Growing up in Meridian, Adrian Cross thought she might become a veterinarian or a nurse.
She never thought that volunteering would lead her to being in charge of a youth empowerment organization.
Now, at 32, she's in a place where she sees she can make a difference.
“It's really exciting to see that I'm in a position of, 'wow, I can make this grow and I have a bigger impact',” said Cross, who will soon be the new executive director of the Meridian Freedom Project.
The non-profit opened its doors in 2013 with a focus on empowering young people and developing future leaders. Cross, the first African-American woman to lead the organization, will begin her role on Jan. 1, 2020.
Cross's journey with the MFP began in 2014 when she started volunteering while working at Meridian Community College.
She volunteered to teach a step class for two years, then served on the board of directors. In 2017, Cross became the director of operations.
In that role, she is responsible for planning and working with high school students in the organization's College Access Program.
“It’s great because I'm helping these young people open their eyes and see what their next step in their journey is,” she said. “Sometimes, somebody needs somebody to see potential in them and believe in them.”
Her students also inspire her, teaching her things that have helped her become a better person, Cross said.
“There are so many students who've been through the program that had me question who I am, how I work with kids and how I relate to kids,” she said. “So through these kids, I have learned the right thing to do and the wrong thing to do.”
Terrance Roberts, the literacy director of the MFP, said Cross will bring new energy to the organization, adding that students look up to her because of how she carries herself.
“The kids really respect her for what she is doing," he said. "She has a great relationship with them.”
Looking ahead, Cross said her biggest goal is to expand the project's reach. Currently, the organization serves 28 kids, and she'd like to see that number grow.
“I want more kids to experience the impact of the program,” she said.
Cross also wants to reach out to the community, and incorporate the arts by working with Mississippi Arts + Entertainment Experience.
“I want to get our name out there," she said. "Because when we get our name out there, people will wonder how can they help."
Another goal is to be a role model for young black children in Meridian.
"I'm showing our kids that they can be in leadership positions when they grow up," she said. "You don’t have to be 50 or 60 years old. You can be 32, as long as you work hard.”