Kenneth "Kenny" Minton III knows what it's like to lose a teenage friend to violence. Three years ago, his best friend from his after-school program was killed in a drive-by shooting.
"She was killed because her older brother was in a gang," said Kenny, 13, of the North Side.
The loss was Kenny's inspiration for his winning poem in the "Do the Write Thing" contest, sponsored by the National Campaign to Stop Violence. The contest was for seventh- and eighth-grade students across the country to write about ways to stop violence in their communities.
Kenny was the top male winner in the Pittsburgh area and will go to the national conference in Washington, D.C., in July to be honored as a National Ambassador. Kenny just completed eighth grade at Pittsburgh Classical Academy in Pittsburgh and is a student in the Summerbridge Program at Sewickley Academy, where he will attend high school in the fall.
Kenny said his poem discusses the loss through street violence and urges young people to do other things besides joining a gang.
"I based my poem on her death, but the girl in my poem was in a gang," he said. "The poem says to not be in a gang -- to be a lawyer or a judge, to make something of your life."
Kenny's poem exemplifies the mission of the organization, which is to help students fight violence in their own lives through different strategies, said Rashid Darden, program coordinator for "Do the Write Thing."
"His poem expresses fear and hope at the same time," he said.
Kenny's English teacher at Pittsburgh Classical Academy, Paula Foley, told her students about the contest and then entered their writings.
"When I found out he won, I screamed and hugged him, but I'm not surprised. Kenny is a very bright student and a very good writer," she said.
Ms. Foley will accompany Kenny to Washington, D.C., along with one of his parents for the program. "It will be great to be with Kenny to support him in this experience. He is just a very, very unique child," she said.
Mr. Darden said students from 30 cities across the country submit entries. The program has been national since 1996.
Mr. Darden said the student ambassadors will get to visit various government leaders, visit Capitol Hill and present the finished book of their writings to the Library of Congress.
"It is a great experience for the students," he said. "We want them to take their experiences and truly be 'ambassadors' to stop the violence when they return home."
National winning entries for the "Do the Write Thing" competition will be published in a book.
After learning he was a finalist in the contest, Kenny was interviewed by a local committee of volunteers including representatives from Judge Dwayne Woodruff's office. Mr. Woodruff is co-chairman of the contest in the Pittsburgh area with his wife, Joy.
The Mintons learned Kenny was the top male winner in Pittsburgh at a recent ceremony at Duquesne University.
"We couldn't believe it when we heard his name. He leaned over and hugged me, then hugged his dad. It was great," said his mother, Julie.
Even though writing is one of Kenny's favorite activities -- along with a variety of sports -- his mother said he doesn't take his writing skills for granted.
"We want him to be the first one in our family to attend college. That is pretty important to his dad and me, and Kenny enjoys the program," Mrs. Minton said.
Despite spending a good deal of his "off" months in summer school, Kenny said, "I want to be a lawyer, and I know it takes a lot of hard work."
Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.