As many as 75 children piled into the sanctuary at Olivet Baptist Church Wednesday afternoon for an anti-gang and violence rally.
Two motivational speakers -- one a former University of Tennessee cornerback and another a UTC adjunct faculty member -- shared stories and anecdotes with the youth on how to be successful and avoid getting caught up in a life on the streets.
Inky Johnson, 26, spoke of growing up in inner-city Atlanta where he had family members who chose to deal drugs. He said he planned to play professional football, but that dream ended as a player at UT when he was injured during a tackle. His right arm became permanently paralyzed.
He was asked if he wanted to go back home after the injury, Johnson remembers.
"Go home? Go home to what?" he asked. "I've got people ... looking to me for hope."
Johnson returned to class two days later and would go on to graduate, he said.
He told the group Wednesday that each of them has a choice regardless of their circumstances.
"Don't use things as a crutch or excuse to stop you," Johnson said.
Another speaker, Vincent Phipps, who teaches public speaking at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, asked the group what makes a good leader.
"Controlling your emotions," he said, answering his own question.
After Phipps' talk, one young boy asked how to control anger.
Stopping and thinking, Phipps replied.
"The person who angers you, owns you," he said during the talk. "If you want to own yourself, keep your attitude in check."
Both men told the children they were never gang members.
A reformed Gangsta Disciple member will be visiting Chattanooga from Chicago this week to reach out to youth inmates and community members. Victor Woods, a convicted felon, changed his life by becoming a motivational speaker and author.