Little boy with big message goes on national TV

9-year-old who began anti-violence group to appear on `Oprah'

May 01, 2000|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

His name may be Little, but his anti-violence club is anything but.

Leon Little III, the Columbia 9-year-old who in the fall founded a group called Young Kids Against Violence, is taking his local cause on national television.

The fourth-grader at Jeffers Hill Elementary School is scheduled to appear on a segment of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" that is scheduled to be aired at 4 p.m. today.

The show recognizes some of the winners of the Millennium Dreamers essay contest, sponsored by McDonald's and Disney, for children who are making a difference in their communities.

Leon, whose father is serving two life sentences for murder and who has had family members die by gun violence, began the anti-violence group in October with several friends who, like him, have been affected by violent acts.

Among them are Jordan McGill, 9, whose cousin was one of two Howard County men stabbed to death during a spring break trip to Florida in 1998, and Walter Richardson, 8, whose mother was severely injured last year in a rock-throwing incident while delivering newspapers for The Sun.

Leon traveled with his grandmother to Winfrey's Chicago studio last week to meet the talk-show host and tape his segment of the program. He had never flown in an airplane before.

When Leon began Young Kids Against Violence, he couldn't find a place to hold meetings. Then came the offers -- not just for meeting space at Long Reach Church of God, but for T-shirts and printed fliers and logo design, and help writing grant proposals.

Even before today's appearance on "Oprah," Leon had taken his message well beyond the Columbia community.

In the six months Young Kids Against Violence has existed, he and other club participants have testified at a hearing on child-proof guns at Maryland Shock Trauma Center; attended a gun-law enforcement summit in Annapolis as the guests of Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend; and become witness to history at Gov. Parris N. Glendening's signing of landmark gun-safety legislation.

Leon's father, Leon Little Jr., was convicted in 1993 of first-degree murder in the deaths of two suspected drug dealers in College Park in 1992. He is serving two life sentences at the Maryland House of Correction Annex in Jessup.

"I am basically amazed that a 9-year-old child had such a positive outcome from a negative situation," said Sherl White, Leon's mother, who, with several other parents, has helped organize the group.

The "Oprah" crew spent a day taping Leon and other Young Kids Against Violence members last week in Columbia. The day ended with the children handing out club fliers at a supermarket and discussing at one of their bimonthly meetings why it's important to stay out of trouble. Leon will travel to Walt Disney World next week as part of the Millennium Dreamers contest.

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