Michael Brizendine is persistence personified.
Eleven years after a devastating earthquake in Haiti killed his parents and classmates, Michael is a thriving Bellarmine University student-athlete and a nascent entrepreneur.
He’s a junior computer engineering major, a member of the Knights’ cross country team and part-time driver for Door Dash.
“I’m motivated by technology and how it can help people.”
He’s also worked on developing and launching a new app, Yornest, which gives group chats the fun and functionality of social media.
“I just love to work hard,” he said. “I’m motivated by technology and how it can help people.”
Michael began working on Yornest last summer after noticing that he and his friends had largely abandoned interacting on social media platforms, preferring instead to keep their conversations private in group texts. But, it can be hard to keep up with
a text chain that has more than 20 people, he said.
He envisioned an app that could help organize texts for large groups of people while offering some of the features of social platforms, like short video production. Companies and other entities that text customers might find the application useful, he
“I feel like everyone is rooting for me”
Using the skills and knowledge he gleaned from classes at Bellarmine, he spent eight months planning and building the app. Launched this year in the App Store for iPhone, Yornest now has more than 200 users. Michael said he’s controlling the app’s
growth as he fine-tunes it. He’s looking for entrepreneurial grants and investors now and hopes to scale up with additional funds.
So far, he’s gotten a lot of positive feedback about the project, particularly from the Bellarmine community.
“I feel like everyone is rooting for me,” he said.
Dr. Robert Kelley, assistant professor of Computer Science said he couldn’t say what the future holds for Yornest, “…but I wouldn't bet against Michael. He has an amazing story. Moreover, it takes a lot of motivation and initiative
to put together the system he has been working on.”
Michael was 10 years old in 2010 when a catastrophic earthquake rocked Haiti, causing immeasurable death and destruction. It’s estimated more than 200,000 people lost their lives.
Michael was in a Port-au-Prince classroom that day when he excused himself to go to the bathroom outdoors. It saved him. He was walking back to school when the building shook to the ground. He ran for his life, while his classmates were trapped within.
He is the school’s sole survivor.
Michael’s home also collapsed, killing his parents, leaving him an orphan with no known living relatives.
He lived at an orphanage for two years. While there, he did therapy to work through the trauma.
“I just had to get up every day and move on and hope for a better future,” he said.
Todd and Michelle Brizendine, a Louisville couple, visited Haiti on a church mission trip. They heard Michael’s story and decided to adopt him.
Michael’s life began anew, with a new country, home, language and family.
It was a lot to take in. Somedays it was overwhelming. Haiti is a developing country. The U.S., in comparison, felt like a “kingdom or something.”
As challenging as the transition was, he was grateful.
“I was glad to be blessed with a new family and life path,” he said. “Not every kid who was impacted by the earthquake got that.”
Life in Louisville
Michael attended high school at the Christian Academy of Louisville. There, he learned “running is something people do for sport,” not just something you’d do to save your life, as he had done during the earthquake.
“You’re able to get to know your professor. You can ask them to have a coffee and talk. That’s one of my favorite things.”
He became a standout runner and was eventually recruited by the Bellarmine cross country team, earning a scholarship and tuition assistance.
Michael said attending Bellarmine was “an easy choice to make.”
His adopted father, grandfather and uncle are alums. He found the campus and small class sizes appealing.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “You’re able to get to know your professor. You can ask them to have a coffee and talk. That’s one of my favorite things.”
In cross country, he’s a two-time academic all-conference honoree who has achieved multiple top-10 race finishes. In 2019, he was named Freshman of the Year at the Great Lakes Valley Conference Cross Country Championship.
Bellarmine cross country coach Chase Broughton praised Michael’s disposition, calling him “genuinely one of the happiest guys” he’s ever met.
Michael was excited to compete this year in Bellarmine’s first NCAA Division I season, but again faced adversity with a tear in his hip labrum, a common injury for runners. Post-surgery, he hopes for a full recovery and plans to return to the team
this fall for his senior year.
Michael plans to continue working on Yornest and is already considering life after graduation. He wants to find ways that technology can help improve education for children in developing countries. He hopes to help them gain digital skills that can lift
them into the modern economy and out of poverty.
“I think that would be a great way to use the knowledge I’m learning from here,” Michael said.