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Man remembered as dynamic teacher, ray of sunshine

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

The fourth-graders had rulers and tape measures, and were wandering around measuring sidewalks and bushes, tree trunks and pebbles.

Clementine Shanks got up from her desk at Parkside Elementary School, near Grant Park in Atlanta, to see what the students were doing. When she got to the window, she understood.

"Antonio," she said to herself, and that made it all make sense.

Antonio Coleman, Sr., Shanks said, was one of those teachers who might do anything to teach a lesson. After all, the 36-year-old Riverdale man, who taught the fourth grade at Parkside, had been recognized in 2004 as one of the school system's best educators.

"He had this one thing he called 'Kung Fu Phonics,'" Shanks recalled. "No matter where he was, he made an impact on children. He made learning fun. Students wouldn't just sit there, he would get them up and get them moving and shaking and learning."

Privately, administrators said Coleman would not stay at the school very long. They said his star would rise and somebody would snatch him up and they were, in a way, as proud of him as if he was their son.

Then, last week, as snow fell on Atlanta, Coleman's life ended when a stray bullet struck him in the back of the head, behind his right ear, as he sat in a car outside a Florida nightclub.

"It shattered the glass on the back of the truck," said Sesily Coleman, Antonio's wife of eight years. "It hit him behind the right ear. The car was still running when they found him at 8:15 in the morning."

Coleman was killed on Dec. 19, in Tampa, where he was visiting with his brother before going to a teacher's conference in Orlando. He had taken a job with Promethean, a digital classroom tools company, and was on his way to the Orlando event for training. He left that morning, after playing in the rare snowfall with his wife and children.

"We spent the morning throwing snowballs," said Sesily Coleman. "His flight was delayed and he said he didn't want to go. I told him, 'You know you just got your job. I'm going to kick your butt if you lose it.'"

Antonio Coleman sent his wife a text message, when he got on the plane. That evening he met his brother in Tampa, where they grew up, and the two men went out and watched the boxing match between Roy Jones ,Jr., and Felix Trinidad. That night, he parked his rental car outside the Groovy Mule Bottle Club.

"He was trying to get some rest, before he got on the road," Sesily said. "There was a fight that broke out inside the club ... The detectives tell me he never went in the club, he was just parked in the parking lot. Antonio ended up getting shot in the back of the head."

According to the Tampa Tribune, sheriff's deputies say it was a stray bullet and Antonio Coleman just happened to be in the parking lot at the time.

The next morning, Sesily got the phone call from her mother-in-law, Eleanor Coleman.

"Brace yourself," Eleanor Coleman said. "Your husband's dead."

Antonio Coleman leaves behind three children: Kharengton, who lives in Washington D.C., Colbie, who just turned 9, and Antonio, Jr., a 5-year-old who keeps checking on his mother to see if she's OK.

"He's checking on me every five minutes," Sesily said. "If he sees a tear, he'll come over and say, 'It's going to be OK, Mama.' They're holding on strong."

Sesily and the three children gathered in Tampa this weekend, to bury Antonio Coleman. On Monday, at 5 p.m., a memorial will be held at Parkside Elementary, 685 Mercer St., S.E., Atlanta, in the multi-purpose room. They ask that no one wear black and that Antonio Coleman be remembered as a ray of sunshine.

"Sunshine, that's what he was," Sesily Coleman said, on the phone from Tampa. "He had the brightest smile. He had the brightest eyes. He was energetic. He was a ball of energy, a ball of positive energy ... He was just magnetizing."