LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- At Burnett Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, testimonies are as common as communion, but they don't typically come from people as young as 14-year-old William Jackson. 

The teenager sat among a group of his peers at the church Monday talking about personal life choices and the ones he wished he hadn't made.

"I started stealing cars from people I didn't even know. I started robbing people I didn't even know. I started jumping people I didn't even know," Jackson said. "And I got jumped plenty of times, and I didn't like it."

Jackson's words gripped the room of about 20 young African-American boys. They hung on his ever word, putting aside their cell phones and devices to listen to someone their same age who'd seen so much more. 

Jackson went on, sharing how his mother found his gun under his bed and how he'd just been released for juvenile corrections days earlier on car theft and assault charges. 

"I used to cry every night in JCYC," Jackson said. "I thought I was hard on the street, and I got grazed by a bullet on my arm, and I swear it hurts like I don't know what. It burns, and I don't want y'all to feel that at all."

Jackson spoke as part of the LINK Youth Conference, a two-day event where 200 young people attended workshops on leadership, integrity, networking and knowledge.

"We think that with those four principals, that will be a way for you to advance as a young person," said LINK organizer Minister Ahmaad Edmund.

The conference was put together for young people by young people. Edmund is only 18 years old himself. He said it's in response to a year where nearly half the murders in the city had victims or suspects under 25. 

LMPD Sgt. Daniel Elliott described the cycle of retribution to the students.

"He gets me, I'm going to get my cousin, and then he gets his cousin, and all that turns into is a war," Sgt. Elliott said. "It's called genocide."

The training sessions drilled home conflict resolution and decision-making.

"I learned with the police session," Fern Creek High School freshman Josiah Bunton said. "They taught me a lot on how to deal with situations I may be put in, like violent or life-or-death situations, and things that could help me get through a conflict at school."

Jackson came as a student just like Bunton, but his story may have provided the best lesson. 

"I know so many people that got killed. I know people still doing time right now," Jackson said. "It ain't worth it ... try just a little bit to make 2017 worth it, worth living for."

This is the first year for the LINK Youth Conference. Organizers want to make it an annual Martin Luther King Jr. weekend tradition.

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