Thursday, April 19, 2001

Thomas' mother shows strength in grief

By Shauna Scott Rhone
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Angela Leisure talks in her Golf Manor home about the shooting death of her son.
(Steven M. Herppich photos)
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        Angela Leisure has been a calming voice in Cincinnati's week of civil unrest. It was her 19-year-old son's shooting death at the hands of Cincinnati police April 7 that sparked the worst rioting this city has seen in 30 years. And yet the 34-year-old woman went before TV cameras, radio microphones and angry crowds asking for violence to stop.

        She was among Tristate and national African-American leaders who went to City Council asking council to finally respond to what she called years of intimidating police tactics.

        Three days after laying her son, Timothy Thomas, to rest, Ms. Leisure sat at the dining room table of her modest Golf Manor house and talked about her life. About growing up with 16 brothers and sisters in a south Chicago neighborhood. About her mother's death, and the decision to move her family to Cincinnati — away from the violence of Chicago.

        She smiled through recollections of how she met and fell in love with her husband, Eric. And she praised the qualities of each of the seven children — her own and others — she has raised.

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        When she talked about Timothy, she cried.

        Ms. Leisure agreed to the Enquirer's request for an interview because she wanted people to know who she is and how Timothy's death affected her family.

        “This thing is tearing this family up,” she said. “They all think Mom can handle anything, so it makes it hard to show my grief in front of them. I can't focus, can't think straight. I do what I do because I don't ever want some other mother to go through this pain and hurt.”

Learning from her mom
        Ms. Leisure says people have always looked to her to solve problems. Carrying that responsibility began when she was a child, second youngest of the 17 children.

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        “The older ones even looked to me to handle things when my mother died” in 1992, she said. “I took care of the arrangements, the burial, everything.

        “I always had to be the strong one.”

        That strength enabled Ms. Leisure to accomplish things as she grew up. She was the first in her family to earn a high school diploma, graduating from Chicago's Bloom High School in 1984. She also was the first to go to college, studying to be a certified medical assistant at Eastern College of Health in Little Rock, Ark., in 1988.

        Ms. Leisure now works at Goodwill Industries. She remembers telling her mother she wanted to work with developmentally disabled people. That was when she discovered her mother had once done the same kind of work.

        “She said, "You have the heart for it.' And she was right. I'm just like her.”

        Ms. Leisure moved to Cincinnati in 1997. Despite the distance, she remained close to her siblings.

        “My brothers and sisters know today if they have a problem and it's 3 o'clock in the morning, they'll say, "Let's call Angie.' And they know I'll be there.”

Raising a family
        Another thing that Ms. Leisure said she had in common with her mother was a giving heart.

        She opened her door when Timothy brought Alesia, a neglected 12-year-old girl, to her door in Chicago. And she took in two nephews and a niece to help her siblings through their personal problems.

        Now 21, Alesia was the first to leave home. She lives in Rockford, Ill., where she holds a real-estate license and works as a supervisor in a program for developmentally disabled.

        Timothy was the next to leave home, alternately staying with his mother and his girlfriend, Monique Wilcox, and their 3-month-old son in Over-the-Rhine.

        Ms. Leisure still has a son, a daughter, two nieces and a nephew under her roof. Martaz, an 8-year-old nephew, and Nikita, an 8-year-old niece, are both honor-roll students.

        Another niece, 21-year-old Brandy, is a kind-hearted person who stays close to Ms. Leisure's side. Son Terry, 16, is a jokester: “He brings laughter everywhere he goes. I think he'd be a great comedian,” she said.

        Daughter Tangelisa, 10, is “highly sensitive” and was particularly close to Timothy, Ms. Leisure said. “She was the one who most depended on Tim.”

        Ms. Leisure told all her children — both the biological ones and the ones she took in — that people are parents by choice.

        “So some of you were born to me and for some of you, I chose to be your parent,” she said. “And all of you are special to me.”

Coping with death

        Ms. Leisure's children are learning to cope with Timothy's death, even under the watchful eye of the public. His funeral was moved from a funeral home to a church to accommodate the overflow crowd that gathered for it.

        Publicly, Ms. Leisure has said she isn't proud of some of the decisions that her son made, but she also points out he was only 19.

        Timothy was running from police — who knew he had warrants out for his arrest — just after 2 a.m. that Saturday when he was shot in Over-the-Rhine. He was unarmed.

        Privately, she remembers what made Timothy special.

        “He was mannerly and respectful of elders. ... He wasn't a violent person. He had two fights his entire life, between the ages of 10 and 15. Both times, it was in defense of one of his siblings.”

        He had earned a GED at Nativity Literacy Center in Price Hill and wanted a career in electronics. He was scheduled to start a new job, as a laborer, April 9. He and Monique were planning to get married June 17.

        “He had so many plans,” Ms. Leisure said.

        The birth of his son, Tywon, three months ago had been a turning point for Timothy: “I saw my son become a man the day I saw him become a father.”

"I went to church'

        Angela Leisure has controled her rage and grief in public during these days since Timothy was shot.         “The morning I heard about Timothy, I still got up and went to church,” Ms. Leisure said. “I sing in the choir at New Life (Outreach Ministries in Bond Hill).” “Everyone was shocked when Tim's death was announced during service, not only about Timothy but that I was in church with such a tragedy in my heart..”

        During the interview, Ms. Leisure frequently referred to her faith and the strength she derives from prayer.

        “I can't say what I feel because it would be filled with too much rage and people would see how angry I am,” she said. “So when I open my mouth, God speaks. He keeps pushing me toward something but I don't know what. I just accept it.”


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