07/15/1996 at 01:00 AM EDT
LIKE OTHER 13-YEAR-OLD BOYS, Ayinde Jean-Baptiste can swap insights with his pals about popular comic book characters ("The Hulk, he's superstrong, but Superman can freeze people with his breath") and debate the virtues of Wesley Snipes vs. Jean-Claude Van Damme. But when he speaks out about the power of positive self-image, people of all ages listen up. At Chicago's Malcolm X College this spring, Ayinde (pronounced i-YEN-day) filled a makeshift auditorium with about 200 students and parents who applauded as he thundered, "To the great dangers of drugs and alcohol, say. absolutely no!...When it comes to negative peer pressure and gangs and violence, be courageous, stand up!"
The Whitney Young High School ninth grader, one of the country's youngest orators, first took the stage at age 4, when he recited an excerpt from a Martin Luther King speech at his Westside Preparatory School. His spirited delivery led to invitations to speak at local churches, and Ayinde now gives some 25 speeches a year (usually for an honorarium) at schools, drug-treatment centers and churches nationwide—not to mention at last October's Million Man March, where he urged fathers "to take responsibility" for their families. His commanding cadences have caused him to be compared with Jesse Jackson, who calls Ayinde "a rare jewel in our nation." Parents Lionel, a Haitian-born lawyer, and Lenore, a software consultant from Trinidad, both 40, have stressed education to their straight-A son and his sister Aisha, 19, a student at Chicago's Northeastern University (Lionel's older son, Lionel Jr., is a musician), and Ayinde clearly knows how to stir ambition in others. "He's accomplishing what he wants to," says Latoya Washington, 11, who heard him speak at Malcolm X College. "That makes me think, hey, I could do the same thing."