EAST TAMPA — Christ is "fresh." As in the newest thing. Cutting edge. Vibrant. Fly. That's the message of a youth rally this weekend of poets, rappers and gospel singers.
Youth today are moving away from Jesus Christ and into things of the world, said Kevin Hobbs, 27, who played high school football at Tampa Bay Tech before graduating in 2001.
He knows. For the past five years Hobbs played for the Seattle Seahawks then the Detroit Lions. But most recently, in July, was ordained a minister.
Now living in Valrico, he preached his first sermon at his home church, College Hill Church of God in Christ in the east Tampa area. While listening to Hobbs speak, the church's pastor was inspired to ask Hobbs to be the keynote speaker at the rally. Hobbs said God gave him a message to pass to youth: Don't confuse who you are with what you do.
It'll be a testimony of his own life. The NFL world is crazy with drugs and women and material things, he said. It can be tempting to kids, who are so easily influenced.
"You can develop a kind of above-the-world attitude if you're not careful to humble yourself," Hobbs said.
The ultimate goal of the rally is to save souls. Organizers want to strengthen teens to stand up for what they've been taught. It's okay to be different.
You can still be fresh, they say.
"Being Christian doesn't mean being lame," said another organizer Chad Bagley, 27. "Jesus wasn't."
Bagley and Keon Jenkins, who is 29 and lives in North Tampa, are the Christian rap group Frontline.
On Tuesday they practiced their set for Sunday's show.
Preach Christ, baby.
Can't stop. Won't stop. I'm a be a hustler.
On the corner selling Christ, make these cats a customer.
Bagley came up with the conference title "Fresh 4 Life" by flipping the '80s hip-hop saying "fresh 2 def," meaning the hottest new thing, and turning it into something positively Christian. When you come to Christ, he says, you get a new life that is "fresh" in a spiritual way.
The two-day event will include gospel singers, rappers, spoken word poets and praise dancers.
Cepeda McKay, and his brother Zachary, who are 19 and 18, will sing with their gospel group of 13 teens from area schools and churches.
"With Jesus, it's a new life of possibilities," the elder McKay said.
The Tampa group Cepeda McKay & No Limits has performed all over the country, including in Washington, D.C., and Texas and Detroit, McKay said.
"We bring God to the young people in an energetic way," McKay said.
The brothers say they pray often and read their Bibles to keep from being distracted by things that often trap their peers.
Charles Davis, pastor of the 85-year-old College Hill Church of God in Christ, is the visionary behind the rally, the first in a series that he plans to host. Organizers hope to pack the 750 seats at the College Hill Conference Center, which Davis' church owns.
The church pews today typically hold an aging crowd on Sunday mornings, Davis said. He wants the rally to stimulate emotions and introduce teens to a relationship with Christ. He hopes that some youth will decide to keep going to church.
The hook is talented leaders such as Hobbs and the rappers and gospel singers performing in the show. The event also gives young performers a chance to showcase their skills, he says.
Earlier in life, Hobbs got caught up in his celebrity status. He already believed in God, but tended to puff out his chest, wearing diamonds on his wrists and around his neck. He thought he needed to make it on his own in the locker room and on the field. Only when he was away from the sport and its trappings did Hobbs proclaim his relationship with God again. He had confused God's will with his own will, he said.
But as his faith grew, he realized submitting to God's will would bring him the desires of his heart.
Three weeks ago, Hobbs was picked up by the Miami Dolphins, only to be released last Saturday in a final cut.
Not sure what his future holds, he's not worried. He knows he's still fresh.
"I think God allows us to go through faith-enhancing exercises," he said. "What God has for me — it is for me."
Elisabeth Parker can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3431.
Fresh 4 Life
The conference will include poets, rappers and gospel singers from Tampa, Lakeland, Sarasota and Orlando. The event is from 5 to 8:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the College Hill Conference Center, 1002 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. It is free to the public. For information, or to perform at future rallies, call Unlimited Gospel Expressions at (813) 972-3409.