Activist Ron Hunt says he was a thug once, but not now.

A Hard-Knock Life 

Activist Ron Hunt says he was a thug once, but not now.

Ron Hunt has had a hard few weeks.

In early December, the anti-violence activist got into a fight with his wife, Toddisha Brown. On December 20, a grand jury indicted him on two felony counts of second-degree domestic assault and unlawful use of a weapon.

In her request for a protection order against her husband, Brown wrote that he had hit her in the face "more than twenty times." She alleged that he had threatened to cut her mother's neck, then thrown Brown into a table and continued to hit her. "He had a knife saying he was going to kill me and my whole family," Brown wrote, adding that by the end of the fight, she had a black eye and the left side of her face was swollen. Then, she wrote, "he boarded the door so I couldn't leave and took the phone."

Hunt filed his own protection order against Brown. In it, he said he came home and argued with Brown over money. When she told him he could pay all the bills by himself, he pointed a finger in her face and told her, "You will help me as long as you are here." She slapped his hand away and ran into the kitchen to get a knife. "I extended my hand out to her and she cut me with the knife," he wrote. "I took the knife away from her and threw it behind the VCR tapes."

Hunt says he never threatened Brown with a knife. He has pleaded not guilty. On January 16, Hunt and Brown agreed to accept the protection orders they had filed against each other and to work out custody of their two sons without court involvement.

"I feel sometimes like I failed," Hunt tells the Pitch. "I felt like I let a community of kids down, because I preach so much about nonviolence."

Hunt works part-time as a community organizer at the Christ Temple Church at 34th and Paseo; he's also a music promoter.

In a 1995 effort to get guns off the streets, he sponsored a forum involving midtown residents and police. He helped organize a "bus buddies" program to protect school kids as they waited for their morning buses. Hunt brought Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan to Kansas City in 1996.

In 1997, Hunt started an organization called Meet Me in the Middle. He'd had the idea in 1996 after the murders of hip-hop stars Tupac Shakur and Christopher Wallace, who recorded under the name Biggie Smalls. Hunt attended a conference at Farrakhan's house in Chicago, where East Coast and West Coast rappers gathered to talk about how they could end their feuds. Twice a year since then, Hunt has hosted a Peace in the Streets forum for kids in Kansas City. He offers them tickets to hip-hop shows -- if they attended forums on managing money, staying off drugs and going to college. His guest in 2000 was Voletta Wallace, Biggie Smalls' mother.

Last January, Hunt organized a forum for the families of local murder victims whose killers had never been found.

Hunt frequently organizes events with fellow activist Alonzo Washington, a comic-book artist and publisher. In 2001, he and Washington were front and center drawing attention in the Precious Doe case. They also held protests after the 1998 death of Timothy Wilson, a thirteen-year-old boy who stole a truck and was later shot to death by several police officers. And they fought for criminal charges to be brought in the 1999 death of Demetrius Davis, a black man who died after being restrained by four white employees who caught him shoplifting at a midtown Osco. (No one was ever indicted in his death, because Davis had traces of cocaine in his system.)

But over the years, Hunt has had his own trouble with the law.

Growing up in the Blue Hills neighborhood, Hunt says, he was a delinquent from a single-parent home. In and out of juvenile jails since the age of twelve, he was selling drugs before he became a teen-ager. He stole bikes and cars and committed an assortment of petty crimes. "I was a bad boy. I was fucked-up," Hunt says. "I was a bad boy who needed his ass kicked." In 1977 he earned two years' probation for malicious destruction of property.

In 1980, he met eighteen-year-old Thelma Roddy. After they were married, she says, he abused her regularly. "He would fight me like a dude -- black eyes, busted lips, kicked me down stairs and stuff like that," Roddy tells the Pitch.

Hunt once shot out windows in the home of a family acquaintance because he thought Janice Nickens' son -- a longtime rival of his -- had smashed the window on his car. "In court he said he made a mistake," Nickens tells the Pitch. "I never was paid for my windows."

There was also a bizarre incident in which Hunt shot himself in the stomach. Roddy suggests this was a suicide attempt, but Hunt says he was drunk and fell down a flight of stairs and that his gun -- he always carried one back then -- went off.

Hunt doesn't deny the abuse, but he says it's all in the past. He divorced Roddy in 1994.

"He was never really physically violent with me," says his second wife, Pamela Lark. "Sometimes his words and actions I didn't trust, so I had to put out protection orders." She asked for one before they got married and one after.

The pair tried counseling but agreed to divorce in 1995.

"He has a heart of gold," Lark says. "After we had divorced, he did things in the community, got more active."

Hunt says his turnaround began in 1989, when he was convicted on drug charges and spent two years in prison. There, he read books on black history. After his release, he started speaking at schools and juvenile detention centers, and he became a patient representative at Samuel U. Rodgers Community Health Center. He also attended meetings at Ad Hoc, the community organization now known as Move Up.

But his activism took off when he attended the Million Man March in Washington, D.C., in 1995. Thanks to an introduction from Jesse Jackson, whom Hunt had met in Kansas City the year before, Hunt became a protégé of march organizer Farrakhan. Though Hunt never converted to Islam, he says Farrakhan's powerful self-help messages hit home.

"Sure, I robbed. Sure, I hustled women. Sure, I did all these bad things," he says. "But I put back twelve years of service in the community."

Hunt says his latest indictment shows that the Jackson County prosecutor's office, which Hunt has criticized in the past, is out to get him.

"The way the prosecutors are going after Ron, it's clear it's an abuse of power and there's some kind of personal vendetta," Washington says.

"Who ever heard of somebody getting indicted for a domestic abuse?" Hunt says.

John Liebnitz, spokesman for the prosecutor's office, says state law prevents him from discussing why a grand jury was convened, but he says that the office has no special agenda with Hunt. "The only interest the prosecutor's office has is fighting the crime he's accused of," Liebnitz says.

For his part, Hunt says he's planning a forum in February to examine the prosecutor's handling of the Wilson and Davis cases. "We will do a report card on prosecutors and police," he says. "We have too many people out here on the streets who have killed people. That's where our tax dollars go. This summer, it's going to get real hot down at the courthouse."

But Hunt might be feeling some of that heat himself. His own court date has not yet been set.


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