BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Gov. Phil Bryant is not afraid to own up to the fact that Mississippi has a teen pregnancy problem. In his first State of the State address in 2012, the governor demanded action to reduce the teen pregnancy rate, and to this day he continues that fight.
Wednesday, in front of a crowd at the Kroc Center in Biloxi, Bryant said, "One of my goals and achievements was to reduce teen pregnancy by 2017. People came up and said, 'boy, you are in trouble now. That's just not going to happen, and people are going to say you failed.' Well, I will tell you today, 2014, we have reduced the teen pregnancy rate by 15 percent."
The crowd erupted with applause.
Bryant believes part of the problem is teen pregnancy has been ignored for too long.
"I don't think we talked about it. I don't think we brought it out of the shadows," Bryant said. "I don't think governors were out going throughout the state saying we need to reduce this. I think we need to give permission to our teenage girls to say, I'm not going to make that decision, that bad decision, because I want to be very successful in life."
The governor is passionate in spreading that message to teens through education.
"It starts in the classroom, and unfortunately it starts at a much younger age than it ever did," Bryant said. "We have got to be bold. We have got to go out there and try to explain."
Another tool in the fight to lower teen pregnancy is support from the community. Bryant has a lot of support from Miss Mississippi, Jasmine Murray.
"I believe this is such a huge problem, and it's stemming from a lack of positive role models," Murray said. "It stems from peer pressure and bullying and all of these things, and that's what it leads to."
Murray's platform is "13 going on 30: Teaching Young Girls to Embrace their Age." The program encourage teens to find mentors and for community members to be positive role models.
"I had several friends that became teenage mothers at a young age," Murray said. "I really felt like I wanted to take it upon myself to educate our young girls on the importance of making good decisions so that they can be anything they want to be and reach their full potential."
Gulfport High School senior Jasmine Ball was amongst those in the crowd Wednesday listening to Miss Mississippi, Bryant and others talk about ways to combat teen pregnancy.
"I think if we have more of this type of setting, like through schools and just going to schools to let them know about this, it would be better," Ball said. "I know at my school we really don't talk about it as much, but if we install it more, then I think people will understand it's a real big problem."
Having leaders on their side Ball believes will give students courage to stand up too.
"I just want to say that you can be strong, and I'm not saying right from wrong, but just think to yourself, about what you are doing before you do it," Ball said.
Even with a 15 percent decrease in our state since 2012, Mississippi still ranks third in the country for teen pregnancy, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.