BW Alumnus Reflects on Past Experiences as he heads to City Hall

Ricardo Leon (BW ’12) has been appointed to serve in Cleveland Mayor Justin M Bibb’s administration as a Senior Strategist on Equity. Mayor Bibb announced his appointment on Jan 20th. 

Mayor Bibb spoke on Leon’s hiring and said, “These individuals bring strong leadership, diverse talent and community advocacy to the administration…Dedicated roles focused on inclusive opportunity and people-centered neighborhoods will help advance our mission of economic growth and development in our most underserved communities.” 

Leon, who graduated from Baldwin Wallace University with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics, completed a Master’s in Urban Studies from Cleveland State University’s Levin College of Urban Affairs and served as the Executive Director of the Metro West Community Development organization since 2017. He has dedicated his career to facilitating Cleveland’s inclusive, equitable economic growth.  

After graduating from high school at the young age of 16, Leon began his Baldwin Wallace journey. Leon attributes a significant amount of his professional development to the nature of BW’s academic offerings. He said, “one of the most exciting things about my time at BW was the nature of a liberal arts degree. When I started, I didn’t really know much about the world and by nature of the way that the curriculum is designed, I got exposed to a variety of disciplines. I’ve definitely held on to that liberal arts mentality in the work I’ve done.” 

When he landed an internship with a startup company during his junior year, Leon began to forge his path. He was able to turn that into a full-time job upon graduation and, after a short time in the “startup world,” began to set his sights higher. He recalls that government and nonprofit work was not part of his original career path.  

He said, “I started thinking about other opportunities, and when I learned about the Levin College of Urban Affairs at CSU, I saw a way to think about blending economics with political science. Moreover, how does economics affect our neighborhoods, our communities, and how are they designed and developed? Eventually, these opportunities kind of fell in my lap, but I wasn’t planning on it.’


Leon related to the tough career choices students have to make and provided some advice. He said, “I would never deter someone from going out and wanting to make more money, everyone wants financial stability, and to be able to provide for themselves, their family, their loved ones. I’m not against that.  

He also said, “However, I would say that if you find yourself in a position where you can give back, my advice would be to find ways to do so. There are still ways to connect with the community and be able to give back even in a traditional corporate environment. When I was at BW, a lot of folks were civically disconnected and didn’t really understand the importance of civic engagement, and why it matters, right? And so my advice would be to get educated and get involved.”  

Leon spoke on how his cultural background has informed his professional experiences and why students need to be civically engaged. He said, “I think a lot of my work is informed by my experience as a kid. Being a son of immigrants and seeing the sheer amount of work it takes to get your kids here and give them a better opportunity, I view this inherently as an equity conversation. Historically, our systems have been designed to be inequitable, making it difficult for folks to move up the socioeconomic ladder. That will stick with me no matter where I go, but now I’m in a position to help Mayor Bibb—thinking about how we create a more equitable city with equitable outcomes. How do we increase the work labor participation rate? How do we improve the availability of living-wage jobs? How do we increase homeownership rates, which are paramount to having healthy neighborhoods and, thus, having a healthy city?  

In his concluding words to The Exponent, Leon stressed the BW community’s obligation to get involved in the new era of change in Northeast Ohio. He said, “BW students and educators alike need to be thinking about how the folks who have historically had the least opportunities benefit the most from the decisions that we make? I joke with my colleagues that Mayor Bibb is like Tony Stark. He’s putting together the Avengers, and if he inspires you and you believe in the work, find ways to get involved, and continue to think about how we can make the city and the region better.”