Teaching peers nonviolence is mission of 9-year-old Leon Little

NEIGHBORS

May 02, 2000|By Pamela Woolford | Pamela Woolford,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

NINE-YEAR-OLD Leon Little III, like many kids his age, dreams big: "I want to be a basketball player and a doctor," he says.

But unlike most 9-year-olds, Leon is turning some of his big dreams into reality. A fourth-grader at Jeffers Hill Elementary School, Leon founded the local nonprofit advocacy group Young Kids Against Violence (YKAV) in October with the support of his mother, Sherl White, and with fellow classmates Jordan McGill and Walter Richardson.

On April 24, "The Oprah Winfrey Show" came to Columbia to tape a segment, which aired yesterday, about Leon's work with YKAV.

Last month, he was a guest at the signing of Maryland's landmark gun-safety bill in Annapolis at which President Clinton thanked Leon's group in his address.

Fifteen of YKAV's 30 members, most of whom attend Jeffers Hill Elementary, attended the signing.

Members of the youth-run group teach nonviolent conflict resolution by talking to fellow pupils after school, passing out fliers in local neighborhoods, and sponsoring talks with police and parole officers.

"It's important to me because I would not want anyone else to die by violence," Leon said. "I don't want another kid to find a gun and it goes off, and I don't want to be the next one killed."

Violence is a subject close to Leon's heart. Three of his family members have been killed by violent crimes in the past four years, and his father is serving two life sentences for murder.

"When I wake up, I wake up my mother and tell her I love her because I don't know if I'll see her again," Leon said. "When my uncle had died last year, it made me feel mad because my uncle really meant a lot to me. We'd go out shopping sometimes, or he'd come to my grandmother's house and we'd play video games."

DeVarlo "Dicky" Crawford, Leon's uncle, a Washingtonresident, was shot and killed in that city at age 29 while on his way to a memorial service for Myron Caldwell, Leon's cousin, a Greenbelt resident, who had been shot a year earlier during a robbery in Landover. He was 23.

Other YKAV members have had similar experiences. Two years ago, Jordan experienced the death of her cousin Kevans Bradshaw Hall II, a student at Howard Community College and an Oakland Mills High School graduate. Hall was stabbed and killed at a Florida beach resort.

Leon and Jordan have testified about anti-violence matters on Capitol Hill and at the State House in Annapolis, once to ensure the continuance of minigrants that help fund local anti-violence groups such as theirs.

After that testimony, Lynn Bopp, executive director of the Governor's Office on Service and Volunteerism, wrote to Leon: "The Senators voted to reconsider the funding for minigrants next year and they mentioned your presentation as the reason for their decision."

The two were the only elementary school children to participate in a safe schools summit sponsored by the Service and Volunteerism Office in the fall.After the summit, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend called Leon's mother to express how impressed she was with Leon's and Jordan's abilities to "hold their own ground," as White puts it, and express themselves among the older students.

The two will participate in another such summit tomorrow.

Leon is the recipient of several awards this year for his work with YKAV. On March 2, he was honored with the Kids to Kids National Service Award from the Child Welfare League of America. Five days later, Glendening presented him with a Governor's Citation.

On Sunday, Leon leaves for a four-day trip to Florida and Disney World with his grandmother as a recipient of the Millennium Dreamer's award, sponsored by Walt Disney Co. and McDonald's Corp. He was one of 2,000 winners internationally. The entrants wrote essays on how they use their lives to help others.

In addition to his work with YKAV, Leon is a mentor to Meiko Evans, a kindergartner at Jeffers Hill Elementary.

"I think it's important for me to help him out and show him that violence isn't right," Leon said. "I want him to grow up in a violence-free world."

And Leon's doing all he can to make that dream come true.

`It's Academic'

Hammond High School won the quarter-finals of "It's Academic" with a score of 500 against Meade High School, which scored 370, and Owings Mills High School, which scored 320.

Zack Richardson, a senior, is Hammond High's team's captain. The other team members are Meg Tilley, a senior, and Steve Kaltenbaugh, a sophomore.

Bob Jenkins, a world history teacher, is the team coach.

The show aired April 22 on WJZ-TV.

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