In her own words: Niesha Leonard ’15

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Niesha Leonard shows a picture of her father, Marc, that she keeps on her phone. His murder, in 2005, helped inspire her community activism. Photo (c) Nick Romaneko

My father was killed when I was 12 years old. Two men tried to rob him at gunpoint and when he refused to give them anything, one of them shot him in the face. They never caught the guys who did it.

Growing up in Trenton, N.J., I was a quiet child. I kept to myself. After my father passed away I became more outspoken and started to get involved in my community.

I did a lot of volunteer work in high school and now I’m in the Bonner Community Scholars Program here at TCNJ. They placed me with a local organization, where I work with at-risk teens who are on probation. These are great kids; they just do bad things. There’s a difference. I always tell them: I’m from Trenton, just like you.

A lot of people in urban areas constantly question the criminal-justice field. If you want to make a change, you have to be a part of that change. My first step is being a criminology major and then taking it from there.

I’ve wanted to be a lawyer since I was 5 years old. Now I know that I want to practice criminal law in an urban area. What’s most important to me is giving people a sense of closure, since I never got that.

I think all my professors know my name because I’m that girl who raises her hand for every single question. I just love to dig in and ask questions in the classroom — it’s just the most amazing thing for me.

I’m always up for a good conversation, especially with strangers. I enjoy picking people’s brains. But I’m still naturally a quiet person and I also love being by myself.

I’m really diverse when it comes to music. At 4 in the afternoon I’m listening to rap and at 4:05 I’m listening to Taylor Swift. I like artists who are lyricists. You need to have a message or a story behind what you’re singing.

If there was an occupation called “helping people” that would be the perfect job for me. I need to help people to feel complete. It lets me put aside what I’m going through to be there for someone else. The way I look at it is you might have problems but someone else always has bigger problems than you do.

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