News Column

10 Palm Beach County students honored for Stop the Violence essays; 2 to go to D.C.

May 12, 2014

By Sonja Isger, The Palm Beach Post, Fla.



May 12--More than 25,000 Palm Beach County middle school students put pen to paper this year to describe how bullying and violence affected them. While it was an exercise in writing, the papers revealed much deeper truths about the state of childhood -- all 10 winners had been victims of, or witnesses to guns, gangs, murder or abuse.

Some were stories that students had kept to themselves, but felt compelled to reveal in order to be part of the solution.

The effort was part of the National Campaign to Stop Violence's Do the Write Thing Challenge. The top essay writers from each middle school were honored at a luncheon Monday at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts.

"I want people to know what happened. I want to make a difference," said Michael Lesh, a sixth-grader at Don Estridge High Tech Middle School in Boca Raton.

Lesh's 21-year-old brother, Richard, was shot to death in a convenience store robbery when Lesh was only months old. Lesh hadn't told his classmates this story. While Lesh grew up with the grief of a brother lost, only when he sat down with his mother did he learn many of the details that he thinks important to share.

"I wonder if the killer would have made a different choice if he had pictured my family crying over Richard at his funeral? Would it have made him more sympathetic, knowing how many people's lives he was destroying? Maybe he would have a different perspective if he knew that over 11 years later we still think about Richard every day. This act of violence devastated my family."

Kennedy Thomas met violence in her home.

The eighth-grader at Crestwood Middle in Royal Palm Beach recounted in her essay how she and her sister were beaten by her once drug-addicted mother and her mother's boyfriends. "We always thought that we were bad kids because that's the mentality that she put into our heads."

Thomas escaped by moving in with her father in Florida. When she thinks of solutions, she thinks first of teaching people to help set boundaries and then stand up for themselves. She envisions children pledging to be violence-free.

Lesh and Thomas earned top marks for their essays and will be the Palm Beach County School District's "ambassadors" to the national ceremony in Washington, D.C.

Sheriff Ric Bradshaw and the county's top prosecutor State Attorney Dave Aronberg urged the students to be vigilant against violence.

"We can't arrest our way out of this," Bradshaw said. "Because gangs, they recruit kids." (Kids as young as 8 years old, he said.) And if it's not a gang problem, it's a drug problem. "Eighty percent of the 3,000 people in my jail are there because they bought, sold, used or robbed to get drugs."

Aronberg added his own daunting statistics: 4,407 crimes were committed by juveniles last year in Palm Beach County; 2,695 juveniles last year were charged with crimes from loitering to attempted murder.

"It's too many," Aronberg said.

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(c)2014 The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.)

Visit The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.) at www.palmbeachpost.com

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Source: Palm Beach Post (FL)


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