Violence transforms a young life; Boy, 9, is the force behind anti-violence club for children


His father is serving two life sentences for murder, and three of his family members have been killed by acts of violence.

Leon Little III is 9 years old.

"I'm really just sick and tired of the violence," says the fourth-grader at Columbia's Jeffers Hill Elementary School. "I want it to stop."

Leon is working to launch a group called "Young Kids Against Violence," in partnership with his mother and several friends -- one of whom had a cousin stabbed to death last year and another whose mother was nearly killed by a rock thrower in August.

"Just like my mom told me, it's two roads you can go on," says Leon, who plays football for the Columbia Bulldogs, a youth league team. "The golden brick road that leads you to success, or the dark and dusty road that leads you to jail. And, so far, all of us are on the right one."

Leon and his mother, Sherl White, have secured the backing of Howard County police Officer Lisa Myers, who is assigned to the anti-crime HotSpot program in Long Reach Village, where Leon lives. They have also found a local printer to help design and print fliers at no cost.

Tuesday night, accompanied by classmate Jordan McGill, 9, and seven other children, Leon went before the Long Reach Village Board to appeal for support and space to hold meetings.

Six village officials sat at a table as Leon, armed with a clipboard and a one-page typed speech, stood before them. He had never spoken in public, but he didn't sound as nervous as he said he felt.

"My goal in the fourth grade," said Leon, who built a figure of Martin Luther King Jr. out of clay as a project in the second grade, "is to start a club called YKAV, which stands for Young Kids Against Violence." He said the group's aim is to hold two meetings and one community outreach event a month.

"This is the future," he said, pointing to the classmates behind him, "educating these kids and other kids our age on how to stop and not get involved in the violence."

Next, Jordan read an anti-violence pledge that she downloaded from the Internet and hopes group members will sign: "I will never bring a gun to school. I will never use a gun to settle a dispute. I will use my influence with my friends to keep them from using guns to settle disputes."

Jordan's cousin, Kevans Bradshaw Hall II, a graduate of Oakland Mills High School, was one of two young men stabbed to death last year at a Florida beach resort during spring break. Four men have pleaded guilty in the case; three others are scheduled to go on trial next month.

"I'm really careful now because it can happen to me," said Jordan. "It can happen to everybody."

The mother of another group member, Walter Richardson, 8, was the victim of a rock-throwing attack in August. Lynn McKissic, a Sun delivery driver, suffered severe head and facial injuries after being hit with a softball-sized rock. Walter's grandmother, Alexia McKissic, is helping organize the group.

"It's innovative," Myers said of Leon's idea, "and I think it takes a lot of heart for a kid that small. Any way we can assist him, I think it's a great idea."

Two of Leon's uncles and a cousin have died by acts of violence, White said. Most recently, his uncle Teddy Garvin, a senior at Ballou High School in Washington, was fatally shot last month as he sat on a bus.

Leon's father, Leon Little Jr., was convicted in 1993 of first-degree murder in the slayings 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, a prison spokeswoman said.

In the past, White has taken Leon to see his father -- who was convicted when Leon was 3 -- because she wanted him to know both of his parents. Now, Leon talks to his father mostly by phone.

"It makes me feel real mad that he did something that he wasn't supposed to do," said Leon. "I don't think what he did is right."

According to White, Leon Little Jr. said he would have forced his son to work the streets by the time he was 6, just as his father did with him.

"His father has always told him it's better for [his father] to be incarcerated. He would have put him on the streets" to deal drugs, among other things, White said.

The idea for Young Kids Against Violence came a few weeks ago while Leon, his mother and his friend DiAngelo Smith-Stokes, 8, a Jeffers Hill third-grader, were in a car. The song "It's so Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday," by Boyz II Men, came on the radio and reminded Leon of the family he had lost to violence:

How do I say goodbye to what we had? The good times that made us laugh Outweigh the bad. I thought we'd get to see forever But forever's gone away It's so hard to say goodbye to yesterday.

Leon started sobbing. And, from there, YKAV was born.

Since the village board meeting Tuesday night, Treover Condominiums, where Leon lives, has agreed to give the group a place to meet. School officials also seem willing to support the effort. Jeffers Hill Principal Stephen Zagami said the school would distribute Leon's fliers if they are approved by the public information office.

"If [the group] would change some students' opinions or some students' ideas about what's acceptable and what's not acceptable, then that would be a good thing," he said.

Vice Principal Edwin Saunders called Leon an "ideal spokesperson" who would "definitely get the ear of his peers."

"I did ask his mother to get from him a serious commitment, because it would require a lot of time," he said. "It would be very stressful, especially the age that he is."

Leon, Jordan and the others are also trying to start an anti-violence project as part of the school's gifted and talented program. Jordan already has a topic in mind: "Why are people killing other people?"

Focusing resources on the 12-and-under age group is becoming more important in crime-fighting and crime-prevention efforts, said Myers, the Howard police officer.

"I think we're beginning to see that kids younger are beginning to get into more things," she said. "Society is just changing. Kids are exposed to more violence, just in general."

Myers plans to invite Leon to a meeting of the HotSpot's Neighborhood Enrichment Work Group on Oct. 25.

Before the village board meeting, Leon and his friends sat in his living room exchanging ideas about the group.

"I think I know what our flag should look like already," said DiAngelo.

"We're gonna call [the governor]," said Jordan. "We're gonna be like Martin Luther King."

"I'm not taking no for an answer," said Leon.

Pub Date: 10/07/99

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