Melanie Taylor receives Barnabus Leadership Award

Melanie Taylor, junior sport ministry major, plans to donate $100 of her prize money to Young Life Jackson. | Photo by Ebbie Davis

By Katherine Pullen, Staff Writer

Most people who use the Google search engine do not expect it to change their lives, but for Melanie Taylor, junior sport ministry major and winner of the Barnabas Leadership Award, one Google search was all it took.

Taylor said she felt called to sport ministry during high school in McHenry, Ill. She found Union after using Google to search for universities that offer sport ministry as a major. The first time Taylor set foot on campus in Jackson was for freshman registration.

“I should write (Google) a letter or something (to say ‘thank you’),” Taylor said.

Since her freshman year, Taylor has been involved with Mosaic, an organization to create community on campus, primarily for racial and ethnic minorities. She said she was deeply impacted by the mentorship and encouragement she received from female upperclassmen.

Taylor said she is grateful for her time at Union because it has helped her to realize new passions and has changed her perspective on leadership and multiracial issues.

Beyond Union’s campus, Taylor also has served with Young Life Jackson, a non-denominational Christian ministry that reaches out to adolescents to provide mentorship and Christian role models at Jackson Central-Merry Academy of Medical Technology.

Taylor currently serves as president and Bible study leader for Mosaic and continues her regular involvement with Young Life. She also works in the Vocatio Center for Life Calling and Career and has served as a student ambassador and summer residence advisor for Union’s rising senior program. She interned for Kids Across America camps in summer 2011 and helped with several Disciple Now events in Baptist churches in 2010 and 2011.

Through her diverse activities since the start of her academic career at Union, Taylor said she has become increasingly aware of racial division and the needs of the black community in Jackson.

“The city is so divided racially and socioeconomically,” Taylor said. “It’s not right and it hurts. I want to fix that (divide).”

The Barnabas Leadership Award is given annually to two members of the junior class who have demonstrated significant leadership and a willingness to serve both the campus and community. Thirty juniors were nominated this year by faculty, staff and students.

Toby Brown, assistant director of student leadership and engagement, said selection of the award winners was difficult for the committee because so many worthy candidates were nominated. Taylor was ultimately chosen, he said, because her “overall body of work set a great example for others regarding leadership and service.”

Taylor intends to donate $100 of her $500 award to Young Life Jackson.

As students live out their four years of college in Jackson, they should focus on making the city a better place, Taylor said. She made reference to Jeremiah 29:7, a verse that has been inspirational to her during her time as a student. It reads in the English Standard Version, “ Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

Service to the community should be more than a “grenade-type” project that is thrown at the city once a year, Taylor said, but should be an ongoing commitment by dedicated individuals. Being involved in community-building beyond the Union campus is greatly beneficial, Taylor said.

“We talk a lot about the Union bubble, but we just complain about it and don’t get out of it,” Taylor said. “If something happened tomorrow and Union didn’t exist, I would still have community here in Jackson.”

Taylor said she is not sure what the future beyond Union holds for her but she would like to eventually work full-time at a summer camp. She also is considering pursuing a master’s degree in education.

She did not comment on what role the Google search engine might play as she plans for her future.

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The Cardinal & Cream is a student publication of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. Our staff ranges from freshmen to seniors and includes a variety of majors — including journalism, public relations, advertising, marketing, digital media studies, graphic design and art majors.