By Stacy Gilliam
Beating the odds makes a success story that much sweeter. For Isiah Leggett, odds were he wouldn’t turn out to be the scholar and highly awarded political and public service leader he is today.
Leggett, who currently chairs the Maryland Democratic Party, is on the Montgomery County Council and teaches law at Howard.
One of 13 siblings who grew up destitute in Alexandria, La., the probability of him even making it to college was slight. He almost didn’t.
“I had to beg my way into college at Southern [University],” says Leggett, 59, who earned his B.A. in political science in 1967. “I got in because of a work- related program during the summer prior to my first year.”
Cutting grass for the university gave him a foot in the door, and he charged in fearlessly on his quest for knowledge. It wasn’t long before the “yard kid” became an outstanding student who turned out to be president of the student government.
He credits his mother for passing on seeds of wisdom that eventually flourished, giving him the verve to accomplish great things in his life. As the Black Power Movement surged into full force in the 1970s, Leggett became a decorated Army captain, serving in the Vietnam War. By 1974, he had earned two more degrees, including a law degree from Howard University, where he finished first in his class. Two years later, he earned a master’s in law degree from George Washington University, and in 1978, he won a selective White House Fellowship.
“Howard opened up a vast opportunity to me,” Leggett says. “It refined me in many ways and gave me a greater exposure to people and information that was missing in my education. Howard trains lawyers, lawyers who are able to make a difference.”
Howard, Leggett says, ultimately showed him the possibilities of combining his two interests: serving the community and educating others. In doing so, he has served as a professor at the School of Law for 28 years and has served on the Montgomery County Council for 16 years. He also has received numerous awards for his tireless work in the community.
This fall, Leggett is working extra hard to make a difference in the November presidential election. By spreading the spirit of unity carried from the Democratic National Convention in July, he is energizing the constituency and party alike. But in his daily work as a professor, he continues to affect the lives of future attorneys, showing them through his own experience that excellence doesn’t care if you grew up poor in a small town in Louisiana.
“Nothing is more satisfying than to see your students doing well,” he says. “Of all the things I do, it’s the most gratifying.”