Who is Legacy?
Author, Activist, Artist and Altruist
Chantay “Legacy” Leonard was an authentic literary artist with a pure love and respect for the arts. Her epic potential for writing was discovered in the years that she attended Greater Grace Christian Academy where she began to show giftedness in the area of writing and oral expression. Under the tutelage of Dr. Thomas Maridada she began using her pen with the skill of a well seasoned craftsman. She won numerous writing contests and speech meets and so it was that a literary artist was born. She was allowed to attend the now defunct Summer Youth Arts and Employment Program as the youngest attendee because of the level of maturity that was apparent in her writing.
She was later taught by Dr. Terry Blackhawk at Mumford High School. She was granted a paid internship at the Detroit Free Press immediately following her high school graduation. As her life and career blossomed she displayed a love of community and activism. She worked as a receptionist in an elite downtown Detroit law firm at the tender age of 18. As she began to pursue her education she was employed as an administrative assistant at University of Detroit Mercy. In the following years her educational endeavors would lead her to complete two years at Wayne County Community College and upon applying to Wayne State University she was invited by the English department to join the Honors program of study where, at the time, she was the only African American student matriculating the Honors English classes. Chantay was faced with many difficulties during her life.
At the age of 11 years old she fought her first bout of cancer and she overcame and was even able to graduate as Salutatorian of her 8th grade class while enduring treatment. For a short season of her life she was caught up into the violence and hopelessness of street life. After these struggles and having to overcome the trauma of sexual assault, she used the arts as a way to pour out the pain and anguish of her experiences. The turning point in her life came swiftly and dramatically as she renamed herself “Legacy” and decided that she would use her gift for the education, empowerment and uplifting of her people. Chantay was heavily involved in the Detroit poetry scene. She was also a “true activist’ as she supported many causes by giving her time, her talent and her resources to help many causes. She organized rallies and protests and was always front and center in the political struggles of Detroit.
Her career accomplishments include working under the Kilpatrick administration as an administrative liaison at Mayor’s Time the former mayor’s nonprofit youth organization. She was most fond of the work that she accomplished at BE THE MATCH FOUNDATION where she worked as a regional coordinator that kept the bone marrow donor registry for cancer patients. She created and spearheaded yearly fundraising campaigns that raised thousands of dollars in donations to fund cancer research.
Chantay’s Literary Arts career blossomed as she performed at Cornell University, University of Santa Barbara, University of Michigan Dearborn, Mary/grove College and other institutions of higher education. She has shared stages with the Last Poets and Saul Williams and Jessica Care Moore. In 2007 she was inducted into a national poetry group called the Strange Fruits. This group of 8 talented women used their gifts of spoken word, emcees, instrumentalists and visual artists as a vehicle to spread the message of life and overcoming adversity to the masses in a healthy manner. Chantay has performed around the United States in New York at the infamous Bowery Club, also California, and Colorado and Minnesota. She traveled to many cafes and poetry houses in the Midwest region. Chantay was known in the Detroit area as an outspoken and revolutionary poet.
Her love and passion for the arts and for the city of Detroit was apparent in her work and her commitment to excellence. She has been a major contributor to many artists that are enjoying notoriety in their careers today. She worked as a slam coach and organizer for many events in the Detroit area. One of her greatest achievements came about in January 2012 upon the release of her first book of poetry “I have Come Forth By Day” in her own diva fashion she had her book release party in a Black owned chic shoe store in the downtown Detroit area. In 2008 she decided that she wanted to open a creative space that was dedicated to the education, empowerment and enrichment of emerging artists.
Chantay coined the phrase “a pen and a prayer were my salvation” she believed that like herself, poetry could help save someone’s life. She desired to provide a place that people could gather and reflect, express and release their potential through the arts. The space could act as a “haven’ or safe space for young artists. She filed the paper work to start the organization in 2008 and continued to work on the vision of poetry spot that was owned, operated and managed by Detroit poets.
Chantay’s work has been published in magazines, e-zines, online poetry communities, and quarterly newsletters. She has been featured on cable television “Homegrown Detroit” and she was featured in the popular exhibit “Shrinking Cities” that was on display at the Cranbrook Museum of Science and other museums as far as Berlin, East Germany. She was a gifted leader and innovator. She created an online group called Pretty Brown Queens for the purpose of Black women having a place to encourage and help one another to heal.
Today the group has nearly 400 members and growing. In 2014 Chantay was once again faced with the battle of cancer. Throughout her ordeal she remained active and traveled continuing to write and enjoy life. She even returned to work after 2 brain surgeries and spearheaded her final cancer walk which grossed nearly thirty thousand dollars. In December 2014 while facing yet another surgery Chantay made a You Tube video called Black Poets Speak Out. She continued her commitment to activism even though she was fighting her own personal battle for life.
On February 9th 2015 at about 12:15 pm she departed this realm peacefully at the tender age of 35. Chantay’s life was celebrated at coffee houses and cafes all over the city of Detroit for weeks after her memorial services. Chantay was honored by the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in March of 2015 during Women of History Month along with Maya Angelou, Ruby Dee and other notable black women. Her work is also included in the Charles H. Wright research library. Her final resting place was to have her ashes scattered on the Detroit River.
The vision for Legacy’s Loft is being spearheaded by her mother Sonja M. Stuckey and a handful of dedicated friends who have pledged their loyalty and support of this endeavor. Chantay’s many unpublished works are being chronicled and prepared for release in several books of poetry; short stories, essays and a stage play chronicling her life are in the works. The conviction of Legacy Leonard is apparent in her life and work. The world has yet to see and experience the power of her testimony and the poignancy of her pen. The best and the rest are yet to come.