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Meet Jonathan Leon of Leadership for Educational Equity

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jonathan Leon.

Jonathan, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I am a dad, husband, and every day that I wake up I am trying to change laws for kids. My story begins with a decision, after graduating from high school in the 1960s my grandfather, Ira White had limited options as a young father and husband in South Georgia. In the face of Jim Crow and lack of opportunity, he like many African American’s during the time of The Great Migration left the south for Rochester, NY in search of opportunity. He found that and so much more. As a pastor and community leader, I watched servant leadership in action and attempted to emulate.

That journey brought me to Syracuse University where I was an over-involved and active student leader. When it came time for me to graduate, I had to consider the type of work I was doing, and what truly made me happy. It was the work my fraternity was doing with it’s after school program – “Go to Highschool, Go to College.” After consulting with my mentors and family, I decided law school would wait and Teach for America was my next move. Life came back full circle as I returned to Atlanta, Georgia for my Corps commitment, freshly into the recession and with Atlanta Public Schools, dealing with a massive cheating scandal.

So much time has passed since my grandfather left yet many children were still locked into a system that did not allow them access to opportunity or choice filled lives. It was through this experience I found my passion and purpose. I am here to support and help others, by effecting and disrupting systems of inequities in education and social institutions. The journey to and through this purpose has led me from classrooms to school leadership to consulting for schools, districts, and states – to my current role developing a network of civic leaders to end the injustice of educational inequity.

The common theme through all of these experiences is ensuring I am effecting change with communities as we disrupt the injustice of educational inequity.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
“Never losses – only lessons.”

My Mother, Sara White is my favorite advocate, and as I entered this field, she plainly told me “people work is tough.” This work causes you to see and experience the highs and lows in other’s lives, as you live your own. I’ve buried students, supported them through loss. My students experienced homelessness, abuse, and, other traumatic experiences. Through all of this, you are still responsible for showing up. Self-care, dealing with the problems of grief and healing are topics we do not nearly address enough for those in this space.

Going into my 4th year in a school-based setting, I was entering a space where I did not have it give anymore. I struggled to be there for my kids, their parents and my staff. As much as it hurt, I knew it did not feel right anymore and I wasn’t fit to support them in that way. I take this work deadly serious as you are responsible not only for educating but for nurturing their dreams, goals, and, ambitious. Think about the teachers you may have had who were impactful, it was more than a lesson.

Now reflect on those teachers who may have said or harmed you with their words or actions. There is a special calling needed in “people work,” and knowing when its time to change is important. For me it became so frustrating that I was fighting against forces I could not see but I knew it was impacting my environment. Poverty, racism, or even classism are reasons why my students their families were not getting the same opportunities as others or being robbed of hope. I could not work harder to overcome that, I couldn’t develop or support a teacher with an amazing lesson to overcome the fact a student was hungry. There is no out-teaching trama.

I knew my passion and purpose and knew I needed to realign my work with the impact I knew my kids and their families deserved. Leaving a school-based settling was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever made, and in moments of learning (losses), I still may question it. However, “people work is tough,” it’s messy and there is absolutely a chance you may plant a seed for a tree, whose fruit you never taste or shade you never enjoy. That realization is the revelation, I needed to just keep pushing.

We’d love to hear more about your organization.
Leadership for Educational Equity is a leadership development organization committed to developing civic leaders to end the injustice of educational inequity.

Today, you can show me a child’s zip code and with eerie precision, I can talk through their most likely outcomes. I serve as the regional leader of a national non-profit committed to changing that fact in this country. We believe that leaders and particularly those with direct experiences of these inequities must be at the table of leadership making decisions on the policies affecting education. We believe that with equity champions as leaders in elected office, serving in policy and advocacy roles and as community organizers, we will get to the day where zip codes will not determine futures.

I am most excited about the changes we are seeing across the nation as we work. We are seeing a real impact affecting children. From ending corporal punishment in Louisiana for students with special needs (https://educationalequity.org/blog/south-louisiana-lee-members-testify-stop-corporal-punishment-special-needs-students) to supporting to elect the youngest and first person of color on Gwinett’s School Board (https://www.gwinnettdailypost.com/local/shiloh-s-everton-blair-reflects-on-historic-school-board-election/article_d8ebed67-852a-55fc-a86e-3b5da670c37b.html). These policy wins are a super small subset of the systemic change we are supporting our leaders to realize in their communities.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
I stand on the shoulders of the giants before me.

My family has played a pivotal role in my orientation, my grandparents, parents, aunts and, uncles have always been my largest support system and cheerleaders. They are the selfless leaders who gave me the foundation to achieve. I have an amazing source of inspiration and accountability in the brothers of my Fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. Through which I remain inspired and sharpened by their committed to excellence.

I lack the words necessary to show the appreciation that my wife Breonna warrants. As my partner, trusted friend, and, confidant she supports me in giving so much of myself in service to others. My two boys, Jayden and Jayce are my “why this matters so much.” I am raising two black boys in a time and space where much cannot be taken for granted as I try to protect and provide, I know the world may have other plans but while I am here I am working for them.

Contact Info:

  • Address: Leadership for Educational Equity
    1360 Peachtree St NE #1100, Atlanta, GA 30309
  • Website: educationalequity.org
  • Phone: 202-557-1405
  • Email: jonathan.leon@educationalequity.org
  • Instagram: @tenaciousone06
  • Twitter: @JonLeonATL
  • Other: www.linkedin.com/in/jonleonatl

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