Young Leaders Begin New Talbert Class

February 24, 2011

By Kathy L. Gilbert*

Delilah Fakalata, a member of the California-Nevada Annual Conference's Tongan United Methodist Fellowship of Sacramento, California, has a degree in science, is working on another so she can teach, and serves as a receptionist at the church where she also is youth leader, Christian education chair, and financial secretary. And she is caretaker for an older woman with multiple sclerosis.
As if that weren't enough, Fakalata applied for and was accepted as one of the first fellows in the Bishop Melvin George Talbert Leadership Institute, created by Black Methodists for Church Renewal.
Fakalata and eight other gifted young people are embarking on a two-year journey to become effective, ethical leaders for The United Methodist Church.
The young people met in person for the first time in Nashville, Tennessee, in early January. Their two-year experience will include completing a curriculum based on Bishop Talbert's core values. They will attend webinars, and they will be paired with personal coaches selected to identify their gifts and coax them to be their best, said Marilyn Magee Talbert, chairperson of the coordinating committee for the institute.
"We could not have planned for a more diverse group, nor could we have planned for a group as sharp as this group of young people," she said. "I am delighted and very impressed with their caliber."
Bishop Talbert agreed but makes it clear he is not expecting "a lot of little Mel Talberts."
"What I am expecting is for the people to claim their gifts, and if my values can be instructive to them or be an encouragement to them or be an inspiration to them, then take it and go with it. But what I want from them is for them to be their authentic selves."
The young people are in various stages of starting their careers or pursuing degrees. United Methodist News Service asked them to reflect on their strengths and dreams for their futures.
Nine leaders
Delilah Fakalata, a member of the Tongan United Methodist Fellowship of Sacramento, California, said her greatest strengths are "my ability to relate to people, speaking or presenting in front of an audience, and facilitating meetings."
Fakalata, 25, has an associate degree in science and hopes to work in the medical field. She also is pursuing another degree with "my eyes set on teaching." She is working as a receptionist at Centennial United Methodist Church in Sacramento and also cares for a woman with multiple sclerosis. "It is a blessing to be able to work and serve at the same time," she said.
In addition, Fakalata is the youth leader, Christian education chair, and financial secretary at her church. She is also the United Methodist Women California-Nevada Annual Conference district secretary. "I am very proud to be a United Methodist Woman," she said.
Miriam Acosta, an elementary teacher in an English as a Second Language program in New York, said she is intuitive and able to empathize with others.
"Things are never as they seem, and I like to try to look at things beyond the surface," she said.
Acosta, 23, is a graduate of Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, New York, and is enrolled in a master's program at Long Island University, Brooklyn campus.
"God, church, and religion should not be an exclusive club where only a few people are welcomed in and everyone else is kept out. There is not one religion that has the ultimate truth and connection to God. Everyone should be welcomed … We are all God's children."
Gary Easterling, a lay speaker and ministerial candidate in Jersey City, New Jersey, said he wanted to be part of the institute to become a stronger leader and to be surrounded by others heading in the same direction.
Easterling, 36, is married and has four children. In 10 years, he sees himself as a pastor encouraging other young people to take risks and perhaps become part of the Talbert Institute.
"I think that Bishop Talbert [at right in photo at right] is an awesome man of God who has stood the test and has become an excellent example of the values that are connected with him," he said.
Linda Furtado, a musician and song leader in Nashville, is called to be a deaconess.
"I love planning/preparations and helping others," she said. "I get the most joy in life doing things to help people better themselves and being a part of the unseen crew that makes great things happen. Because of that joy, I am constantly looking for ways to better myself as a planner and helper in ministry and everyday life."
Furtado, 28, has a degree in music education and is married with two children. She often volunteers in her church and community and has participated in many Tennessee Annual Conference missions.
"The United Methodist Church is full of leaders, but as I have been discerning my call into ministry I found that BMCR is an organization that has the potential to grow and reach young leaders who I haven't seen being tapped into (black youth). I wanted to learn what it takes to be an effective leader from someone who has shown great leadership."
Walter Gizzie Jr. is a New York City College of Technology sophomore. "I am someone who works really hard to achieve my goals. I make up plans to achieve my goals and I push myself."
Gizzie, 19, a native of Liberia, is enrolled in a nursing program to become a registered nurse.
"My vision of the church is for it to have more missionaries in different parts of the world, to spread the word of God."
Theon Johnson III is a director of music and youth ministries in Canton, Mississippi. Johnson, 26, has a degree in philosophy-religious studies from Millsaps College, Jackson, Mississippi; a master of divinity degree in theology from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington; and is enrolled in a doctorate program at Jackson State University.
"Because I believe God is the creator of all life, I am sensitive to the notion that all people are intrinsically good and worthy of regard," he said. "Because of the former belief, I am intentional about hearing and attempting to understand the plight and perspectives of others. This disposition enables me to interact with many and diverse populations with relative ease. As a matter of fact, I enjoy meeting with, learning from, and sharing in the life journeys of other people."
Kevin Kosh Jr. is a Rust College senior from St. Louis.
"I think Bishop Talbert is a living example of what it means to 'let your light shine,'" he said.
Kosh, 21, attends Union Memorial United Methodist Church where his father, the Rev. Kevin Kosh Sr., is the pastor. He plans to attend Gammon Theological Seminary after he graduates from Rust, a United Methodist-related school in Holly Springs, Mississippi.
His motto is, "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, lean not unto thy own understanding, in all thy ways acknowledge him and he shall direct thy path."
Marcus Smith, 23, is a Carnegie Mellon University graduate from Jacksonville, Florida, who is attending graduate school in Pittsburgh.
"If I could begin to envision what the future of The United Methodist Church would be, I'd have to say it would include an ever-enduring effort to right the wrongs that we have committed as an institution and be forthright and honest in everything we do. When I think about what The United Methodist Church means to me, I say in my mind, 'We may not have it exactly right, but we're trying. The United Methodist Church is where it's at!'"
Joelle Tucker, 21, is a Brooklyn College teacher's assistant from Jamaica, West Indies. She describes herself as a good listener and a hard worker.
"Ten years from now, I hope to have gained much experience as an early childhood special education teacher. From birth, we get messages from the media telling us to stand alone and away from the pack. So 'from me to we' (one of the Talbert values) will be the hardest for me."
The nine young people began an orientation Jan. 7-8 in Nashville. The next step will be webinars planned for March. The Rev. Rodney Thomas Smothers, pastor of Corkran Memorial United Methodist Church, Temple Hills, Maryland, is working on naming coaches for the fellows.
"We are developing a leadership team that is a danger to the forces of evil, and you should take seriously your deep need for prayer and radical dependence on God to pursue this course," Bishop Alfred Johnson, dean of the Talbert Institute, told the young people. "This is a dangerous work, not for the weak of heart and spirit."
*Gilbert is a multimedia reporter for the young adult content team at United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.