO of Yunion (pronounced union), Jason Wilson has over 14 years of experience in training and developing young black men. Under his leadership, Yunion has effectively reached more than 10,000 youth and young adults in Metro Detroit.

An expert in Emotional Stability Training®, Wilson also created the Cave of Adullam Transformational Training Academy (CATTA). Through his passion and leadership, CATTA has garnered numerous acknowledgments and awards for their work teaching boys how to introspectively confront and conquer their negative emotions with composure.

Having demonstrated powerful results in improving the life outcomes of black boys and men, Wilson has been frequently celebrated for catalyzing local and national systemic change. In 2015, he received the Campaign for Black Male Achievement Innovation Accelerator Award. In 2016, Wilson received the President's Volunteer Service Award in Washington D.C.

Wilson has also been a guest on The Dr. Oz Show where he discussed his Emotional Stability Training® approach. In 2016, Wilson was a presenter at the White House for the My Brother's Keeper Showcase presented by then-President Barack Obama. Most recently, The Cave of Adullam Transformational Training Academy was awarded the Chick Fil-A's True Inspiration Award for its innovative approach to emotional and mental health for males.

Personally, one of Wilson's greatest achievement is his family, as husband of over 20 years to wife Nicole and a proud father of two beautiful children, Alexis and Jason Jr.

Thomas Wilcher

Thomas Wilcher

Cass Tech High School Boys Football Coach

Thomas Wilcher is a high school athletic coach and teacher who was previously a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I track and field national champion in the indoor 55 m hurdles and a three-time NCAA All-American in track and field for the University of Michigan. Wilcher was also a running back for the Michigan Wolverines football team from 1983–1986. In his redshirt senior year, he was a member of the Big Ten Conference football champion team as well as a 110 m hurdles Big Ten individual champion.

In high school, Wilcher was a Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) record-setting hurdler and four-time All-American. As an athlete, he is a ten-time MHSAA track and field champion and a two-time Michigan High School Track and Cross Country Athlete of the Year award winnr.[1] He was also a Junior Olympics champion in the 110 m hurdles and an All-state and All-American tailback in football.[1][2][3][4] He was also an All-City swimmer.[4] As of 2017, Wilcher is the head coach for the football team and the boys' track & field team as well as the physical education teacher at Cass Technical High School in Detroit. As a boys' track coach, he is a three-time MHSAA team track and field champion, and his school has also twice been the MHSAA runner up.[5] In his role as a football coach, he is a three-time MHSAA Division 1 champion and a former Detroit Free Press Coach of the Year who has produced five players who have been selected in the NFL draft.

Melissa Butler

Melissa Butler 

The Lip Bar

Melissa Butler is an American entrepreneur who founded the cosmetic brand The Lip Bar. She is known for her 2015 appearance on Shark Tank, where her pitch for the vegan lipstick brand was rejected by every judge.

Butler was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. She attended Cass Technical High School, and completed her bachelor's degree in business finance at Florida A&M University. She then moved to New York to work as an analyst at Barclays.

Working full-time on Wall Street, Butler did not enjoy the job and decided to start a business.  She was inspired to created The Lip Bar because she was frustrated by the lack of affordable vegan lipsticks in bright colors.  In 2012, she began making and selling vegan lipsticks out of her Brooklyn home and selling them as a side hustle. She made $27,000 in her first year of sales. Two years later, Butler quit her job and moved back to her hometown of Detroit to focus on The Lip Bar full-time. Between 2012 and 2015 the company earned $100,000 in revenue. The brand's lipsticks consist of bright colors and nudes, many with cocktail-themed names. The products are vegan, cruelty-free, and use natural ingredients.

In 2015, Butler appeared on Shark Tank with her friend and creative director Rosco Spears to pitch a mobile version of The Lip Bar. They were rejected by all five judges, and were referred to as "colorful cockroaches". The judges told her they did not see the colorful lipsticks as marketable. Butler stated in an interview with The Detroit News, "Honestly, they were very cruel. But it worked out in the end because we got tons of exposure.

She used LinkedIn to contact potential corporate buyers, and eventually made a connection with a buyer at Target. As of 2018, The Lip Bar is in stock at several hundred Target stores in the United States.

Honorable Judge

Honorable Judge

Craig Strong

State of Michigan, 3rd District Circuit Court Judge Craig Stephen Strong was born on September 5, 1947, in Detroit, Michigan. Strong was raised in the Old Westside neighborhood of Detroit by his parents, Erman and Manila Geraldine Powers Strong.

Growing up near the Blue Bird Bar and St. Cyprian Episcopal Church, Strong played the saxophone with the Junior Flips and was a patrol boy and a Boy Scout. Strong attended Sampson Elementary School and Cass Technical High School, where he excelled in the sciences. Graduating from high school in 1965, Strong entered Howard University, where he earned his B.S. degree in 1969. Drafted in 1971, Strong served as the only African American in the Navy’s Judges Advocacy Corps at that time. In 1973, Strong received his J.D. degree from the Detroit College of Law.

While in law school, Strong worked for Wayne County Legal Services and later the Trade Union Leadership Council; during that time, he was influenced by legal activists Milton Henry, Damon J. Keith, Kenny Cockrell and Mike Walls. Passing the Michigan State Bar at age twenty-nine, Strong became an officer of the Wolverine Bar Association and eventually its youngest president at age twenty-nine. Active in Democratic politics, Strong was elected a judge of the Detroit Recorders Court at age thirty-one. Strong would later be elected to the 3rd District Michigan State Circuit Court in 2001. Strong was a founding member of the Association of Black Judges of Michigan and also served as its president. Strong served as judicial chair of the National Bar Association; was a member of the National Bar Association’s delegation to South Africa; helped develop the International Black Bar Association; and served on the Supreme Court of South Africa.

In 1997, Strong, an avid collector of African art and African American memorabilia, was instrumental in the establishment of the Charles Wright African American History Museum in Detroit; he has been honored with the Outstanding Museum Service Award for his extensive fundraising efforts. Strong was a mason, a member of the NAACP and the Black United Fund of Michigan, in addition to being well known nationally for his celebrity photographs, and his sartorial taste in clothing.

Odis Bellinger Biography

Odis Bellinger

Founder/ Building Better Men Mentoring

Growing up fatherless is a struggle far too many of our young boys and girls face today. Angry, resentful, confused, uncertain and often unmotivated, the youth of Metro Detroit are desperate for guidance. Odis Bellinger was once one of those children. He credits his success to two people who refused to give up on him, no matter how hard he pushed them away. Now a successful author, community leader and motivational speaker, Bellinger continues to ask one question:  “How do I Build a Better Man?”

A lifelong Detroiter and graduate of Benedictine High School, Bellinger holds a BA in Communications from Fayetteville State University, NC, a MA in Rehabilitation Counseling and Community Inclusion from Wayne State University, MI, and a post-graduate certificate in Social Service Administration. It was the combination of his own experience and education that drove Bellinger to his life’s calling – building better men.

Bellinger is the Director/Founder of the Building Better Men Program, an organization that seeks out males age 8-17 to bring value and positive change one young man at a time. It is Bellinger’s hope that by changing the life of one, he will change the lives of many.  The program is housed twice a week at the premier youth training center located on the east side of Detroit, the S.A.Y. Detroit Play center in Detroit MI.

Odis Bellinger has completed extensive research on conflict resolution, violence prevention techniques and socio-economic issues affecting youth and young adults, primarily African-American males. He conducts workshops and trainings focusing primarily on building African American male development and leadership skills.   He has been recognized by local and national media outlets for his efforts related to his community work within the urban community.  Most recently, he was awarded the 2017 Detroit News Michiganian of the Year honor for his long-time community involvement.

Tonja Ayers

Tonja Ayers

The Shoe Lady Enterprises

Playwright | Published

Tonja "The Shoe Lady" Ayers is a consummate entrepreneur. Her credentials as a business woman boast of skills as an author, publisher, filmmaker, playwright, wardrobe stylist, and retail coach.  She was raised in Detroit, Michigan and is a graduate of Benedictine High School. Upon graduation she attended college graduating with a double major Bachelors of Science in Business Management and Business Administration.

"The Shoe Lady," as she is so openly called, crafted her first business in retail in 1995 and has snowballed into many other industries of trade, including entertainment, during her 25 years of experience in the consumer market. Her biggest business success is her intricately named and crowned shoe store, The Shoe Lady, which opened April 14, 2000 in Detroit, MI. The Shoe Lady offered the brash style of the wealthy with the affordable price of the budget conscious shopper.

With an array of  bright, colorful, and exotic shoes The Shoe Lady was proven to be very popular among shoppers and has been featured in the Detroit Free Press, Michigan Chronicle, Top Notch , BLAC , Endustre Lyfe, FAME, Shop Talk and Strut magazines.  In addition to receiving the Spirit of Detroit Award and winning Detroit’s Choice award, The Shoe Lady has  also been nominated one of the best shoe stores in the Metropolitan Detroit area by WDIV Channel 4 for several consecutive years. In addition to being a shoe guru, Ms. Ayers has authored nine books, published twenty authors and produced three movies. Her films Stay in Your Place, TEN and Chocolate Kiss are presently streaming on all digital outlets. Some people like to stay in their lane but The Shoe Lady loves switching it up and changing lanes.

Joe Robinson

Joe Robinson

We Run 313

APX Holdings

Joe Robinson is a lifelong resident of Detroit, Michigan. He graduated from Ferndale public schools and attended Wayne State University. By the age of 18, he pursued music which became his passion. He managed and produced acts across the nation under APX Management, LLC.

Joe began running in 2016 while visiting Los Angeles, CA. Inspired by the atmosphere he began running. In late 2018, he began to take it seriously at the Detroit Free Press Marathon Health & Fitness Expo, where he registered for his first race. Joe Has also been in the consultation business for about for 5 years, where he shares his expertise, experience and knowledge on branding, marketing, sales and advertising. He does this through his company APX Holdings, LLC

Young Men 4 Christ

Young Men 4 Christ

Award Winning

Gospel Group

Young Men 4 Christ (YM4C) music ministry was brought forth in the year of 2012, with the intent to touch the very heart of GOD by succumbing to the call and mandate on their life; to lead people to a true place of worship and praise. The group consists of nine greatly anointed men of God born and raised in Detroit : Eric Johnson Sr., Lance McGee Jr., Min. Eric Johnson Jr. (2nd lead singer), Lance McGee III,(lead singer) Lance Wilson, Tony Stanford, Min. Deveon Gross, Anthony Curry, and Allen Stanford. Together they create a matchless heavenly sound that inevitably take their listeners to a place of heartfelt worship and praise to God Almighty.

In December of 2012 Young Men 4 Christ displayed their heart of worship in their community by donating to a charitable event called SASYO (Sow a Seed Youth Organization). The group hosted their 1st Christmas Charity Event, which became an annual event that consist of local gospel groups participating in donating toys and non-perishable food items for the less fortunate children in their community.

Young Men 4 Christ has shared the stage with some of the greatest quartet groups such as “Doc McKenzie and the Hi-Lites, The Jackson Southerners, The Canton Spirituals, Paul Porter, Rance Allen and many many more. In January 2013 they released their demo CD named “Why Not Jesus” Part One, which consist of three grand hits. The CD was so popular that it landed on many of Detroit’s gospel radio stations, countless times; it is currently being played on national and international stations. On July 7th 2013 their entire CD project was released at their one year anniversary celebration in Detroit. The concert featured Lisa Knowles & the Brown Singers and a host of other well-known quartet groups. On February 8th 2018 a 2nd CD project was released entitled “FULFILLED” ‘Feel the Music from Within’; with that featuring 2x Stellar Award winner Lisa Knowles-Smith and Stellar Award Nominee Josh Myles.

The Lord has also brought forth many award nominations and awards as well... To name a few the 2019 & 2020 Male Group of the Year for the (Texas Gospel Music Excellence Awards), 2019 Artist of the Year Traditional and 2019 Record of the Year “Saved By Grace” for the (S&M Gospel Indie Awards). 2019 Quartet of the Year for the (South Florida Gospel Music Awards); Sunday, February 23rd they received a Spirit of Detroit Award at 2020 Jackie Wilson Foundation Fundraiser Event.

The Lord keeps blessing the group with numerous award nominations 2020: 8 nominations for Rhythm of Gospel Awards, Birmingham. AL; Outstanding Gospel Choir/Group for the Detroit Music Awards, Detroit, MI;   Quartet of the Year for the Gospel Choice Awards, Atlanta, GA; Quartet Group of the Year for The Prayze Factor Awards, Atlanta, GA; Quartet of the Year for the IGAA Awards ( Independent Gospel Artist Alliance) Chesapeake, VA; and finally the KIA (Kingdom Image Awards, Columbus, OH.

YM4C is currently working on a EP project “Elevation” to be release Summer 2020; however, they released the new single “Testimony” on July 3, 2020 just in time for their 8th Anniversary Virtual Concert in Detroit, MI on July 5, 2020.

Young Men 4 Christ stated that their goal is to use their music to minister to all with a youthful sound, while giving a traditional Gospel quartet feel. They intend on living out the legacy of past and present gospel quartet singers. They have linked up with Alternative Management and Marketing Group; enabling them to further their ministry and fulfilling their ambition to turn the world right side up by spreading the gospel and spiritually influencing people of all ages.

Nicole KQueen Denson

Nicole KQueen Denson

Pronouns: She/Her/They/Them 

Nicole Denson is a Mother, Organizer, Artist, and Business Owner. 

Nicole was born and raised in Detroit and is a proud graduate of Detroit Public Schools. She earned her bachelor's degree in Psychology from Michigan State University. Her passion for activism developed at an early age.

Through hard work and dedication, Nicole has become recognized as an expert in providing advocacy services to marginalized communities with a focus on crisis intervention, counseling, and advocacy for survivors of human trafficking and other traumas for over two decades.  Her extensive expertise in changing the systems related to the handling of sexual assault and intimate partner violence cases within our criminal justice system has helped to shape survivor-centered practices and protocols nationally. 

Nicole honors the work she provided daily for the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office to aid the 11,341 survivors whose rape kits went unsubmitted for testing in Wayne County, Michigan. 

She prides herself on being an LGBT advocate centering her “ally” work, in particular, surrounding the mass killing and discrimination against Transgender Women of Color. 

Nicole to date has assisted in developing over 15 trauma-informed programs, has led over 50 workshops, training, and support groups aiding in healing our communities. She has aided in community outreach and partnerships with HAVEN, Avalon Healing Center, Affirmations, Alternative for Girls, Creating Change, Equality Michigan, KICK/LGBT Detroit, Mothering Justice, NAACP, Planned Parenthood, Ruth Ellis Center, Salvation Army, SASHA Center, Undercurrent Healing Arts, University of Michigan, Voices of Color, and YWCA Interim House. 

Nicole’s activism has reached the masses via platforms such as HBO, ColorLines, Lifetime, and the Washington Post. 

She is a contributing author to Aishah Shahidah Simmons’ book “Love With Accountability,” where she details her journey from sexual violence toward activism and healing.

Nicole has recently launched her own Business named Mosaic Collective Consulting, LLC. MOSAIC is a brand that concentrates on cultural humility, diversity, equity, and inclusion. Offering research, interventions, and creative approaches to assisting survivors of trauma. Our mission is to advocate within and for our BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) communities through MOSAIC Collective. 

MOSAIC is a business developed to foster education about marginalized communities for Our Community, Human Services Professionals, and Criminal Justice System Personnel. MOSAIC also concentrates on healing justice through storytelling, poetry, visual arts, and radical self-expression.

The time is now to change our narratives and invoke real change. Our goal is to achieve as well as work towards a common mission, purpose, and function toward healing. Our training, advocacy, and outreach are led by individuals that share our identity as BIPOC community members. We are committed to providing a change in organizations worldwide to develop a coordinated public safety community response through best practices, innovation, and intelligence-based goals and objectives. We take pride in our knowledge that we are the experts in our community and collectively we will bring forth change through our collective leadership.

Humanitarian of the Year

Charles Thomas, Jr. 

President Results Mentoring


Charles Thomas, Jr. is the Founder of Results Mentoring. As the founder and CEO, he has always been a giver of empowerment and hope to young people. His focus is continually on helping others improve their quality of life by providing mentoring, redirection and educational support to students and facilities throughout the state of Michigan.

RESULTS Mentoring was founded in 1999 by Thomas to support an underserved population of urban youth with educational enrichment opportunities, character rebuilding and mentoring opportunities to help them become productive citizens in our society. Throughout his adult life, Mr. Thomas has worked to improve the lives of troubled youth, volunteering at many nonprofit organizations, including Detroit PAL as well as Detroit Area Council Boy Scouts of America. 

His career also has been focused on helping students excel, holding positions in various schools such as Dean of Students, mentor, parent liaison, and security action coordinator. He has a master’s degree in educational leadership and an undergraduate business degree. 

 Mr. Thomas is an ordained elder and has been a minister of the gospel since 1992. His passion is to see young people excel;especially with troubled youth. His prior experience and background have prepared him to be an asset to the organizations that he services. As a prior Honoree with the Men of Excellence with Real Times Media, as well as Michigan Chronicles Who’s Who in Black Detroit, he knows the importance of networking and connecting organizations for success.

He also was awarded Mentor of the Year by the Michigan Community Service Commission in 2018. His passion is to see economic and societal growth to the students he services by giving them options to lead more productive lives. He is married to a local business executive, Dr. E’Lois Thomas and they have two sons, Charles III, and Isaiah.