Valerie Leonard influences many a boardroom.

Community and nonprofit development consultant Valerie Leonard

will speak in the second in a series of community forums on how blues, arts and culture can perk up West Side neighborhoods and build morale among residents.  This free program Wed. July 12, 6 to 8 p.m, hosted by Crystal Dyer of Gone Again Travel and Tours, 5940 W. Chicago Ave., Chicago, will focus on arts and culture in the Austin neighborhood.

 Arts and culture has worked with small business to revitalize communities and towns across the country.  The arts need to be part of economic development planning, such as the process Austin is going through now. (An Austin Community planning Summit is scheduled July 29, 9-11:30 a.m., at By the Hand Club, sponsored by LISC and Austin Coming Together.)   

Valerie plans to share her North Lawndale experiences as a help for neighbors in Austin at the July 12 forum. She is known for convening the Lawndale Alliance and addressing recent issues there, including TIFs, mortgage foreclosures, the Olympics, the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, school deficiencies and proposals for an elected school board. Lawndale Alliance successfully advocated for revising the Ogden Pulaski TIF Redevelopment Plan to a version that would displace fewer residents. 

Valerie Leonard’s company mission at  is to guide organizations to increase their capacity to improve their communities.  She offers technical assistance, resource and organizational development and project management to help everyday people navigate the complex world of 501c3 nonprofit boards, staffs, fundraising and services.  Ms. Leonard has a bachelor of arts degree in economics from Spelman College, and a master of management degree in finance and marketing from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management.

Valerie says her parents, Theodis and Essie Leonard, instilled within her a healthy love for God, family, community and education. From them she learned: 1) Get as much education as you can, because, once you have it, no one can take it away; and 2) You can’t run away to the suburbs to get away from West Side problems. Try to build the community where you live, rather than moving to another place and hoping the community will build you.

Bonni McKeown, , author of the Austin Weekly News blog “West Side Blues,” and bluesman Larry Taylor

have  served on the Arts and Culture Committee which organized under the North Lawndale planning process.  Taylor spoke at the first “Blues for West Side Tourism” forum June 7, along with Dr. Janice Monti of Dominican University, Carol Johnson of West Side Historical Society, and State Reps. LaShawn K. Ford and Camille Y. Lilly.

Hear Valerie’s BlogTalkRadio podcast of last week, where she hosts McKeown and Taylor.

“To build our economy on the West Side of Chicago, we need a better image of our communities to talk about with others,” says Bonni, a piano player who is organizing the blues, arts and culture forums with travel agent Crystal Dyer. “Think of the West Side as the land of ‘Blues ‘n Soul,’ instead of guns and drugs.”


"Barrelhouse Bonni" McKeown, the author of "West Side Blues Blog," has played piano and written about blues music for over 15 years.  She has led classes for young and old on...