Lonise Bias Builds on Sons' Legacies

Barrington M. Salmon | 8/24/2011, 2:07 p.m.

Bias, a native Washingtonian, recalls being in bed on the morning of June 19, 1986, when she and husband James, received a telephone call that her son Len was dead. The 22-year-old basketball phenom collapsed in his dorm room at the University of Maryland a mere two days after being drafted by the Celtics. He is said to have suffered a heart attack after ingesting cocaine.

Then 4 1/2 years later, her younger son James Stanley 'Jay' Bias, 20, was shot and killed after what police described at the time as a chance encounter between Jay Bias and a man who claimed he was flirting with his wife, a jewelry store clerk at Prince George's Plaza in Hyattsville, Md. He also had a distinguished basketball career, and many saw him as the one who would replace his older brother.

"Whatever you think (about how it feels to lose a child), it's 1,000 times worse, but our faith sustained us," said Lonise Bias. "I asked, 'why me' but also asked 'why not me?' When Len died, no one came and gave us money. We just pressed through the hardship to find peace."

Following the University of Maryland superstar's death, his mother began lecturing widely in the U.S. and abroad, carrying an anti-drug, pro-youth message to anyone who would listen.

In a motivational speech in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands in the early 1990s, Lonise Bias spoke to students at several schools on the island about the dangers of drugs. She discussed the devastation of losing her sons and reminded the young people that life is a gift and not a given. Too often, she has said, teenagers believe they're invulnerable and she reminded them to be smart, careful and aware. If she has learned nothing else, Lonise Bias told students, it's not to take life for granted.

These days, she said she still lectures from time-to-time but has focused most of her energy on laying the groundwork for the Len and Jay Bias Foundation, as well as the Bias Family Center, both of which will be located in Prince George's County.

Lonise Bias' eyes lit up and she became increasingly animated as she showed a reporter the architectural blueprints for the buildings and as she described her work for much of the past quarter century. She has used her sons' deaths as a catalyst to save children she said face myriad dangers and challenges.

"I tell parents that it's time to step our game up. It is most important to cover, assist and protect your child," she explained. "They're reachable, teachable, loveable and savable but we must change our approach. Children are like gardens which need to be tended. We need to turn the soil and nurture them ... we have to buy into this notion that healing for this community comes through us. We are the medication."

Lonise Bias said it is heartbreaking to see children and young people hungry, homeless, lacking parent's guidance, sometimes dabbling in drugs. Often, adults throw up their hands but she said she is confident that the dire situation can and will be turned around.