MANSFIELD -- Leonard Dillon is the new leader of the Mansfield Chapter of the NAACP.
But he is not new to the city and the challenges faced by its residents, particularly people of color.
The 72-year-old Dillon, who came to Mansfield from Louisiana almost 50 years ago, said the key to successfully solving the problems is for people to work together.
"I think that if people, Black and White, come together to achieve the goals of success and equal opportunity for all races, for years to come, it can be done," Dillon said Monday during an interview at Richland Source.
"I see my job as getting people together on all sides. We're all not going to agree on everything, but if we make progress, then it's worth it," said Dillon, who has been active in the local chapter, including as a committee chair.
Dillon, elected in November to a two-year term, will be sworn in as president on Jan. 18, bringing with him a wide variety of work and life experiences. He and his wife, Stephanie, have been married since 1973, and have two adult sons, eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Dillon, who earned an associate's degree from Mansfield Business College after working for two years at Westinghouse, said there has been a "great history" of black leaders in Mansfield.
Among others, he cited the efforts of former Mansfield police Chief Lawrence Harper and local attorney Wilbur Flippin, both of whom died in 2016, as well as civil rights advocate Wayne McDowell, who died Jan. 6.
"There are things people take for granted, but they should never forget those who blazed a trail for them. It's an older person's responsibility and duty to pass that information on to the next generation.
"Someone has to pick up that torch and carry on the legacy to the next generation," Dillon said.
Dillon is keenly aware of the history of the NAACP, founded in 1909, and is the nation's largest civil rights organization with more then 500,000 members. The first chapter in Ohio was formed in 1912.
He points to the fact the NAACP was formed in response to continued lynchings and violence against Black people, an organization brought to life by a group of White and Black residents, including Mary White Ovington, Oswald Garrison Villard, Dr. Henry Moscowitz, W.E.B. Du Bois, Ida Wells-Barnett and Mary Church Terrell.
As chapter president, Dillon said he will promote the goals of the national and state NAACP efforts, as well as local priorities, including the fight against racial discrimination, voter registration, housing, employment, assisting business startups, improving community partnerships, youth outreach and membership growth.
He said different committees will work on the various topics and goals and that partnerships with other organizations are essential.
"The NAACP can only do so much for the community by itself," he said. "It's good when we can get more individuals and public/private partnerships to assist in the work."
Dillon, who also worked at the former Ohio State Reformatory, the Community Action Program and the Central City Economic Development Council, remains active working with special needs students at Mansfield Senior High School, assisting in the classrooms.
"I enjoy helping kids," he said.
Dillon, who said he had been encouraged by others to seek leadership of the local chapter, said he is eager to begin.
"Sometimes you can't slow down. Sometimes there are jobs that need to be done, that you don't know about, but the Lord does. He sends someone your way ... what do you do?
"You spend your life telling other people that you need to get involved, that you need to do this, and when it comes to you, what are you gonna do? You got to step up," Dillon said.