Top USDA official to speak at Livingstone Founder's Day

SALISBURY - The Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights in the United States Department of Agriculture will deliver the keynote address on Thursday during Livingstone College's annual Founder's Day Convocation. The event begins at 10 a.m. in Varick Auditorium on Livingstone's campus, and the public is invited.

This year's speaker, Dr. Joe Leonard, Jr., was sworn in as assistant secretary for Civil Rights on April 6, 2009, after being nominated by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Leonard, an Austin, Texas, native, has a Ph.D. in American History, with a specialization in Civil Rights history, from Howard University in Washington. He also has a master's degree from Southern University in Baton Rouge, La., and a bachelor's degree from Huston-Tillotson University in Austin, Texas.

The timing of Leonard's visit coincides with a recent announcement by Livingstone College officials of plans to revitalize the institution's farm that has been dormant for decades. The farm project is part of the urban agriculture movement sweeping the nation and is designed to help invigorate Salisbury's West End neighborhood. What's more, the farm will complement Livingstone's new Hospitality Management and Culinary Arts Program and, with its organic vegetables and fruits, tie in with the health and wellness component of the holistic college implemented at Livingstone when Dr. Jimmy R. Jenkins, Sr. assumed the top administrative post in February 2006.

"We're very excited to have someone of Dr. Leonard's caliber address our students, staff, faculty, alumni and guests on Founder's Day," Jenkins said. "I'm certain Dr. Leonard's message will compel our students to assess where they are in life and to determine what they need to do to achieve the goals they've set for themselves – goals we want them to realize. I'm grateful Dr. Leonard was able to make time in what I'm sure is an exceptionally busy schedule to participate in our Founder's Day celebration, and I cannot wait to hear his speech."

Leonard will speak at Livingstone's 135th observance of Founder's Day, which commemorates the life and accomplishments of Livingstone Founder and First President, Dr. Joseph Charles Price. Born on Feb. 10, 1854, in Elizabeth City, N.C., Price graduated valedictorian in the class of 1879 from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, completing a three-year theological course in two years.

Price was known as a brilliant scholar, great gospel preacher, world famous orator an advocate for the common man. He served as Livingstone's first president for 10 years and died in 1893.

Leonard served as Executive Director of the Congressional Black Caucus under the leadership of Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, D-Mich. While at the CBC, Leonard managed the daily activities of the Caucus and helped guide the legislative policy for its 43 congressional members. Before his role at the CBC, Leonard served as the Executive Director of the Black Leadership Forum, an umbrella organization of 32 member groups that together work to develop and implement progressive public policies for social change. He has also served as the Washington Bureau of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition and Director, Arthur Fleming Institute of the Center for Policy Alternatives.

Leonard and his wife, Dr. Natasha Cole-Leonard, are proud parents of a son, Cole, 10.