As part of a sixth-grade class project at Don Estridge High Tech Middle School in Boca, students were asked this year to write an essay involving an experience with violence. When Michael Lesh, 12, turned in his paper, he recalls telling his teacher, “This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write.”

After the teacher read his essay, she understood why.

In 2002, Michael’s brother, Richard, stopped at a gas station for a soda and candy; he was trying to stave off a diabetic episode. As he was leaving the store, an armed robber stopped Richard and ordered him to hand over his wallet. When he refused, the assailant shot him in the back. Richard later died at a nearby hospital; he was 21.

Though Michael was only 10 months old at the time, the incident would have a profound impact on his upbringing.

“Imagine you’re a kid growing up here, and you see all these pictures of a kind, loving, gentle man,” Michael says. “And you realize he was killed … and didn’t deserve it.”

Michael’s essay (an excerpt of which follows this story) clearly struck a chord with judges for this year’s “Do the Write Thing Challenge”—an anti-violence program sponsored by the National Campaign to Stop Violence where middle-school students produce essays or poems about bullying and violence. Michael is one of 10 local students recognized for his essay content—and one of two students (one boy, one girl) chosen to represent the county June 14 to 18 in Washington D.C., an all-expenses-paid trip that will include a national ceremony connected to the Campaign to Stop Violence.

“I’m excited to see D.C.,” says Michael, whose parents (pictured with him at the top of the page), teacher and principal will accompany him on the trip. “I want to see the Lincoln Memorial.”

Though Michael was too young to remember, he has grown to know his brother through pictures, stories and hobbies that he enjoyed. Richard would constantly rescue stray animals and bring them to a rescue center; he loved high school wrestling and listening to the band Korn with his father, Richard Sr. He also was a nature-lover, so it came as no surprise when he brought home a coconut that was beginning to sprout. His father found the coconut and planted it. More than a decade later, the Lesh family finds comfort in the large tree that sprung from that little coconut.

“I found it lying under a pile of Richard’s clothes and didn’t think much of it when I put it in the ground,” Richard Sr. says. “Now it has become this big thing we can remember him by.”

The national “Do the Write Thing Challenge” draws some 25,000 entries, with Palm Beach County contributing more than any other county in the nation. Michael is one of the youngest winners of the Challenge, whose goal is to “help students identify the causes of bullying and violence, examining the impact that it has on them and, most important … what each student can do to help prevent it.”

For more information, on the “Do The Write Thing Challenge” go to dothewritethingpalmbeach.com or call 561/832-9434.

From Michael Lesh’s essay: 
“Would He Have Done It If He Knew How Sad I Am?”

“ … This act of violence devastating my family. We have all gone to counseling to help us try to get through this. … The police never found his killer. He robbed me of ever getting to know my brother. He took away the time we would have shared. It’s hard to forgive him. I wish he could know how I feel so maybe he could feel empathy and never do it again.”