Boyd C. James makes a point to spend quality time with the youth at St. Paul African American Methodist Episcopal Church in Gulfport. He says too many young Black people are making bad choices in life.
"Statistics show that there are more African American college age boys in prisons than in college," said James, a member at the church. "What I try to teach the young kids around here today, especially the young boys, is they can be whatever they want to be."
Children are learning that lesson along with some church history as part of Black History Month.
Church leaders have introduced the children to the book, "The Brown Condor." It's based on the life of Colonel John Robinson, an African American World War II pilot and member of the Gulfport Church. Robinson took a job as a janitor when he wasn't allowed to enroll in an all white flight school and learned by listening in on class while sweeping the floors.
The children also learned about Richard Allen who formed their denomination in 1787 rather than attend a segregated church.
"We're trying to teach them to aim high," education director Connie Davis said. "They may have disadvantages but as our forefathers made it, they can too."
The children say they are learning about turning obstacles into opportunities.
"It's gonna be people that will talk about you, put you down," fifteen-year-old Stephanie Maston said. "But no matter what, if you have faith in the Lord, you can become anything."
"It makes me feel good about what they did," said 13-year-old Sebastian Herbert. "And some day I might want to follow in their footsteps."
Church leaders say teaching the children their heritage gives them the footsteps they can be proud to follow in.