Sarah Goodwin

Kathi Ovnic
Holly Korschun
July 10, 1998


For her extraordinary efforts in helping Atlanta youth who have been traumatized by urban violence, Bernadette Leite of the Rollins School of Public Health of Emory University has been selected to receive a Jefferson Award for Public Service from the American Institute for Public Service as wellas a 1998 11Alive Community Service Award.

During a live, televised ceremony that aired in April on Atlanta's WXIA-TV, Ms. Leite received an 11Alive Community Service Award plus $1,000 to donate to a charity of her choice. She also had the opportunity to shed tears of a different sort than those that spurred her to create an innovative approach to violence prevention.

"I am a mother who has become one of the many people in metropolitan Atlanta who has survived the violent death of a child," Ms. Leite says. "At 3:45 a.m. on Aug. 14, 1993, my telephone rang: my son, Khalil, had been shot and killed on a street in downtown Atlanta.

"After delivering the news to each of my two sisters, I had the difficult task of telling my 7-year-old son and my 83-year-old mother that Khalil had been murdered. Khalil's death left his brother, two sisters (ages 14 and 15), his father, a grandmother, a grandfather, five aunts, five uncles, tons of cousins, hordes of friends and me -- all survivors.

"His friends were angry, hurting, in pain, helpless and unable to deal with the tragedy. At the funeral, I had to break up a couple of fights. That day changed my life and in that moment I took my cue to make a difference. I was determined that Khalil's death would be a beacon light of hope for these young people.

"Kids kept calling my house to talk and cry. Some of their parents would call me and ask for help and advice. To my surprise there were no support groups for youth survivors of violence," she recalls.

"Most of the youth and some of their parents have never been seen by a mental health professional to help them process their grief. Some are depressed, frustrated, scared, angry and filled with a 'get even revenge' that puts them at risk of perpetrating a violent act or being a victim of violence."

In March 1994, seven months after Khalil's death, Ms. Leite chose Kids Alive and Loved (taken from Khalil's initials, KAL) as the name for an initiative aimed at supporting youth survivors of violence.

Calling upon her training as a counselor, Ms. Leite was determined to give these youth a healing forum in which to work out their strong and sometimes suppressed or misdirected feelings. In the process, she and her group discovered one possible solution to youth violence: giving survivors the opportunity to offer support to youth who are grieving the violent death of multiple friends and/or family members. The Wednesday night KAL sessions held under the florescent lights of a Crawford Long Hospital classroom have become legendary. Rough and tough bullies have shed tears -- and the scared and stonewalled faces of adolescent girls have been warmed and relaxed.

"Youth can help their peers address pertinent issues in the wake of trauma, as they attempt to enact internal solutions," says Ms. Leite, who has a master's in counseling and is community outreach coordinator at the Institute for Minority Health Research at Emory's Rollins School of Public Health. "Sitting with a group of peers who have all gone through a similar traumatic experience can be the most powerful experience a child can have in rethinking the meaning of that experience."

KAL has since its inception been an integral part of the Institute for Minority Health Research in the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Health Education at the Rollins School of Public Health of Emory University.

"Emory is proud of the leadership and commitment of Bernadette Leite and we are very pleased that she has been selected for a Jefferson Award for Public Service and an 11Alive Community Service Award," says Emory University Provost Rebecca Chopp. "Caring for our community is central to the mission of Emory and it is people like

Ms. Leite who demonstrate this mission in life-giving ways." James Curran, M.D., dean, Rollins School of Public Health, concurs.

"Bernadette and her colleagues have approached the forgotten victims of violence in an innovative and effective way," he says. "Kids Alive and Loved is a proactive response to one of the most compelling public health problems in our community."

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