GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Miss Mississippi believes the way to combat issues like teen pregnancy, substance abuse and soaring high school dropout rates is to have more mentors teaching young girls about making good decisions. Jasmine Murray was crowned earlier this month. Her platform is called 13 Going On 30: Teaching Young Girls to Embrace Their Age.
Murray wants teens to have role models teaching them how to handle pressure and bullying and other issues. The 22-year-old is not the only one stepping up.
Some teenage girls said they need someone to show them the right path to help guard against negative influences.
"People try to pressure you to be messy," said Taylor Capers, 14. "Not focus on your school work. Stuff like that."
Four years ago, Tabernacle of Faith Church started Girl Power out of concern about problems of low self esteem among young girls. The outreach operates in the church and in a local middle school. With about 80 girls taking part in community service projects, field trips and listening to motivational speakers, organizers say their main focus is teaching the girls they are brilliant, beautiful and bold.
"They are brilliant. They are smart regardless of what anyone says," said Wanda Anderson, a mentor. "They are beautiful, because a lot of times they suffer with low self esteem. They are bold. No. Just to say no to any opposing force that comes against them to try to take their lives. Broken relationships. Suicide. Negative things can come to destroy them. Peer pressure. Gang violence. It's destroying our girls because they do not know how to say no."
"Some girls have come in, and they spoke about molestation," said Angelus Capers, a mentor. "The most important thing is when they know that their peers understand what they're going through. They're not going to talk about them and put them down for what they've experienced but actually embrace them and help them get to the next level that they need to go to in life."
The girls said Girl Power is teaching them to love and take better care of themselves physically, spiritually and emotionally.
"I learned a lot. I learned to be myself, to be a leader because if you are a leader, others cannot just follow you, but they can be a leader themselves," Taylor said.
"They need groups like this so the girls can talk out their problems, and they can just get it off their shoulders," said Trinity Thomas, a 14-year-old who admits having a nasty attitude before joining Girl Power.
The girls said when they know how to make better decisions they can share that knowledge with their friends.
Murray will compete in the Miss America pageant in September in Atlantic City. She is not a stranger to the national spotlight. Murray was a finalist on American Idol back in 2009.