Joe Leonard, Jr. currently serves as Assistant Vice President for External Affairs for Howard University. Throughout the years Leonard previously served as the Chief of Staff to the Senior Advisor (Beverly Perry) for the Mayor of Washington, DC. Leonard also served in President Obama’s administration as Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), from 2009-2017, where he was nominated by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the US Senate on April 2, 2009.
Under Leonard’s Leadership, USDA was able to accomplish several historic accomplishments. To address long standing allegations of past discrimination, Leonard spearheaded an effort to settle large standing class action lawsuits with Native American and African-American farmers and ranchers and established a voluntary claims process for women and Hispanic farmers and ranchers, which provided payments of more than 2.5 billion combined and over 118 million dollars in debt forgiveness.
Before joining USDA, Leonard served as Executive Director of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). While at the CBC, Leonard managed the daily activities of the Caucus and helped guide the legislative policy for its 43 congressional members. Prior to his role at the CBC, Leonard was hired by Dr. Dorothy Height and Rev. Joseph Lowery to serve as the Executive Director of the Black Leadership Forum, an umbrella organization of 32 member groups that together work to develop and implement public polices for African Americans in urban and rural America. Leonard also worked for five years as the Washington, DC bureau Chief of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition where worked directly under the tutelage of Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr.
Throughout his life Leonard has been an advocate for people who have not been afforded equal protection under law. His activism began in kindergarten when Leonard helped to desegregate the public schools of Austin Texas. In junior high school he was a part of an NACCAP effort to educate citizens on the importance of the census and remind people to submit the form on behalf of the community. In high school Leonard worked on several voter registration efforts and volunteered on Rev. Jackson Sr.’s 1984 campaign in Austin Texas. These early experiences provided the precursor to his career of advocating on behalf of people.
Leonard is a native of Texas, He holds a Ph.D. in American history with a specialization in civil rights history from Howard University, Washington, DC; an MA degree from Southern University, Baton Rouge, LA; and a BA degree from Huston-Tillotson University in Austin, TX. Leonard and his wife, Dr. Natasha Cole-Leonard are proud parents of 20-year-old son, Cole.