I’m Leonardo Williams, but you can call me Leo. I’m a former teacher, school administrator, and current small business owner. Durham is my workplace, my family, and my home. Durham is the heart of who I am.
During an unprecedented year, I saw Durham come together to feed her children, clothe her homeless, shelter her displaced, fund her students, and vaccinate her people against the virus that started it all.
I attended North Carolina Central University where I met my wife Zweli Williams. We are the proud parents of Izaiah, a thriving 9th grader in Durham Public Schools.
I enjoy spending time with my family and being the father that I didn’t have. I’ve actually been a father figure to many students in Durham Public Schools as a Band Director at Shepard Middle School, Southern, and Hillside High School.
It was there when I became interested in mentoring young men of color. I noticed a continuous academic decline among many of them due to lacking basic resources at home. This encouraged me to become an activist for educators and students. I eventually became chair of the NC Foundation for Public School Children, North Carolina’s largest non-profit for public school children. I led the organization in raising hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to provide educators the funds to fill the needs of their students.
I later gained my Master’s in Educational Leadership and started the PHASE 3 Group, an academic achievement focus group geared toward community, school, and family educational support. During this time, I also worked with mental health agencies to support local public schools by helping them provide mental health assistance to students in need.
As a two-time Teacher Of the Year in Durham Public Schools, I was recognized by The Triangle Business Journal’s esteemed 40 Under 40 leadership award for producing innovative practices in education that impacted the community economically. The Triangle Business community saw value in how “early investments in education and creativity can improve the economy over the long term.”
I eventually transitioned from full-time educator to full-time small business owner. My wife and I took a leap of faith to explore her passion: food. Zweli, a Zimbabwean native, decided to share her talents with Durham as well. Sacrificing everything, we opened Zweli’s Kitchen, currently the only full-service authentic Zimbabwean restaurant in the United States. Through all of this, I created Dinner Table Talks, curated conversations over dinner where our guests can safely address social issues and provide ideas to make our community better.
Now we are committed, more than ever, to re-investing in Durham by feeding the unhoused, advocating for fair and affordable living conditions, creating initiatives for small businesses, and creating spaces for social consciousness.
Durhamites throughout our beloved city, I am answering a call to serve. I’m ready to contribute to Durham’s growth and development, as Durham did for my family.
A vision that I share with my community is for a united Durham that provides safety and prosperity for all. That includes addressing issues of housing, community safety, land use, economic development, environment, public infrastructure, and racial equity. I’d like to see everyone equipped to create their own legacy here in Durham.