Meridian, Mississippi There is little doubt that crime is a problem in the city of Meridian. Officials also admit that gangs are an issue. But could both of those issues be connected to a larger issue, the lack of a father.
Numbers from the Census Bureau find that some 44 percent of families in Meridian are families without a dad.
That is significantly higher than the percentage in Mississippi, 38 percent, and more than double the national average of 19 percent. So is their a connection between lack of a father and crime?
It's an average Tuesday night on the baseball field at Northeast Lauderdale baseball park. The Yankees and the Mets are locked in a fierce battle, and the field is full of fathers, shouting advice and cheering on their sons.
Among them, one of the coaches of the Yankees, Mark Roberts and his son Jonathan.
Wade asked, "What's it like having your dad as coach?" "Fun, but he has to work on his catching though," said Jonathan Roberts, a youth baseball player.
The feeling of fun is mutual between father and son.
"Wake up 4:30, get everything going, work ten hours, and then come home and two hours for the game, but it's all worth it, being out here," said Mark Roberts.
The scene here at the baseball field is certainly in stark contrast to recent scenes of crime in other parts of Meridian. People who work with young people say we are losing many of them to crime because they simply seem to have no purpose in life.
"Kids today have developed a sense of purposelessness, there is no real focus on what they want to become in life. And so, they're just driven by what's next," said Rev. Gary Houston of the Youth Excitement Team.
And experts say part of the problem is a lack of fathers in the home. Lee Lee Marlow with Weems Community Health Center deals with kids in trouble every day behavioral and sometimes criminal issues. She says fatherlessness is a common theme.
"I ask that child, 'do you feel like you got the short end of the stick?' and they will say, 'yes. I needed a dad, but I didn't have one.' And look where I'm at," said Dr. Marlow.
It's probably good to stop here and say that experts do not believe this is the entire problem, only a part of it. They also don't believe children without fathers are doomed, but statistically, they are less likely to succeed.
Back at the ball field, there seems to a recognition by some of the fathers here, including Roberts, that there are many children who don't have a dad in the home, and they are saddened by it.
"I hate the guys are just missing out on that. It's terrible to think that somebody doesn't want to see their son," said Mark Roberts.
Tuesday night, we will begin to explore solutions. How can the community get more dads involved in the lives of their children?