The people who knew him thought Davon Leggett had a shot, even if his background argued otherwise. He grew up in modest circumstances and lost his father to violence, but he qualified for a special program that put him in college.
He was a 22-year-old rising senior at Southern University at New Orleans when he was killed early Aug. 29 outside a friend’s apartment in Terrytown.
Now, as the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office continues its search for clues in his killing, retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré is donating seed money to establish an undergraduate memorial fund in Leggett’s name.
“We wanted to honor him,” Honoré said, “to remind people what he had done throughout his life, and also as a reminder of what we have to deal with out here in this world that we live in.”
Leggett was found shot several times in the driveway of a friend’s apartment in the 1100 block of Whitney Avenue about 1:30 a.m. Investigators found several spent 9mm casings near his body.
JPSO spokesman Col. John Fortunato said Friday that he had no updates to offer on the case.
At a memorial service Wednesday night on the SUNO campus, friends and family urged each other to remember the young man’s life and not the circumstances under which he died.
Leggett’s father was murdered when he was just 4 months old, said Warren Bell, the director of SUNO’s Honoré Center for Undergraduate Student Achievement. He was raised by an aunt in modest means.
“He had complete humility,” Bell said. “He was totally self-aware of all the reasons why he was not supposed to be a success, and why he was supposed to be dead by now.”
As a senior at Carver High School, Leggett was selected for admittance to the first class at the Honoré Center, a program — named after the widely admired general who led the military’s response to Hurricane Katrina — for promising students who do not otherwise have the grades to qualify for admission. He had struggled academically, but Bell and others saw potential in him.
Along with 16 other students in the center’s 2012 cohort, he technically attended Southern University at Shreveport while residing on the SUNO campus. He was given a stipend and academic coaching. In turn, he was expected to meet strict academic performance guidelines, and he was forbidden to bring girls back to his dorm room after curfew hours.
Fellow Honoré Center student Jacobi Crockett, 22, recalled how the two close friends would discuss the challenges of the program and their similarly tough backgrounds. The Honoré men formed a band of brothers, living all together, four to an apartment.
Crockett said Leggett would tell him how he sometimes felt he could not return to his family’s home. The pair did everything together, even rapping on stage. Leggett would freestyle with confidence about whatever idea came to him.
“He was just him,” Crockett said. “I never remember him writing anything down. He would just come off the top of his head with it.”
Leggett struggled academically at times. After four semesters, he left the Honoré Center program, and his grades were sometimes spotty.
But this summer, he seemed to turn things around, Bell said. He was taking summer classes to make up for his sagging GPA, and he was volunteering at a summer camp SUNO offers for children ages 6 to 12, many of whom grew up under the same difficult circumstances as Leggett.
“When he arrived, they’d light up, because they related,” Bell said. “He related to them, and they related to him.”
Celina Carson, an assistant professor of health, nutrition and physical education who ran the camp, recalled the “beautiful” smile Leggett wore when he walked in every day.
An education major, he dreamed of becoming a teacher.
“He didn’t just want to be a teacher; he was a teacher,” Carson said.
On Aug. 28, Leggett hugged Bell goodbye as he left the campus. Hours later, he was dead.
Now, Honoré and the center named after him are trying to honor Leggett’s memory with the memorial fund in his name.
The fund, supported initially by Honoré’s check but open to donations from the public, as well, will cover essentials as basic as soap and underwear for young men from backgrounds like Leggett’s.
“The only way we will break this cycle of poverty in Louisiana is through education,” Honoré said.
Many of the original members of that 2012 Honoré Center cohort have left the program. But almost all of them returned to campus for the Wednesday memorial service, and eight of them will serve as pallbearers at Leggett’s funeral Saturday morning at Marine Baptist Church in Jefferson Parish.
“We weren’t done with Davon. But, boy, he had gotten it,” Bell said. “My God, the inner spirit of Davon is something that I will go to my grave remembering.”