Shayla Roberts-Long: Using Your Power to Create Accountability for Climate Change

For students at Assumption High School, an all-girls Catholic school in Louisville, Ky., community service isn’t exactly performed on a volunteer basis. It’s built into the school’s Christian mission. Fortunately, Shayla Roberts-Long, soon to be a sophomore at Sullivan Foundation partner school Berea College and a recent Ignite Retreat attendee, needed little coercion. She took to it like an eagle takes to flying.

She was right in her element.

As high schoolers, Roberts-Long and her friend, Katelyn Johnston, spent hours picking up trash in their neighborhoods, but there was always more to be done. They soon brought in other students to help and founded Clean4Change, a nonprofit focused on sustainability and taking action on climate change. As they look to grow Clean4Change, Roberts-Long brought the concept to the Spring 2022 Ignite Retreat, held April 1-3 in Staunton, Va., and won 3rd place in the event’s pitch competition.

Related: Ignite Retreat’s Hebron Mekuria develops business plan to bring children’s books to her native Ethiopia

Majoring in Peace and Social Justice Studies at Berea, Roberts-Long has big plans for Clean4Change. Meanwhile, she and Johnston hope to inspire other young changemakers across Kentucky—and the entire U.S.—with a Virtual Town Hall meeting taking place at 8 p.m. (ET), April 25. Here, she tells us more about her own roots as a changemaker, Clean4Change’s origin story, and how she hopes to see it grow into a larger movement in the future.

Q: Can you tell us more about Clean4Change? How did it get started and why?

Roberts-Long: I started Clean4Change with my co-founder Katelyn Johnston [a soon-to-be sophomore at Western Kentucky University]. We started this group out of inspiration from the organization Lead4Change. We started working on Clean4Change in the second semester of our junior year at Assumption High School, and then we launched our group a year later, in our senior year [during COVID]. Katelyn was one of the only people I saw outside of my immediate family and vice versa. We lived very close to each other and before we started Clean4Change, we were picking up trash together in our neighborhoods. We always had fun together and were successful, but we realized that we would spend hours picking up trash, disinfecting, and sorting through it to recycle what we had gathered. We needed more people to really clean up our community, and thus, Clean4Change was born. Since then, we have found funding, are an official nonprofit, and gather more members along the way.

Q: Clearly you are passionate about the environment? How did this passion develop in your life?

Roberts-Long: I would credit my love for the Earth to my high school and the teachers I had in school. I was raised in a family that cares about the Earth, but it wasn’t talked about. My extended family owns a farm in Kentucky, and we all take pride in it, but I never remember having discussions about being stewards of the Earth—partly because for a number of years I lived in Orange, Texas. My high school really blossomed a love of service to the Earth and to people on the Earth.

Assumption required every student to have a certain number of service hours, so in a way, I was at first forced to help my community, but then I found the deep value in doing service work of all kinds. I volunteered whenever I was able, was incredibly active in my school, and in my senior year, formed Clean4Change, with Katelyn by my side. In my junior year, I was chosen to be a Fair Trade Ambassador with Just Creations, a fair trade store in Louisville, and that blossomed my love for fair trade and for equitable jobs and living wages for all people.

Related: Spring 2022 Ignite Retreat breaks record with largest-ever group of changemakers

Q: What exactly does Clean4Change do, and what are your goals for it?

Roberts-Long: Clean4Change started with a focus purely on park cleanups. We were concerned with doing that direct-action work because that was what Katelyn and I had been doing on our own. But we started to turn into an organization that wanted to address a lot more than that.

We have a strong focus on education and making information accessible to people everywhere. Learning about climate change, or about how to be sustainable, is a really overwhelming topic. Our Earth’s future depends on the actions that governments, companies, and countries make within the next few years, and, to put it frankly, that’s scary. It isn’t hopeless, though. Clean4Change wants to teach people that we have the power to hold these power structures accountable.

Every Sunday, we post a “Sustainable Sunday” on our Instagram—a small post on any topic concerning the environment. We do research, make it pretty, and then share it with others. We also host events that teach people how to contact legislators, bring trash cleanup supplies, and encourage a connection with nature. We hope to connect with other organizations and plug into programs they are offering to create a network of support where we can make real, tangible change.

Our ultimate goal is to help people by helping the planet. Humans, mostly vulnerable communities who don’t contribute very much to the world’s greenhouse gases, are being hurt by climate change (and other environmental harms) constantly. Hurricanes are worsening, high levels of pollution are contributing to higher asthma rates, cities are sinking, and the list goes on. Climate change is a human issue, and we want to address climate change aggressively to help the Earth and the people on it.

Q: Tell us about your upcoming Virtual Town Hall.

Roberts-Long: This will be our very first Town Hall! It will be on Zoom on April 25 at 8 p.m. ET. The topic is how individuals can be sustainable, so we will be teaching ways to live sustainably, as well as addressing the fact that climate change is not our fault. Individual people living their lives normally aren’t the biggest polluters—it’s huge companies and the extremely wealthy owners of these companies who are contributing to the pollution.

With this Town Hall, we hope to ease the guilt that people may feel about our worsening climate and encourage hope for the future by giving people creative ways to be sustainable. Not only will some of these actions—composting, gardening, creating a no-mow lawn—lower one’s carbon footprint, but it may give them a fun hobby, too! We aren’t environmentalists who believe in blaming people for living in a society that forces them to pollute in their everyday lives. We simply want to work with the leaders of this society to change this cycle.

Click here to sign up and attend Clean4Change’s free Virtual Town Hall on April 25. 

Q: Will Clean4Change be a career for you? How do you want it to grow in the coming years?

Roberts-Long: If I can find a way for Clean4Change to be my career, I absolutely will. It’s my passion, and I never get tired of working on it. If I’m not able to make a living through Clean4Change, then I will be working with some other nonprofit or activist group. Until then, I would love to continue to see it grow.

Followers are huge—it isn’t just about the members that have jobs to do in the organization, but it’s also important to have social media followers and people who are committed to coming to events. As I said, a good chunk of our work is based on education through social media, and if no one is following us, we have no one to educate. Within the last few months, we have been growing pretty rapidly. We keep getting new members, and that’s really exciting. We are always looking for more people to be a part of our team and contribute any time or talents they can.

Q: Climate change just keeps getting worse, and many of our political leaders don’t seem to care. From your perspective as a young changemaker, how do we solve this problem of poor leadership and inaction? And what role will the next generation play?

Roberts-Long: Part of why we focus so much on education is to educate ourselves. We’re young people, and we don’t know everything. Doing our research on different topics related to climate change is our way of learning as much as possible so that we can share that information and make changes with the knowledge we have gathered.

I think that the role of this next generation in the fight against climate change is holding leaders accountable and making them listen. For so long, governments have pushed aside the issue of climate change, and now, the people most vulnerable in the world are looking climate change in the face. This issue is a hard one to solve, and Clean4Change is still finding its place in the legislative side of addressing climate change. One thing is for sure, though: We’re going to fight hard for our planet and all the people that inhabit it.

Q: Finally, can you tell us about your Ignite Retreat experience and how it helped further your goals for Clean4Change?

Roberts-Long: My Ignite Retreat experience was amazing. I haven’t been to an event anywhere near that since before the COVID pandemic, and more than anything, it helped me find the extrovert in me again. It was just the environment that I needed to be in, filled with ambitious young people finding their place, their voice, and their people. I was able to meet so many amazing changemakers and a lot of great coaches that have helped me with my nonprofit even after the retreat. I hope to return again and continue to learn all I can.

While I was there, I received funding for my nonprofit, and I learned a lot about how to be successful in running a nonprofit like mine. For example, I learned the importance of personal connection, especially over social media. I learned more about how to talk with and about communities suffering from any injustice, and I learned so many more skills along the way. My retreat experience was truly amazing.

 

Sullivan Impact Leaders Program to Help Changemakers Craft Their “Entrepreneurial Life Plan”

The so-called “real world” looks pretty scary to many graduating college seniors, especially those who’d rather lead social change than become mere cogs in the wheel of global commerce. Now, thanks to a new program offered by the Sullivan Foundation, a cohort of select Sullivan alumni won’t have to face it alone.

Available exclusively to Sullivan Award recipients and past Ignite Retreat attendees under the age of 35, the Impact Leaders program is a seven-month post-graduate leadership experience that will help them chart their own course as changemakers and entrepreneurs and build a life with meaning, purpose and direction.

Click here to learn more about the Sullivan Post-Graduate Impact Leaders program.

Running from October 2022 through April 2023, the Impact Leaders program will be open to 10-15 participants in its first year. The experience, which includes group coaching, individual mentoring and two Ignite Retreats, will help Fellows reflect on and hone their personal leadership skills. Each Fellow will also have an opportunity to define and deepen the impact they want to make in their community through a social impact project or initiative.

In addition to becoming part of a cohort of high-impact leaders from across the Sullivan network, Fellows will work closely with experienced mentors who will help them refine their leadership journey and develop their own “entrepreneurial life plan.” Along the way, they will gain a deeper understanding of leadership while building strong connections with fellow cohort members and changemaking professionals that can last a lifetime.

To apply for the program, candidates must clearly explain why they want to participate through five short essays and a two-minute video, plus a resume or brief bio that summarizes their track record of servant leadership.

Fellows will be required to take the Sullivan Foundation’s INSPIRED leadership course, offered virtually from Fall 2022 through Spring 2023. The course will focus on the practice of leadership and what it means to be a purposeful leader. The INSPIRED acronym stands for:

Introspective—Examining your thoughts and feelings
Nimble—Moving quickly and easily and adapting to change and new challenges
Service-Oriented—Serving others
Purposeful—Understanding, articulating and implementing your purpose
Influential—Influencing others to share a common vision
Relational—Connecting, building trust and celebrating others
Emotional Intelligence—Managing emotions and influencing the emotions of others
Determined—Persevering and achieving long-term goals

The INSPIRED course examines such topics as the nature of leadership; understanding leadership styles; developing leadership skills; creating a vision; and managing conflict. Fellows will also be required to meet bi-weekly for short (30-minute) virtual talks by national speakers, followed immediately by a 30-minute meeting focused on leadership performance.

Upon completion of the course, the Fellows will:

  • Gain an awareness of their own leadership philosophy, skills and behaviors.
  • Gain an understanding of fundamental ways in which leadership is practiced in ongoing organizations.
  • Gain an understanding and appreciation for the unique dimensions of their own leadership style and ways to improve what they do as leaders.

The deadline to apply for the Sullivan Impact Leaders program is Friday, July 29.

Click here to apply.

Filmmaker Strikes a Blow for Social Justice – One Pizza at a Time

Making pizza is a hobby for Stephen Turselli of Pittsburgh. Social justice is more like a burning passion. With the Social Justice Pizza Project, he has combined the two and raised thousands for organizations that he believes in.

As the Pittsburgh City Paper (PCP) reported recently, Turselli set out last month to sell his homemade pizzas to raise money for nonprofits fighting for social justice. After calculating his costs and production rate and taking into account that he was working with a portable pizza oven out of his home, he figured he could make 10 pies a day. At that rate, he thought, it would take him about two weeks to raise $1,500.

Related: Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award winner Josh Nadzam raises funds for NAACP in 26-mile marathon

He was wrong. He ended up raising more than twice that amount.

Turselli, a film and music video director/producer/writer, has also worked behind the scenes on major movies like A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Hell or High Water, The Last Transmission and Gemini Man and the TV series Mindhunter and Better Call Saul, to name a few.

this photo shows the logo of the Social Justice Pizza Project, a clenched fist over a white backgroundBut he also appears to have a future in the pizza industry. You might say that the Social Justice Pizza Project, initially promoted on his personal Facebook page, quickly mushroomed into an extra-large deal. In fact, he sold out of a week’s worth of pizzas in 48 hours. By the end of the two-week venture, he had raised $3,571.

Upon learning about the project, donors kicked in to help pay for pizzas, some of which Turselli gave away to people in need.

Related: Guilford College art professor’s paintings capture plight of systemic racism

“I can’t speak to how widely the project spread, but the whole run of pizzas did sell out more quickly than I expected, and there were more donors than pizzas,” Turselli told the Pittsburgh City Paper.

He also used the project to promote Black artists and entrepreneurs, such as Jackie Page, chef/owner of Love Rocks Café in McKees Rocks, Penn., and visual artist Atiya Jones.

this photo shows a pizza box promoting artist Atiya Jones for the Social Justice Pizza Project

Social Justice Pizza Project founder Stephen Turselli also used the project to promote Black artists like Atiya Jones.

Turselli gave the proceeds to five organizations, as he explained in the PCP interview: “Bukit Bail Fund because protesters are getting wrongfully arrested; SisTersPGH because Black trans women are fighting a fight within a fight, and SisTersPGH provides much-needed safe space and resources for that; 1Hood Media because I think it’s important to give much-needed space in the media to Black voices and amplify them; Abolitionist Law Center because mass incarceration is bulls—; and NAACP Empowerment Programs because education and advocacy are more important now, possibly, than ever.”

Related: Cadet leader at The Citadel walks 24 hours straight to learn empathy with Black Americans

The Social Justice Pizza Project now has a Facebook page of its own, with 327 followers. He has launched an Instagram page for the project (@socialjusticepizzaproject) and also posts photos of his pizzas on the Slow Burn Pizza account (@slooow_burn).

In a July 1 post, Turselli wrote, “We’re working behind the scenes on #SJPPvol2, researching new organizations and partnering with new artists and entrepreneurs to feature. Stay tuned as we build steam towards our fall pop-up!”

This article originally appeared in PMQ Pizza Magazine and was reprinted with permission.

The African Concept of Ubuntu Should be at the Heart of Human Rights

By Bongiwe Beja

This article originally appeared on the Real Leaders Magazine website and was reposted with permission.

The African proverb “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu” can be translated to mean that to be human is to recognize the humanity of others. It’s from this proverb that the notion of Ubuntu is developed — a phrase commonly used in Southern Africa when appealing to people’s better halves when discussing problematic situations.

The spirit of Ubuntu is essentially to be humane and ensure that human dignity is always at the core of your actions, thoughts, and deeds when interacting with others. Having Ubuntu is showing care and concern for your neighbor. It’s lending a helping hand and displaying an understanding of the dignity with which human beings ought to be treated — for the simple reason that they are human. Ubuntu exists because human beings exist and seeks to provide a code of conduct for the co-existence of human beings. Archbishop Desmond Tutu expounds on this human connectedness in his definition of Ubuntu, where he defines Ubuntu as, “My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in what is yours.”

Each year, on 21 March, we celebrate Human Rights Day in South Africa, where we pause to remember the importance of protecting our rights as humans beings. As a conscious member of society, I can never forget the courage of the South Africans who arose in unison on 21 March 1960 in Sharpeville, outside Johannesburg, in an attempt to proclaim their rights. The Sharpeville Massacre that killed 69 people is central to this public holiday as it reminds us of the cost to enforce human rights. The rally in 1960 was an outcry and outburst against the inhumane treatment by the Apartheid regime. Understanding how humans ought to be treated becomes imperative in ensuring that such events never happen again. Ubuntu shows us a way of acting humanely toward each other and can be a pivotal guide for society as we celebrate and enforce as human rights.

The South African Bill of Rights, which is the second chapter of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa of 1996, embeds the rights of all people in our country in an enduring affirmation of the democratic values of human dignity, equality, and freedom. The South African Bill of Rights states: “Everyone has inherent dignity and the right to have their dignity respected and protected.” What becomes apparent when one indeed observes the state of our nation, particularly the significant challenges we face as a country — such as rampant unemployment, inequality, and poverty — is that we owe it to ourselves and our children to restore the human dignity of our people.

I think that the social ills that we experience in our communities, such as crime, gender-based violence, HIV/AIDS and human trafficking, need to be countered with a positive response from civil society —guided by Ubuntu. If each of us in our capacities, whether we represent governments, corporations, or communities, acknowledge our human connectedness, we would think first before we speak or act harshly. It’s encouraging when I see evidence of Ubuntu in our country, in campaigns around social problems and the guarding against hate speech and racial prejudice. It shows that the spirit of Ubuntu is, to a degree, prevalent in our society and can be further encouraged.

In closing his tribute to former president Nelson Mandela and his family at Mandela’s memorial service in 2013, former U.S. President Barack Obama said, “There is a word in South Africa – Ubuntu – that describes his greatest gift: his recognition that we are all bound together in ways that can be invisible to the eye; that there is a oneness to humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us.”

About the author: Bongiwe Beja is a Global Shaper of the World Economic Forum and the general manager of Silulo Ulutho Technologies in South Africa — a technology and educational social enterprise that impacts townships and rural communities across the country. She wants to help develop the continent by playing a significant role in unlocking value and growth through entrepreneurship and social impact.

About Real Leaders Magazine: Located on the web at real-leaders.com, Real Leaders Magazine is the world’s first sustainable business and leadership magazine. Real Leaders aims to inspire better leaders for a better world, a world of far-sighted, sustainable leadership that helps find solutions to the problems that 7.5 billion people have created on a small planet. Click here to subscribe to Real Leaders Magazine.

 

Sullivan Flashback: Margaret Pickard Sirvis

Sirvis at the age of 90 at Camp Graham in Vance County, North Carolina

When Margaret Pickard Sirvis recently visited Camp Graham of the Girl Scouts’ North Carolina Coastal Pines council, she met lots of young girls with whom she had something in common—they were all girl scouts.

What set Sirvis apart, however, was the length of her commitment, which runs from her joining the organization in the mid-1930s all the way up to today. Not many of the campers had ever met a 90-year-old girl scout.

Sirvis’ capacity for commitment isn’t limited to scouting, however. She won the Sullivan Award at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill as a student in 1944. Her award citation noted her accomplishments: vice president of the YWCA; a member of Valkyries, UNC’s highest women’s honorary group; a member of the coed senate; and a member of the student legislature.

Sirvis (foreground) at Camp Shirley Rogers in Roaring Gap, North Carolina, in the mid-1930s

Sirvis’s undergraduate career was only a springboard into a lifetime of good work, however. She parlayed a college interest in social justice and activism surrounding racial equality into a lifetime of dedication to improving the world around her. She worked on mental health and urban youth issues. She has been active throughout her life in the Presbyterian church, the American Association of University Women, and, of course, the Girl Scouts.

Even at 90, Sirvis is still actively supporting and inspiring others, whether it’s through her philanthropy, her stories, or simply her visits to young girl scouts. For them, she’s a walking example of a life well lived.

Did you know?

Mary Mildred Hammond Sullivan spent her life serving the poor

Top: Mary Mildred Hammond Sullivan at the age of 19. Below: An artist’s rendition of the Nursery and Child’s Hospital. The hospital was located at the corner of 51st Street and Lexington Avenue in New York City

Mary Mildred Hammond Sullivan, social activist and wife of Algernon Sydney Sullivan, engaged in many efforts to assist the downtrodden. Sullivan worked tirelessly for nearly forty years as the director of the Nursery and Child’s Hospital of New York in the late 19th– and early 20th-centuries.

The hospital was founded by Mrs. Cornelius DuBois as the Nursery for the Children of Poor Women in 1854. DuBois realized that many children in the city were left unsupervised while their parents worked, so she organized this new asylum to function as the country’s first day care center. Sullivan first became involved as Board Secretary before taking over as director of the hospital, which was renamed the Nursery and Child’s Hospital of New York.

Unlike most people who attempted to better the welfare of children during this era, Sullivan understood that the best way to impact the life of a child at risk was to also benefit that child’s mother. Sullivan also felt that service was the best way to improve one’s own life—an idea she put very well when she said,  “. . .  through this work it has been given to us to realize how elevating to oneself is the loving effort to help others.”

The sole fundraiser for the Nursery and Child’s Hospital was the annual Charity Ball, an event that was not only successful financially but also an important society event among the city’s elite. Sullivan first attended the ball as a new bride in 1857. By 1883 she was chairing the event, a role that lasted until 1919.

Did you know?

The New York Southern Society gave birth to the Sullivan Award

Southern gentlemen of the 19th century who happened to find themselves in the unfamiliar territory of New York City—whether to live or merely to visit—often found themselves missing the comforts of home and the conversation of their fellow Southerners. In fact, Southern homesickness was prevalent enough in those days that an entire club was formed to ameliorate it.

The New York Southern Society was that organization. According to its own constitution, the society aimed to “promote friendly relations among Southern men, resident or temporarily sojourning in New York City, and to cherish and perpetuate the memories and traditions of the Southern people.”

The Society’s first president? None other than Algernon Sydney Sullivan.

A yearbook from the 1911-1912 year of the New York Southern Society. Yearbooks would recount speeches from society meetings, list the society’s membership, and alert those members to changes in the society’s bylaws

Though he died just a year into his tenure, Sullivan had already made such an impression on his fellow expatriate Southerners that they established the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award at 15 universities in 1889. The award was conceived as a way to honor his legacy of service by recognizing college students of “noble character” who had made service a priority in their own lives.

The society boasted a membership representing 16 Southern states as well as the District of Columbia, and hosted galas and other social events throughout the year. The gatherings provided members a chance to reminisce about their homeland and were major New York social events. However, they also served frequently as fundraisers for concerns back in the South.

The Sullivan Foundation was established in 1930 and began jointly administering the awards with the New York Southern Society. The society was disbanded sometime in the 1970s, but its wish to honor Sullivan and lift up students dedicated to serving their communities lives on.

Positive Communication

Wofford College student brings the power of art to a Spartanburg, South Carolina jail

Wofford College student brings the power of art to a Spartanburg, South Carolina jail




Students in Katie Harmon’s Therapeutic Arts Program at the Spartanburg County Detention Center are given the opportunity to not only learn about art, but to create it themselves

As a Bonner Scholarship recipient, Wofford College senior Katie Harmon is required to spend 10 hours a week in community service. She never imagined herself working in a jail, however, until she got an unexpected request from one of her professors.

“I worked in the Northside of Spartanburg for three and a half years, mostly with an after-school program at the Northwest Recreation Center,” says Harmon, who is an art history major and studio art minor. “This past fall, Haley Guss, the AmeriCorps VISTA (worker) at the Spartanburg County Detention Center, asked for Wofford students who were potentially interested in working with therapeutic arts. Dr. Karen Goodchild (an associate professor of art history and department chair) referred me to Haley, and from there, we began corresponding and eventually started the program.”

Harmon and Guss’s Therapeutic Arts Program brings the arts to inmates in the form of both art history lessons and art therapy. Harmon held her first class in November 2014 in conjunction with four marriage and family therapists. The purpose is to help inmates work through the ideas of restorative justice.

“Restorative justice is more forgiveness-based as opposed to the standard retributive justice, which is punishment-based,” says Harmon. “We’re focused on helping inmates find some positive means of communication so that they can more positively deal with the crime that they’ve committed and learn about forgiveness. We try to show them that, yes, you did something wrong, and you’re working with the consequences, but you have a future beyond this.”

The overarching focus of the program is personal development and forward and positive thinking. The eventual goal is to lower inmate depression and anxiety rates. The art history aspect provides additional lessons on people and events from the past that can serve as models of behavior.

“The majority of the inmates are below a high-school reading level and have never been exposed to artists like van Gogh or Matisse. We’re building this base of artistic and cultural knowledge that they can recall and use,” says Harmon. “Now they know of people like Nelson Mandela. The inmates have especially been inspired by the Mandela quote, ‘Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.’”

Currently, the Therapeutic Arts Program is raising money in order to sustain the program. Many of the inmates have donated their work for a benefit auction. A portion of the proceeds will go toward the purchase of supplies for the program. The rest will support the South Carolina Victim Assistance Network. The SCVAN provides funds to victims of crime so that they can have access to advocates and other necessities.

“The most important thing I’ve taken away is that everyone is human, and even though you’re incarcerated or have done something wrong, you’re still a person,” says Harmon. “So many people commit crimes because of other circumstances. They aren’t inherently bad, they’re just trying to get by and don’t know how to do it in the right way.”

Sullivan Flashback: Bishop Will Willimon

Bishop and Professor Will Willimon boasts some impressive stats. That he’s written 60 books is amazing on its own. That he has managed, at the same time, to pastor seven United Methodist congregations, serve on the faculty at Duke University for a total of 23 years, and preside as Bishop of Northern Alabama for the better part of a decade is astounding.

Following a career in the church that started in 1971, Willimon has been enjoying retirement since 2012 (a “retirement” that still involves a faculty position at Duke, naturally). Looking back at that career, it’s no surprise that, as a young student graduating from Wofford College in 1968, he was a Sullivan Award recipient. His record of reaching out to others through his intellect and pastoral skill runs deep.

A young Will Willimon poses for a photo

A native of Greenville, South Carolina, Willimon’s early exposure to the church was at Buncombe Street United Methodist. Shortly after his college career at Wofford, he married his wife, Patsy, before moving on to Yale Divinity School for his master’s degree and Emory for his doctorate. Will and Patsy went on to have two children.

Willimon also went on to become one of the most influential preachers and religious writers in America. Among his extensive catalog are inspirational books for Christians, instructional books for clergy members … even novels. He was even identified as one of the “twelve most effective preachers in the English-speaking world” in a 1996 survey by Baylor University.

Through his direct ministry as well as his writing and preaching, Willimon has always stayed focused on one primary goal — and the impact it has had on generations of students, parishioners, and readers is hard to understate. That goal, as articulated by his former student Michael Turner in the book A Peculiar Prophet, is this: “First and foremost Willimon is a pastoral theologian whose primary message is that the God revealed in Jesus matters for everything in life.”

Willimon’s newest novel, “I’m Not From Here,” was released in November 2015. It’s the second he’s published since stepping down as bishop. If past performance is any indicator, he’s probably in for a busy retirement.