Pete Boykin teemed with excitement about his new venture.
In the days leading up to his Sunday Empowering Youth Through Christ and Character Development outreach program, Mr. Boykin peppered friends with phone calls to make sure everything was perfect.
Mr. Boykin checked with Jamard Wright of The Wright Cafe to confirm the 50 plates of food he ordered for his young guests. He called former Meridian student Kaylan McCoy in the weeks before and burst with energy as he mentioned his new plan for outreach.
Mr. Boykin even had a special request for his daughter, Samantha Boykin.
“The only thing that he wanted me to do was to come and make sure that I brought his grandson,” Samantha Boykin, 27, said.
Mr. Boykin, 50, died in his sleep over the weekend, never making it to Sunday's event, but his vision remained through the many people who came to the Velma Young Center Sunday afternoon to honor his legacy and carry out his program.
A portrait of Mr. Boykin was placed on the granite-topped front desk at the entrance of the building, resting upon the Empowering Youth Through Christ and Character Development flyers he had printed for the event.
“He had a heart as good as gold,” Samantha Boykin said. “As far as the children, he wanted to give them anything that he could. If that meant being a father figure to those who did not have, if that meant feeding them, if that meant putting clothes on their back and making sure they had what they needed for school. Every Sunday, he made sure he fed the kids.”
Pete Boykin graduated from Meridian High School in 1988, where he was a member of the 1985 state-championship football team and an all-star baseball player. His passion for sports didn’t dissolve upon graduation. He was a fixture at Meridian High School sporting events, where he was regularly seen toting his Bible and wearing Wildcat blue.
Mr. Boykin’s love for sports was only rivaled by his love of the Gospel, and he never missed an opportunity to share his testimony with Meridian-area youth. He visited his alma mater every week to hold devotionals. Mr. Boykin gathered with the Wildcats' football team in its locker room on Friday nights in the fall, where he’d offer prayers for safety.
“He had a huge impact in my life,” Meridian student-athlete Tevarrius Adams said. “He started getting me every Sunday and would take me to church. He started teaching me about how to grow and become a man of God. It really hurt me when I found out… He really was like a father figure to all of the athletes around the school.”
Kaylan McCoy, 19, met Boykin through Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) when she was a student at Meridian High School. They both shared a June 10 birthday and a love for Christ. Mr. Boykin, Meridian's FCA leader, helped nurture McCoy’s faith and found ways to strengthen it so that she could share it with her classmates.
The two reunited late last June at Meridian Community College for the 2018 Pouncey Power Camp. At the event, Mr. Boykin called on McCoy to join him on Meridian Community College’s basketball court to share her testimony with camp participants.
“He helped me see myself on another level, as far as spreading the word of God, and he pushed me,” McCoy said. “Sometimes, I would be like, ‘I don’t know if I’ll be able to do this,’ and he’d be like, ‘Yes, Kaylan, you can do this. I already see it.’ We just bounced off of each other.”
Mr. Boykin’s mission of reaching young people wasn’t just limited to high-school students. Every Monday afternoon, he visited Parkview Elementary School to speak with its third-graders, and he made sure to stop by George Washington Carver Middle School each week to visit coach William Byrd’s middle-school basketball teams.
“Every time we’d have a game on a Tuesday or Thursday, he would always call me and text me and say, ‘Hey, Coach Byrd, I want to come and bring some food for the girls or the boys basketball teams, and I just want to say a word or two and just pray over them,” Byrd, 28, said.
As Meridian’s athletic trainer, Chad Acton spent countless hours at Wildcat events with Mr. Boykin. While Mr. Boykin established himself as Meridian’s spiritual leader for student-athletes, Acton said Mr. Boykin made it his goal to share his testimony and the Gospel with students from all walks of life.
“Everywhere I’d go, whether it was baseball, basketball, softball, you name it, he was at every event praying and doing something to help these kids,” Acton, 47, said. “It wasn’t just athletes. He was going after everybody. He loved sports, but you could tell that he loved the Lord, and he wasn’t fake. He was all in. He and I would sit and talk for the longest time about everything. I learned a lot from him. Just listening to how he did things, he stayed busy all the time.”
Last Friday, Mr. Boykin joined Meridian Mayor Percy Bland and new Wildcats football coach Martez Edwards on Meridian 100.5 FM, where the three men discussed Mr. Boykin’s Sunday outreach event and his plans to work with the Wildcats' football team. Bland said Mr. Boykin’s contributions in Meridian, and the imprint he left upon so many young hearts, couldn’t be measured with words.
“Pete Boykin meant everything to this community,” Bland said. “He did a lot of outreach from elementary school all the way up to the high school impacting children every day. He wanted to start on Sundays, doing some of his outreach over here at this center at Velma Young, and he was very excited about today, organizing this and everything. Pete is one of those guys who is true. He had a big heart, and he was trying to bring children to the Lord. It’s going to be a big void to fill now that he’s no longer with us.”
While Mr. Boykin’s death has cast a somber cloud over Meridian, Jamard Wright believes the community can coalesce around the tragedy to honor Boykin’s legacy on a larger scale.
“You can’t replace that with an individual, but the community that produced that can be the same community that can produce another like that,” Wright said.
Meridian sporting events won’t be the same without Mr. Boykin’s bright smile and affable personality. But his spirit and legacy will never be forgotten. Samantha Boykin wanted to share a parting message with everyone whose life was impacted by her father.
“I just want the kids to remember Mr. Pete, as they called him, and everything that he said to them,” Samantha Boykin said. “To keep God first. I went back and watched one of his speeches this morning (where he) let them know, ‘You are somebody. You have a meaning. You are important.’ I want them to just remember that and let them know that they are not alone, and that he loved them and he would do anything. Just remember the lessons that he taught them.”