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2022 Alumnus to Join John Lewis Fellowship

Baxter Yarbrough, M.A.T., hopes to heal the political divide in America

Walking across the stage to receive his Master of Arts in Teaching diploma at the start of this summer, Baxter Yarbrough held his sights past the spectacle of graduation. Starting in July, Yarbrough takes his next big step on the journey language often boxes in as “career.”

His purpose takes him to Washington DC to join the John Robert Lewis Scholars & Fellows Program, organized by the Faith and Politics Institute.

The fellowship brings together a new cohort of 20 emerging leaders, which Yarbrough will meet soon. Named after the civil rights movement’s iconic leader, the John Robert Lewis Scholars & Fellows program builds networks for students seeking solutions to the challenges democracy faces today.

While getting his degree at Spalding University, Yarbrough taught history courses for freshman and sophomore students at Eminence High School. The future of those young adults is at the top of his mind.

“I think a lot about young people’s experience with just being in our world today,” Yarbrough said. “When I was growing up, it didn’t feel like politics was so hostile. How can we lower the stakes to make it where people can have a more civil discourse about what they see going on in their community?”

Yarbrough is thankful for the opportunities his graduate school experience at Spalding offered. In addition to the hands-on support and encouragement from professors, he thanked his classmates for sharing their diverse minds together.

“It allowed me to hear from other people and practice listening to perspectives that’re unlike my own, and try to figure out, ‘What can I do to better understand what this person is trying to express to me?’” Yarbrough said.

Before coming to Spalding, Yarbrough had never stepped foot in Kentucky. Coming from Morrilton, Arkansas, the challenges he witnessed that are particular to rural communities informs his goals to this day. Going to church his whole childhood made spirituality an important part of his identity. He never saw an intersection between politics and faith until he attended a program at the Montreat Conference Center, a private Christian institution in North Carolina, in 2017 — a couple years after the mass shooting that targeted a historic black church in Charleston.

“That was a moment where I realized there is such a huge meeting point between what goes on within our public life and what goes on within our spiritual interest,” Yarbrough said. “In my experience as a teacher, I definitely have realized that the people who are being looked up to, that what they do, what they say, that carries a whole lot of weight.”

Spalding drew Yarbrough in because of its history as a compassionate institution, with a focus on helping those in need within the community.

“I feel like that’s personally a huge central tenet of my own beliefs regarding politics, religion or anything else,” Yarbrough said. “That when I go out into the world, my hope is that I’m serving others.”

Yarbrough’s cohort meets in person for the first time in mid-July. There the group will build connections, and each will speak with government and nonprofit representatives. Later in March 2023, the cohort will follow the Civil Rights Pilgrimage, along the path John Lewis and Dr. King walked decades ago.

As for Yarbrough, he hopes the fellowship will help him discover his next step. Currently, he is considering another graduate degree, either in divinity, economics or public service. He hopes to continue to support his hometown of Morrilton, which he credits for getting him so far.

Watch this video to learn more about Spalding’s graduate programs: