Community Development Consultant Valerie F. Leonard is Today’s Honoree

Valerie F. Leonard is a community development consultant with a mission of strengthening the capacity of organizations to make a positive impact on the communities they serve through technical assistance, specialized workshops, resource and organizational development and project management. She also teaches online courses in nonprofit management with the University of Illinois Great Cities Institute. Ms. Leonard has a bachelor of arts degree in economics from Spelman College, and a master of management degree in finance and marketing from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management.

Valerie is very actively engaged in the North Lawndale community as the convener of the Lawndale Alliance, a group of concerned residents who have come together to address some of North Lawndale’s most pressing problems. The Lawndale Alliance has tackled a number of issues, including TIFs, the Olympics, the Neighborhood Stabilization Program and the generally poor performance of North Lawndale schools. As a result of the Lawndale Alliance’s advocacy, the Ogden Pulaski TIF Redevelopment Plan was revised to minimize the potential for displacement of local residents. In the absence of a local TIF advisory committee, the group provides annual updates on the status of the 7 TIFs that impact North Lawndale. The Lawndale Alliance has partnered with organizations across the City, including the Chicago Westside Branch of the NAACP, to advocate for the fair distribution of Neighborhood Stabilization funding as the City of Chicago addresses the mortgage foreclosure crisis. They have recently worked with PACE and the West Side NAACP to get an advisory referendum on the ballot asking West Side voters in certain precincts if they believed Chicago should have an elected school board. The measure received over 86% “yes” votes.

Valerie’s other community engagement includes organizing North Lawndale Votes, a voter registration and education initiative involving a broad cross section of community based organizations, schools and churches. North Lawndale Votes sponsored training for over 50 deputy registrars, registered over 1,500 voters, encouraged voter turnout and analyzed West Side voting trends for six election cycles. Ms. Leonard also writes articles for the North Lawndale Community News to highlight the impact of government policies and programs on local residents. She manages several websites and blogs, including, Staying in the Loop, Policy on the Ground, North Lawndale TIFs, and the North Lawndale African American Heritage Quilting Project. She also coaches Crane High School students in preparation for the ACT.

Valerie counts her parents, Theodis and Essie Leonard, as her greatest role models. They instilled within her a healthy love for God, family, community and education. The two most salient lessons Ms. Leonard learned from her parents are: 1) Get as much education as you can, because, once you have it, no one can take it away; and 2) You can’t run away to the suburbs to get away from North Lawndale’s problems. A better approach is to build the community where you live, rather than moving to another place, hoping the community will build you.

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