By Errol Castens
OXFORD – When other guys are at home watching Monday Night Football, about a dozen men and older boys are gathered around a conference table at the Oxford Police Department, Bibles open and pens in hand.
Tonight they’re dissecting the subject of anger – how they’ve each experienced it, what scripture says about it, how to apply scripture’s admonitions.
The teens in the room are mostly from single-parent households, and the men are determined to lessen the disadvantage that the absence of fathers can create.
This is Straight Talk.
‘A better way’
Every Monday night the men, most of them in their 20s and 30s, gather to mentor the younger guys for such topical discussions. On other occasions, they also go out as a group just to have fun, as they did Saturday on an outing to a local sports restaurant, or sometimes divide up for one-on-one talks.
The idea for Straight Talk came when Casey Dunn, one of the founders, realized on a mission trip to Parchman Penitentiary just how many inmates never had a father or other positive male role model.
“After the (mission trip) I saw a need … to help the youth in our community before they reach prison,” Dunn said.
The volunteers come from a variety of backgrounds – law enforcement, business, education and skilled trades, among others – and there are plenty of boys who can benefit from the outreach.
“We see single mothers with sons 12 and older and invite them to bring their children,” Dunn said.
“We pray, we read scripture, we do a 10-minute devotional, and we base our topic of the evening off of scripture so it’s not just us saying it,” he noted. “We never run out of something to talk about.”
On the night that the subject is anger, one adult reminds the group that they can’t afford to be upset every time someone says something objectionable about them.
“When you know who you are in Christ, that’s half the battle,” the man says. “It doesn’t matter who other people say you are.”
Hardy Meeks, an Oxford police officer, relates the anger challenges and lessons of his youth.
“I had a quick temper – the ‘little man syndrome’ – and people would pick on me just because they knew they could get a rise out of me,” Meeks says. “If you don’t control your mind, somebody else will.”
One teen shares, “My auntie said, ‘Whatever people say about you, if it’s not true, just walk away.’”
Another adult volunteer shares how he made anger a motivator after his estranged father predicted he would be a drug-dependent failure.
“I was angry at him for saying that, but I turned that anger into something positive,” the man says. “I went to college and made something of myself.” The volunteer adds that he and his father eventually reconciled and offers Philippians 4:13 as encouragement for his listeners: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”
Dunn said one major aim of Straight Talk is to help the teens overcome negative peer pressure.
“They’re getting introduced to drugs and gangs and sex, and a lot of them try to fit in,” he said. “We’re trying to show them there’s a better way.”