At the core of our project is a group of young people committed to helping one another grow in Christ, move forward in life, develop leadership, and reinvest in their community. Here's what a few of them have to say:
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We all lean on each other around here. We’ve always done that since we played on the same teams as kids. It taught us how to work as a group. When you play on a team with someone you get that brotherhood that can’t be broken once you leave that field or that court. Once you have that bond, you talk about things you don’t think about by yourself. The things we’ve all gone through, we had each other, we had coaches helping us out. God has kept us together, and shown us what we really need.
After I graduated high school I coached basketball with Midian. Coaching helped me get to know people better, who they are, how they act...I didn't know them like that before. We’re closer now. When I see them in the neighborhood, I connect with them. We know what it’s like. We went through it. We were the ones bored outside, looking for stupid stuff to do, finally figuring out how to stay out of the streets and succeed together. We want to see the younger generation prosper. They know we’ve been where they are. We know what it’s like. We went through it. It’s our job to give the next generation what we didn’t have.
"Church ball was a good experience for me and my teammates, becuase it made us selfless. Part of the gospel is being selfless, loving your peers as yourself; while we were playing basketball it made us consider the other player's feelings. Putting everthing on the line for your teammates, then making sure everyone's okay whether you win or lose, it made us come closer. Playing for a church made that even better, doing something we have fun with, for a good purpose."
“We want to start our own businesses because that way, we can help the community and the people who follow behind us and want to do the same thing. Starting a business gives you a head start on life itself, it makes you a stronger person, allows you to teach yourself the basics, how it’s run, what you want to do, how you want to do it. One of the reasons it’s good for our community is we have a lot of special people, but we don’t have much—in West Virginia we don’t own much ourselves. But we are inside the community, we know what people want and need, we talk to people who are on the inside, instead of learning from a survey--we know what the city needs.”
Playing high school football built a lot of character and leadership in me. It taught me that I didn't get my talents from myself, I got them from God. Playing at West Virginia Wesleyan took me out of my comfort zone, where I didn't know everyone. My first day of class, people were kind of shy and standoffish, and I thought to myself, "Do I really even need to talk to anyone? I could just be quiet too. But then I thought: “Nah, people need friends!” And so I went outside by comfort zone and started being a friend.
The most important thing that me and my friends have is trust. We grew up together and we built a relationship off of each others personalities. We don’t like unfinished business. When something needs to get done, we get it done.
I had always wanted to help the younger generation when I got older. I had been going to camp since I was in seventh grade, and it helped me work through hard times when I was younger. I came back as a counselor, and talking to the kids and helping them work through things, it didn't just help them--it helped me get closer to God. Church, camp, service trips, taught me how to love people. Love brings everyone together. I was always taught from the Bible by my parents and grandparents, to love everyone, no matter their race or background or anything about them. We have a lot planned—it’s not set in stone, of course—but in the end, when we come together, it will change people’s perspective of this community, of how we are built.
Sports was a huge thing for us – we didn’t fall victim to the streets. We held each other accountable to our main sport, we all wanted to see what’s best for everyone. We were clever—we would outsmart someone instead of getting physical. We were willing to give constructive criticism to each other. We would fight with our heads and not with our hands. From a young age we understood we had a lot to lose, and that made us walk on the straight path. We all stuck together. We used our different personalities to our advantage.
Communication has been one of the most important things for us. Once some of us started going away to school, we stayed in touch no matter how far we went. I played basketball for Job Corps after high school, and now I play for Simmons College of Kentucky, a Christian HBCU in Louisville. It gets tough to keep the end goal in mind when you’re focused on surviving, managing money, staying healthy—it’s a challenge to focus on the bigger picture far away from home. So we stay in touch, we pray for each other, we keep focused with the next steps toward changing our community back home.
When people see us in our natural environment, they are surprised and what we are into. People see us together and they immediately assume we are athletes, but as we grew up and left high school, that has taken a back seat to other parts of our personalities. We have people who want to start businesses, who want to talk to politicians about change. I love playing college basketball, but I don’t want to just be known as a guy who plays sports. I want to own buildings here in town. I love to cook. My friends and I dedicate part of our summers to serving at our church camp. We go on service trips. There are going to be sacrifices along the way, but this is all part of God’s plan to set up the next generation coming after us to succeed.
In high school I ran track, and I started spending my weekend nights with my friends - who would eventually start the Midian Leadership Project - watching the NFL and the NBA. I started coming out of my shell, and over time we’ve all changed each other for the better. God has blessed us with people around us who helped us achieve our goals and be who we are today.
Once the stone started rolling and the momentum gathered, all sorts of great things started to happen. After I graduated I was recruited to join the track team at Alderson Broaddus University, a Baptist school in West Virginia.
Kids look up to us now, and people hear what we have to say—we want to use that influence for a positive impact—no negativity, all positive. We want to see the community at its best, without violence and negative energy, with everyone in the community coming together as one. We can do so much more when we come together.
Growing up I didn’t always know right and wrong—and when the time came to choose, I made a lot of wrong choices. I presented myself in the wrong crowd, and I let that take over, especially in middle school.
Then I met the friends I have now—the friends who eventually started the Midian Leadership Project—they brought me to church, helped me grow in my faith, and helped me develop the knowledge of how to be more successful in the world. Most of us went to the same school, and once we started going to church together, we strengthened each other as time went on.
It was through church camp that I went from someone needing support to someone leading and supporting other people. This camp was different from any place on earth. The amount of love and support we got from people we’d never met before was amazing. It opened my eyes to right and wrong, and I met people who believed in me. I started coming as a counselor for younger kids. After a sports injury, I took a year off college, and I spent the year working with kids in schools through Americorps. That work showed me that God has called me to work with kids, to give them the support they need, and to teach them the Bible. This fall I transfered Bible College to train to be a youth minister.
We are ready to pour into the community, to keep kids safe, to give them a place to be, to grow in their faith. We can multiply what we have by twenty. There are already a lot of us who are ready to lead change in our community. When we pour into this new generation of kids, we will get more and more young people ready to make change in our community as time goes on.
“This group of people made me overcome adversity by getting over fears and opening up about personal things, having no place to stay, living house to house, missing meals. This group built a character inside me, made me mold into a man, made me see life as not about me, but about people coming up under me, about lifting people up and bringing them closer to God. Even if you start your life off with less, if you stay on the right path with a group of friends, you can help each other achieve goals and overcome loneliness. It makes me want to be a better dad someday—I want my kids to have a better life so I have to cut certain things and people off that are not there to better me. Not all people are on the same mission."
When my friends and I were growing up, we wanted to be different. We saw a lot of people older than us who had real potential, but it never came to much. God put people in our lives who tried to understand what we were going through, who encouraged us to stay together and do better, to reach our potential. I met some of the friends I have now at church camp. While we were there we agreed to hold each other accountable back home, and we did. We played sports together, went to church together, asked each other about how we were doing, and kept each other on track to succeed.
I was seventeen when God helped bring me to the point that I was serious about asking of everything in my life—is this what God wants me to do? I coached basketball with Midian, and now I am following God’s call to youth ministry and going to Bible college. I want to be another person in the community that everyone can come to, who leads the young people to do better things and stay out of trouble, to continue what God has been doing in our lives.
Once we invest in the youth, it will set off a spark. I’ve seen the effect it has on kids when someone listens to them, when someone is there to support them, when someone shows up to their games and events—it makes a big difference. They will see that they can be like us—if they stick together as a group, pray for each other, hold each other accountable, they can succeed together too—and they will want to invest in those who come after them. It takes us all working together to do that. One person can make a small difference but if we work as a team we can make this happen. My friends and I have stuck together for years—we are ready to stick together passing on the message to the next ones coming after us that if they stay together and stay with God, they will be led in the right direction toward what God has planned for them.