Six years and 17 days ago, Leon Ford tells it, he was “walking…and I had a completely different plan.”
Later that night, he was in the Intensive Care Unit, “wondering if I was going to live or die.”
“And by the grace of God,” Ford said, “I survived.”
Nov. 11, 2012 is a date that Ford, his family, his friends, and many in Pittsburgh will never forget. Ford, after being stopped by Pittsburgh police while he was in a vehicle, was shot five times by one of the two officers, David Derbish, as the officers tried to remove Ford from the car, mistaking him for a wanted gang member.
Ford was paralyzed as a result of the shooting.
Next came what Ford calls a “six-year fight with the City of Pittsburgh,” calling for the officers to be held accountable for their actions, along with filing lawsuits against the City of Pittsburgh.
Ultimately, Ford was awarded a $5.5 million settlement from the City of Pittsburgh in January 2018.
If you—or the City of Pittsburgh—thought the financial settlement would put Leon Ford out of the spotlight, think again.
By now, Ford is a household name, a person who stands taller than most when it comes to improving conditions for his African American community in Pittsburgh. He became the voice of Pittsburgh’s newest generation of speaking out against injustices here, doing so without negativity or violence.
It’s as if he had the city on his shoulders—people looked to Ford for his opinion or stance on certain issues, and people stopped what they were doing to hear what he had to say.
“A few months ago I had a dream that I ran for City Council and won,” Ford told a crowd in East Liberty earlier this month. But because he had opportunities where he could make significantly more money in the private sector, “I told myself, ‘I’m definitely not going to be a politician,’” eliciting laughter from the audience.
That was, until the death of 17-year-old Antwon Rose II in East Pittsburgh this past June.
That was the tipping point. Another young Black male, shot by police, only this time, it resulted in death.
Within moments, everyone was calling Ford—local media, national media, those on social media—they wanted that exclusive interview. They wanted Ford’s comments. But he stayed away from making some earth-shattering commentary—out of respect for the family, and because, quite frankly, he felt it just wasn’t the right time. But as he stayed out the public eye during the past few months, he knew it was only a matter of time.
That time is now.
Leon Ford is officially running for Pittsburgh City Council.
“God positioned me, and you have pushed me to be up for it,” Ford told the crowd of supporters at Repair the World in East Liberty, Nov. 11, exactly six years after the shooting that forever changed his life.
“And one thing about me is that I stand for what I believe in, and I don’t let external forces change who I am,” Ford said. “Going through what I’ve been through, there’s only one way to be happy and to have a peace of mind, and that’s through faith and my relationship with God.”
In an exclusive interview with the New Pittsburgh Courier, Ford said running for City Council is the perfect place “to effect change—it’s important for my journey.”
He will run for the District 9 seat currently held by Rev. Ricky Burgess. District 9 encompasses Garfield, Larimer, Homewood, Point Breeze North, Lincoln-Lemington, East Hills and parts of East Liberty.
The primary election for the District 9 City Council seat will be held May 21, 2019.
“Here in District 9, I’ve been receiving so much love, so much support all my life,” Ford told the Courier. “When I got shot, they loved me and supported me, and now that I’ve decided to run for office, they love me and support me still.”
Ford said he is excited to “represent people who look like me and walk like me and talk like me. I’m excited to really lead with love and represent people who are not strangers to adversity.”
“We deserve what Leon has to offer,” added state Rep.-elect Summer Lee, who, in January, will officially become the first Black woman to represent a state House District (34) in this area outside city limits. “We deserve a public official who is going to show up for us, a public official who is going to be compassionate and understand us and relate to you…We’re here today to represent a new class of politics and a new way of doing politics.”
One of Ford’s best qualities, he said, is his ability to be an “active listener. I’m able to listen to people even if they have a perspective that’s different than mine. I’m able to listen to people even if they’re saying things that I don’t agree with. I might be frustrated, I might be angry, but I’m able to put my personal emotions aside for the betterment of my community—and that’s something that I’ve shown for the past six years.”
Ford will use the next months to listen to community residents within District 9, learning about the issues, the concerns, the ways to make the community better. As an East End resident, though, he’s aware of many of the problems.
“I have family members who have been displaced, friends and mentees who have literally lost their homes and for a short period of time were homeless,” Ford told the Courier.
Ford is aware of new buildings and “infrastructure” that’s popping up in places like East Liberty, parts of Homewood, etc. In some circles, the new development in some East End African American neighborhoods is viewed as a positive. But Ford has another view. “We have to understand what happens when the needs of the community are put on the backburner just to see change in infrastructure,” he said. “A lot of money that has gone into infrastructure hasn’t been the same investment in people. When we invest in the mindsets of people, then the people can afford to live here. But when we invest in infrastructure and not the people, that’s when we see people being displaced.”
Before Ford completed his speech to the audience at Repair the World, Nov. 11, he told the crowd of a person who came to him and said that “a lot of people are appointed to office, but you are anointed to office.”
On the morning of Nov. 11, 2012, the last thing a 19-year-old Leon Ford was thinking about was being an elected official.
But exactly six years later, Nov. 11, 2018, as rap artist Drake’s popular song “God’s Plan” played in the background, it was a 25-year-old Leon Ford, center stage, being cheered, hugged, and loved by the crowd. To their eyes, they were looking at the next Pittsburgh City Councilman.
“You see, I never asked for any of this, but it happened,” Ford told his supporters, “and I’m here today as a testimony that anything is possible, and that you are stronger than your circumstances.”
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