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Fast Times

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Marvin Stockwell feels a little awkward calling himself a community leader.

"[Church Health Center founder] Scott Morris knows he's a leader. He's a humble man, but he knows he's a leader," Stockwell says.

But a new Leadership Memphis program has given Stockwell, public relations manager for the Church Health Center and a member of the punk band Pezz, permission to view himself in much the same way.

The 38-year-old was part of Leadership Memphis' inaugural FastTrack class, a roughly two-month program aimed at creating Memphis' next generation of leaders. The first FastTrack class graduated in March.

"It is targeted to a younger and more up-and-coming leadership group," Leadership Memphis president David Williams says of FastTrack. "The executive program is targeted at proven leaders, those people already in senior leadership positions."

It is perhaps fitting that FastTrack begins the same year that Leadership Memphis' executive program — a class that has graduated proven leaders such as A C Wharton, John Vergos, and Morris — turns 30.

"For the last four years, with our executive program, we've been talking about the importance of recruiting and retaining talent in Memphis," Williams says. "We said let's see what we can do, and voila."

Law clerk Gwyn Fisher was also a member of the first FastTrack program.

"What attracted me to the program was its recognition of the need for younger leaders or those not already in leadership positions," she says. "It was an untapped market."

Even though geared toward emerging leaders, FastTrack doesn't have set age criteria. Participants don't have to be younger than 40; they just need to have a desire to learn about and make a difference in the community.

And learn they do, even if it's at a breakneck pace. The executive program spans nine months, while FastTrack is less than a third of that time.

Stockwell says the FastTrack program was like a "crash course in Memphis" and the "Cliff's notes version" of the community's challenges.

"The fast in FastTrack is for real," he says, referring to the program's abbreviated schedule. During that time, the class met for two hours every Tuesday night, a schedule Williams says was created so that people "who may not be in complete control of their schedules could be able to participate."

Participants learned about topics such as public education, city and county debt, and what sort of issues face Memphis.

"I've lived in Memphis for most of my life ... so I wasn't completely ignorant, but it gave me a broad overview," Stockwell says. "It filled in gaping holes in my understanding."

In addition to class sessions, participants were encouraged to do at least two civic activities from a list that included writing a letter to a newspaper editor, going to a City Council meeting, and attending a forum on race and politics at the National Civil Rights Museum. But many members of the class did more, a trend that prompted Williams to say he was amazed at the level of community involvement that developed.

"It was as if someone had given them permission to go and do these things that obviously any citizen is encouraged and welcomed to do," Williams says. "I found this to be a very inspirational group of people who give me great hope for our community."

At the end of the program, each participant was asked to make a commitment to the community. Along with two of her classmates, for example, Fisher is trying to identify overlapping social services.

"You don't just take the class and get your little certificate and go on your way," she says. "The FastTrack program opened my eyes to the myriad opportunities to affect positive growth and change in my city."

Leadership Memphis is currently accepting nominations and applications for the next FastTrack class, set to begin in the fall.

"The class gave all of us permission to think about Memphis' future and where our leadership can plug in to make Memphis a great city," Stockwell says.

It's a lesson that we could all use now and again.

"We're all stakeholders," Fisher says. "By our sheer presence, we are stakeholders in our community."

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