At 14 years old, Courtney Pee performs a role that many adults find too tough to fill. He's a role model.
Despite his youth, the Park Heights boy has been a mentor for seven younger boys, leading them through reading activities and discussions about life and theater during sessions at the Pimlico Branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library.
"My first mission is to teach them some respect," Courtney said as he sat in the living room of his home in the 3500 block of Hayward Ave., near the Pimlico Race Track.
Courtney began working with the youths in December, said Joyce H. Mason, the Pimlico branch's children librarian, who credits the youth with giving a handful of younger children an outlet away from the streets.
First, he conducted a Christmas play to help get children interested in reading, Ms. Mason said. She said she then asked him to run other activities with the children -- it didn't bother her that this new youth leader was only 14.
"He was willing to do it," said Ms. Mason, adding that she's had difficulty getting adults to help. "It is so hard to get people to volunteer to do anything. Courtney is committed, even though he is very busy."
For two days a week during the icy winter months, Courtney gathered the children for regular sessions at the library. Now that the weather is warmer, meetings are more infrequent, but the group still finds time to meet.
Courtney is proud because the other boys accept his guidance. For example, he points to book reports he assigned them that were completed on time.
"I have to work with them," he said, reclining slightly in an armchair with his legs crossed at the ankles. He spoke at a slow, measured pace.
The youths Courtney works with with range from 6 to 13 years old. Courtney has never revealed his age to them and he has done nothing to dispel their assumption that he is in his late teens.
Courtney lives with his parents in a home that has a drawing of a crying Jesus overhead on one living room wall, a crucifix on another and a photograph of a cross on a third.
He says his religious faith has played a key role in helping him handle the enormous task of being a good example, helping him react to such problems as the use of profanity by some children during the rap sessions.
"When they say a [profane] word, I would say, 'Do you know another word you can use for that?' " Courtney says. "I would make them think."
As he speaks about his role with the youths, Catherine Pee beam with motherly pride.
"He carries himself far beyond his years, to the point where he gets his point over to whomever he's speaking to," said Mrs. Pee. "I noticed that at a very early age."
She and her husband of 35 years, Robert Pee, operate a small construction business. She says Courtney, the youngest of the couple's four children, may have developed adult-like mannerisms by eavesdropping on adults in the house.
The teen, a ninth-grader at the Baltimore School for the Arts, struggles to balance his mentoring activities with school, church, friends, poetry-writing -- and a girlfriend. Not to mention his acting debut in the movie industry which, he says, was a one-line speaking role in the film "Major League II." He keeps a memento of his movie role with photos of himself and his mother with actor Charlie Sheen at a casting party. He hopes to become a stage actor someday.
Ms. Mason, the librarian, said the children see Courtney as a down-to-earth neighbor -- despite the fact that he attends a specialized school outside of the community. She said the teen has helped the youths broaden their views of the world by talking to them about theater and showing them some things he's learned in classes at the School for the Arts.
The children agree.
"It's just that we get a chance to do stuff that we never had done before," said 10-year-old James Roberts as he sat around a table at the Pimlico library with two other boys. He thinks of his mentor as a big brother. "He always says if we have a problem, we can tell him," he said.
Ms. Mason and Courtney said some of the sessions with the children have been difficult. She says it is not easy for any 14-year-old to deal with the behavioral problems of six or seven children.
She hopes to recruit an adult male to work with him to bring more discipline and direction, but is quick to add that this does not detract from Courtney's invaluable contribution.
"Quite frankly, I think he runs into some of the same problems that adult teachers run into with negative behavior," said Ms. Mason. "But I think they appreciate the fact that he's shown an interest in them."