Rest In Power: The Transition of Leonard McNeil
Dear BAJI Members and Friends,
It is with deep sadness that we share the transition of our dear Leonard McNeil, BAJI's Chair Emeritus. We express our deepest gratitude to Leonard and his family for his contributions to the fight for racial, social, and economic justice.
Leonard was active in the movement for political and social change through journalism, peace activism, the affirmative action movement, rank and file trade unionism, electoral politics, youth leadership development, digital democracy, and immigrant rights for nearly 40 years.
"Our Movement has greatly benefited from Leonard’s commitment to social justice and immigrant rights. He was an integral part of the formation of BAJI, and, as a board member, was deeply engaged in our work. We express our deepest gratitude to Leonard and his family for his contributions to the fight for racial, social, and economic justice." - Nana Gyamfi, Executive Director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration.
Leonard (known as “Mac” or Big Mac”) was born in San Francisco on July 20, 1945, and spent the majority of his life in the North Richmond/San Pablo area, living in the community for 60 years. He graduated from Richmond High School, went on to play football and organize the first Black Student Union at Cal State-Fresno before being drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1968 NFL Draft.
Leonard had a deep love for education and earned a bachelor's degree cum laude in government at California State University, Sacramento, and a master's degree magna cum laude in political science at San Francisco State University at the age of 66 because he believed “you are never too old to educate yourself.” His masters’ thesis explored the possibilities and challenges of African-Americans and Latinos coalescing for political and social change and was nominated for the Western Association of Graduate Schools’ Distinguished Master’s Thesis Award. McNeil also earned a vocational Education credential from UC Berkeley.
In 1988, Leonard was elected to the San Pablo City Council and became the city's first African American mayor in 1992 where he instituted the annual International Migrants Day commemoration. He was also an adjunct professor of Political Science at Contra Costa College and a published author in the anthology, The Cold War Against Labor.
Leonard joined a group of fellow civil rights activists and clergy including Gerald Lenoir, to found BAJI in 2006. Appalled by the wave of attacks on migrants - especially Black immigrants and refugees - BAJI came together to united African Americans and immigrants to fight for racial justice and human rights. Leonard served on BAJI’s board of directors until 2015 before retiring.
Leonard is survived by his children, Carmen and Yusef, three grandchildren, and brothers Leon, Joseph and Wayne.
A memorial service was held to honor the life of the activist, community leader and educator in the Knox Center on May 3, 2019. His impact on the community was felt during his service amongst his family, friends and colleagues who celebrated his life and legacy.
Tax-deductible memorial donations in his memory may be made to the Leonard McNeil Memorial Scholarship Fund at the Contra Costa College Foundation (CCCF). Kindly mail checks made out to CCCF with "Leonard McNeil Memorial Scholarship" in the memo line to 2600 Mission Bell Drive, San Pablo, CA 94806.
Rest In Power, Leonard. We are committed to continue to lift up your legacy.
Link to BAJI website.