GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - From ages 18 to as young as 8, more than two dozen young men came together at Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church for a roundtable discussion on bullying and school safety.
Kenson Barnes, 18, didn't shy away from the mic to share his personal experience.
"I have Duane Syndrome in my left eye, so I can't look right. So, people used to make fun of me and call me names, like fisheye, and all types of stuff they used to say. Like 'oh, you got a lazy eye'," Barnes said.
Barnes said he wanted to leave one message with the younger crowd.
"I don't want anybody to feel like they can't be themselves. Be yourself," he said.
That chance to mentor others is why these teens say they participate in the mentoring program.
"I'm a public figure now. I feel like I can be a hero like Chief Papania said. I can be a hero to these younger kids, and they can look up to me, and they can tell their friends about me, and experiences that they're having with this group that we have," Barnes said.
"They try to talk to you and build a relationship, and I love it. And I love instilling wisdom upon these young minds," said teen Christopher Johnson.
The goal is to teach these boys and teens everything from how to tie a tie to tackling tough topics like they did on Saturday.
"We want to encourage them to stay in school, get educated, after high school go to college, or pursue careers that are important to them. But we want them to grow up very productive citizens of our community," said Gulfport CAO Dr. John Kelly, who leads the group.
"Our kids spend so much time on social media, they don't get a lot of good life skill training. And this is one of those things we feel would be good for them, and being able to cope with the everyday problems that they're likely to encounter," said Rev. John Whitfield.
The mentoring program is open to boys ages 8 to 18 who live in Gulfport.
The group meets the third Saturday of every month.
Meetings start at 10 a.m. at Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church.