Young activists shine in spotlight; Anti-violence group made up of kids receives support


Four days ago, Leon Little III couldn't find a place to hold meetings of his new club, Young Kids Against Violence.

Now, not only has the 9-year-old Columbia fourth-grader secured meeting space from the condominium association where he lives, he has local businesses willing to donate T-shirts, the local health department agreeing to help him write grant proposals, and a leading anti-violence activist asking him to speak at a hearing on childproof handguns.

Leon, whose father is serving two life sentences for murder and who has lost several family members to acts of violence, has been deluged with support in his effort to launch YKAV since being profiled Thursday in The Sun.

Several of Leon's friends -- one of whom had a cousin stabbed to death last year and another whose mother was critically injured by a rock thrower in August -- are helping organize the club, which is aimed at keeping children 12 and younger out of trouble.

"It's good that people have it in their hearts to see that young kids want to do something with their life," said Sherl White, Leon's mother and one of the adult sponsors of YKAV. "And I hope it can touch more people."

Ginni Wolf, executive director of Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse, has invited Leon to speak at a public hearing on childproof handguns Tuesday night -- an invitation Leon's mother planned to accept yesterday. The hearing, scheduled for 7 p.m. at Maryland Shock Trauma Center, is being sponsored by the Governor's Task Force on Childproof Guns.

"I just think it would be very impressive for them to say 'this is our position,' " said Wolf, whose husband, a state trooper, was fatally shot at a traffic stop in Howard County in 1990.

Wolf also wants Leon and his friends, who attend Jeffers Hill Elementary School in Columbia's Long Reach village, to address the more than 40 children who participate in a violence prevention program she runs at Cedar Lane Park every Friday after school. That program, for first- through eighth-graders, is funded by a Howard County Police Department grant.

"I really want my kids to hear them," said Wolf, "because when we get to [the question of] what can you do about the violence, the kids always say, 'There's nothing we can do, we're just kids.' I really think there could be a real two-way benefit there.

"I don't think that elementary is too young to start," she added. "It's getting to be more prevalent, and little kids have feelings of anger and things, too. They watch TV; they see the violence."

Leon's father was convicted in 1993 of first-degree murder in the slayings of two suspected drug dealers in College Park. He is incarcerated at the Maryland House of Correction Annex in Jessup.

Leon, who went before the Long Reach Village Board on Tuesday night to appeal for support, has been flooded with news media requests for interviews, both on-camera and off, over the past few days and has become something of a star at school.

"Everybody wanted my autograph," he said.

Jordan McGill, 9, said that several classmates expressed interest in joining YKAV, saying they wanted to "get their act together."

Jordan's cousin, Kevans Bradshaw Hall II, was one of two Howard County men stabbed to death on a spring break trip to Florida last year.

Support for YKAV goes even further. The addictions unit of the Howard County health department has offered to help Leon get funding through grants. Dr. Mary Ellen Merrick, an associate professor at Loyola College's Howard County campus who teaches a graduate class on substance abuse and is a therapist for the Columbia-based Sexual Trauma Treatment Advocacy and Recovery Center, has suggested bringing Leon and his club to class to work with her students.

The Columbia Swim Center also contacted Leon's mother about being host of a party. When Leon and a fellow YKAV member, Walter Richardson, 8, heard about that, White said, "their faces lit up like a Christmas tree."

Walter's mother, Lynn McKissic, a Sun delivery driver, suffered severe facial and head injuries in August after being hit by a softball-sized rock thrown through her van's window.

White said the parent sponsors of YKAV plan to meet Thursday to discuss guidelines for the club. In the meantime, Leon and his friends are drafting letters to Gov. Parris N. Glendening and the state's two U.S. senators.

Said Wolf of Leon: "I really can't wait to meet him."

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