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Spreading Cultural Harmony

Local leader promotes peace and tolerance

Cervante Pope | 7/5/2016, 3:49 p.m.
Leonard joins peacemakers Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Pope Frances and many others in receiving the international Sri Chinmoy Oneness-Home Peace ...
Carolyn Leonard, an inspiring school administrator, educator and community activist, is honored for a lifetime of work to promote peace and equality, taking the torch of the Sri Chinmoy Oneness-Home Peace Run international relay as it moves on a 10,000 mile journey through Portland on its way to Canada and other destinations. Mark Washington/The Portland Observer

Over the course of her career, Carolyn Leonard has worked to spread cultural harmony and tolerance at home and around the world, most recently making stops in Tanzania, India, Ethiopia, the Dominican Republic and Mexico to promote peace.

The inspiring leader and longtime Portland Public Schools administrator, educator and community activist, joins peacemakers Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Pope Frances and many others in receiving the international Sri Chinmoy Oneness-Home Peace Award.

The honor was bestowed on Leonard when the organization’s Peace Run torch relay made its stop in Portland June 18 on a journey across eight different countries and over 10,000 miles to recognize individuals on an international level that have made waves in the ways of peace and equality, to which Leonard has dedicated much of her life to.

“I just was at the right place at the right time,” Leonard says of her worldly, altruistic opportunities. “It’s been amazing and it’s been a gift from God, because I certainly didn’t have anything to do with it. I just tried to remain true to what I believe.”

The native Oregonian comes from a black and American Indian background, which she says aided in her ability to look past skin color as a barrier of acceptance, despite the state’s former and present racial gap.

“I grew up in an environment where you try not to draw differences between you and other people,” Leonard says. “Any day you have to be able to release what you have learned. You have to be prepared to let go and embrace truth. That’s what I’ve spent my time doing, retelling the truth for what it is.”

Holding various positions with Portland Public Schools over the last 44 years, Leonard has used her background in multicultural education to cultivate minds in ways outside the classroom, though she’s also taught at nearly every educational level in over 20 public and private schools.

“As a teacher I felt that there were things I needed to do,” Leonard says. “We can erase some of those stereotypes we have. If we change that paradigm we’re in a better position to promote peace around the world.”

Her educational efforts have taken her to places like Eqypt, Guyana, the United Arab Emirates, Switzerland and Ghana among others.

Though Leonard technically retired in 2012, she hasn’t stopped her endeavors in spreading her faith and knowledge in peaceful equality. She still heads the Multicultural Education offices for PPS’s Allied Services Team, where the education of youth in diversity is of high importance.

“I think youth especially in the United States don’t have the same prejudices we have because of technology. The challenge is not to see ourselves as better than other people, we are all different people. The challenge is to make sure everyone gets an education,” Leonard says.

“If we want our child to be free, we have to make sure that every child has that opportunity. Every one of us needs to be able to understand that there are no throw away children.”