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Life of Leisure (Not)

By Kathy Y. Wilson · October 10th, 2002 · Your Negro Tour Guide

Angela Leisure is no saint. With the Sept. 26 arrest of her 18-year-old son Terry -- on top of the April 2001 shooting death of her then-19-year-old son Timothy -- her parenting is again under scrutiny.

"They can blame me if they want to," Leisure says. "I will take that."

What people don't understand, she says, is you raise a child to the best of your ability. That's all you can do.

"Once they become an adult, you hope what you gave them sticks," she says. "This stuff with Terry, it's not him. His choice of friends, this happened since Tim died.

"Before Tim died, I didn't have to worry about who (Terry) was with because he was with Tim. I did the best I could with what I did, especially considering our backgrounds."

Leisure, 36, was twice a teen mother. There's been the requisite drama.

She yells and screams, but she publicly controls her Chicago-bred temper. She's got a bullshit detector to die for.

I know because we've become friends. Now I'm able to drop into her office and dish dirt, laughing so loud that people in the outer office hear us. Now I fix her a plate and we reminisce over Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway. Now I have to make sure I have grape Kool-Aid, her favorite beverage, before she comes to my house.

Looking at Angela Leisure used to make me nervous and tired. Before she summoned me to her office for an official introduction, I'd seen so many forlorn, grief-stricken and morose pictures of her I thought her face -- and life -- would remain so.

Here's a woman now iconic, almost a martyr. Like Joan of Arc with microbraids. And with reason.

During the groundswell and three days of rioting after former Cincinnati Police Officer Stephen Roach shot and killed Timothy, Leisure spoke -- and didn't speak -- calm to us.

She showed a measure of restraint so typical of grieving black women that she brushed up against (stereo)typecasting, and what she didn't say was as significant as what she did say during her public forgiveness of Roach and her near begging tone as she told us to chill.

But unlike her matching Negresses -- those Grieving Black Mothers who crawl closer to and ultimately into the grave, those who go a little crazier every day and the ones who, with the balm of settlement money, self-medicate their anguish with jewelry, clothes, houses and cars -- Leisure has not and is not acting out.

There's something about the woman who bore us the sacrificial lamb. That's right, Timothy Thomas as the catalyst in the darkened alcove.

It's a postmodern Dr. Seuss tale for the ages. And just when we're laughing easiest, life happens.

Terry was stopped by cops and arrested that Thursday evening while driving his minivan after a citizen called police to report gunfire. Police charged Terry with possession of crack, possession of a loaded .357 Magnum and possession of a loaded .22 rifle.

DeAngelo Williams, 24, was also in the van. Police are considering Williams and Thomas as suspects in some unsolved drug-related shootings. Leisure says Terry loaned out his van and who knows what went down while it was out on loan?

As an outsider and a friend, it bodes an obvious and weighty question: How does Terry's predicament feel to a woman once maligned as the mother of the man who brought an entire city to its knees?

It feels, she says, as it would to any mother of a black man in a city notorious for disregarding and sometimes killing its young people. It's frightening. It's "what now?" and "who's next?"

"I cried," she says. "I had been looking for him since 5 p.m. that evening. I called his cell phone. His girlfriend told me a boy had shot at his friends in his van. I called all night. We called the hospitals, we called the (Hamilton County Justice Center) and they said they didn't have him."

Was this Timothy redux, another black boy lost to the night?

"My whole nightmare is, is he gone?" Leisure says.

The question is ridiculous and necessary.

"Is he dead? It was like mental hell. I really thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown," she says.

Terry, who doesn't have a criminal record, lives temporarily with his mother and stepfather. A judge might charge him otherwise, but his mother says he's guilty of poor judgment.

It's any parent's Top 10 Fear to imagine a child running with the wrong crowd, encountering the cops and trying to explain away damning circumstances.

"You still have to think about the kind of person that you are," Leisure says she told Terry.

That transcends being "Timothy Thomas' brother," a fact Leisure says cops relished when they realized whom they'd pulled over. But Terry is always Timothy's brother and she his mother. No one gets to live any other way.

"I put a lot of pressure on Terry," she says, "and I've kind of hindered him in a way, saying, 'Be careful! Be careful! Be careful!' Right after Tim first died I made (Terry) promise he wasn't gonna get killed. So that's a lot of pressure."

Leisure says she wants for Terry what she wants for Timothy -- justice.

"I want it to be fair and I want it to be justice, not 'just us,' " she says. "Terry knows he has to be accountable for his actions. And I take responsibility, but only my Father can judge me."

Hear Kathy's commentaries on National Public Radio's All Things Considered.


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