Leon Andrews

Leon Andrews Jr., who helps communities narrow racial divides through his work at the National League of Cities, will be the closing speaker at the 41st MMA Annual Meeting & Trade Show on Jan. 25.

Andrews is the NLC’s first director of Race, Equity and Leadership (REAL), an initiative to promote equity and encourage honest conversations about race. He will discuss how local leaders can help eliminate racial disparities, heal racial divisions and build more equitable communities.

He says events in recent years – including high-profile, racially motivated killings, white supremacist activity, and a spike in hate crimes – have reinforced the need for healing in a country with a long history of institutional racism. Andrews has been a vocal advocate for policies that encourage diversity, inclusion and economic and racial justice.

“There needs to be a commitment, across the board, for each of us to be willing to have the tough conversations, for each of us to be willing to be comfortable being uncomfortable, as we are engaging around some of these questions around race relations, around justice, around equity, around policing,” Andrews said during a 2016 interview with “Comcast Newsmakers.”

The NLC started the REAL program after the 2014 police killing of Michael Brown, a black teenager, in Ferguson, Missouri, and the unrest that followed. The program works with communities to address racial tensions, identify systemic problems that perpetuate injustice, and build communities that allow residents of all backgrounds to thrive. It also provides training and resources to help communities see the racial implications of their policies, programs and budget priorities.

“These issues are falling at the doorsteps of mayors and city council members, and they need to be better equipped to know how to understand the impact of race and equity in their communities,” Andrews told “Newsmakers.”

He emphasizes the need for leaders to strengthen relationships with diverse stakeholders in the community – to ensure that cities and towns have these vital connections in place before racial incidents and conflicts occur.

In a July 2016 article published on EfficientGov.com, Andrews urged local leaders to take seven steps to improve race relations: build trust between police and communities of color; gather data on racial disparities; listen to communities of color; advocate for racial equity; institute policy reforms; provide training; and prioritize accountability.

A native of Washington, D.C., Andrews joined the NLC in 2006, spending eight years as a senior fellow and program director of the NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education and Families, where he worked with municipal officials to address problems affecting young people and to promote youth engagement and leadership.

Before joining the NLC, Andrews was a research fellow at The Forum for Youth Investment. Previous roles include work for the U.S. Department of Justice, the office of former U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski, the United States Public Interest Research Group, the Allegheny County Department of Human Services, YouthBuild Pittsburgh, the Development Corporation of Columbia Heights, and PricewaterhouseCoopers. He has also been an adjunct political science professor at Eastern Michigan University.

Andrews serves on the boards of ChangeLab Solutions, the National Recreation and Park Association, the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, and the National Network for Youth.

With a master’s degree in public policy and management, Andrews is now a Ph.D. candidate in the University of Michigan’s urban and regional planning program. He lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife, Dr. Kristine Andrews, and their three daughters.

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