“I grew up in Senatobia, MS. I played high school football and broke a lot of records. But I was hanging with the wrong guys. I messed up and went to Parchman Prison when I was 17. My father was never around. I’m not going to blame my mistakes on him, but I didn’t have anyone but my mom to show me the right direction. I got my life straight and have been doing well for a long time. Most kids around here don’t have a father figure. I started Marks Youth Outreach in 2005 to help kids be successful. We have been here for 16 years. My goal is to teach the kids through what I have been through so they don’t go through it. I keep up with all of my kids who have been in the program. Only two kids out of 16 years have messed up. Sometimes you have to do wrong and learn from your mistakes to get on the right track.
This began when my two stepkids were young with nothing to do. They sat around the house playing video games. I got them outside and we started a baseball team in our backyard with their friends. There were no sports or programs for the youth in Marks. All of the other towns had those teams, Marks needed them too. When we opened, 100 kids signed up to play football.
The first few years, I used my own money to run the program and worked two jobs. I worked part-time at the school as a janitor then worked at the ACI plant at night The rest of my time was with the kids. There was no sleep. I had to prove myself to the parents and the community, but people started coming out to help me. They also helped me form a non-profit. Now we do something with these kids year-round. We take them to the church, the movies and the skating rink. We feed them and take care of them. My wife teaches the cheerleaders and is starting a mentor program for girls. We are a feeder program for the sports teams at school. By the time the kids leave my teams, they know how to play. The school teams are better because of this.
I’ve had three strokes. My first one was in 2011. That’s how I found out I had high blood pressure and diabetes. Back then, I didn’t have insurance because I couldn’t afford it. I also couldn’t afford doctor’s visits or medicine. I understand why a lot of people die from strokes when they can’t afford what they need to keep them alive. The hospital closed down around here and the closest healthcare is 20 miles away. I had my stroke and they took me by ambulance 20 miles away. I’m thankful I survived that.
I also had strokes in 2013 and 2017. Every time I came back from the hospital and started working with these kids. They give me energy and keep me alive. Now I’m on Medicare and that covers what I need. I am taking my medicine, getting exercise and trying to eat right. I’m still going.
There are no jobs in Marks. Everyone worked in Tunica at the casinos, but COVID shut the casinos down. People then went towards Memphis to work. They moved to be closer to their jobs. There were once factories and jobs in Marks, but the factories left at the same time. We didn’t have a grocery story for three years, but one just opened up.
I teach these kids to stay in school and to trust in God. They are still in virtual school but just started back in class two days a week. The teacher can only teach so much by computer and the kids weren’t learning much in virtual school. The parents were away working so no one was around making the kids do school work.
I’ve dreamed of having a building for years. Someone donated this Fred’s Dollar store building about six months ago. Other donations are paying for the work that needs to be done. We hired people from Marks to get this building back in shape. They’re doing a good job.
We live off prayer and make the best out of bad situations. Don’t give up. Don’t quit. Across town, they built a football field and put my name on it. They even celebrated me that day. Isn’t that crazy? I love this community and these kids. I am going to do this until I die. I give God all of the glory.”
(This is a preview of stories from Mississippi week that begins April 25).