Darnell Leatherwood grew up in East St. Louis, Illinois and attended Hawthorne Elementary School, Lansdowne Middle School, and East Saint Louis Senior High School. He was valedictorian of his graduating class in middle school, president of his freshman and senior classes in high school, and graduated top 5 in his high school class. Gravitating toward leadership at an early age, Darnell held multiple leadership positions at his childhood church Ira Grove Freewill Baptist Church. He served as a youth Sunday school teacher, president of the junior usher board, president of the junior choir, and a junior deacon.


Currently, Darnell is a doctoral candidate, Institute of Education Sciences (IES) fellow, and Illinois Board of Higher Education (DFI) fellow at the University of Chicago in the School of Social Service Administration. He holds a M.A. in the Social Sciences from the University of Chicago and a B.S. from the College of Business at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where he double majored in Management (concentration in Entrepreneurship) and Business Process Management. 

Darnell’s research interests include urban education, social inequality/policy, and identity formation. He is particularly interested in examining factors associated with academic achievement among vulnerable student populations in and/or from underserved communities. He is an independent researcher and coordinated/chaired the University of Chicago Committee on Education’s Workshop on Education for 2 academic years. He is currently a board member for the Master of Arts Program in the Social Sciences (MAPSS) Alumni Association at the University of Chicago and has authored peer reviewed publications in such academic journals as Social Service Review and the International Journal of Higher Education.

Darnell is a founding member of Thrive Chicago’s & President Barack Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Alliance Action Team, a member of the Advisory Board of the Chicago State University College of Education, serves as a Young Scholar on The Journal of Negro Education Editorial/Advisory Board, and serves on the Board of Directors for the Swataleem Foundation, an organization that provides educational services to minority girls in India. Additionally, Darnell is a charter member of the Black Education Research Group (BERG) and the Black Male Educators Alliance of Illinois (BMEAIllinois). BERG is a cross university research initiative dedicated to eliminating the achievement gap and promoting national advocacy efforts on behalf of Black education, and BMEAIllinois is purposed with supporting the recruitment, retainion, and development Black male educators for careers in primary and secondary schools in Illinois and abroad.  Before starting his doctoral program, Darnell taught algebra 1 at the Urban Prep Academies and was the civic engagement coordinator & an assistant teacher at the Montessori School of Englewood in Chicago.

In 2016 he co-founded Leatherwood & Lyles, L.L.C. which is a social entrepreneurial business dedicated to developing underserved communities through home-ownership and gainful employment. He is a founding board member of Quest Christian Academy, a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt boarding school that will service and educate students exposed to the juvenile justice system and/or who are growing up in adverse circumstances. He co-founded For Posterity, Inc. which is a tax-exempt charitable nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing youth violence and providing mentoring/community service in the city of Chicago and across Illinois. In 2017, he started the Black Boys Shine campaign (tax-exempt charitable nonprofit organization) which is purposed to strengthen/control the Black male narrative and image nationally and internationally. Darnell or his work has been featured in Rolling OutWCIU, BlackDoctors.org, WVON, WBGX Chicago, Report to the PeopleThe Ideal Candidate (Book), The News GazetteThe Daily IlliniWest of the Ryan Current Magazine, The South Shore Current, and the podcast Separate and Unequal


is a campaign to illuminate the character and contributions of Black boys and men nationally and internationally.



Darnell endorses the responsibility of this generation to steward the future of this district, our cities, our state, this country, and the planet. 

What is his

“We can live in an America that prioritizes the health of our bodies, communities, and earth while healing the social wounds of yesterday. Through investing in public service work, we can address civil rights, criminal justice, economy, climate change, education, public health, migration, foreign policy, and the welfare of families. These proposed practices are based in science, and are designed to foster social cohesion. This inherently encourages people to care for each other, while turning away from the things that divide and isolate us.”


District 1 is a region that represents the diversity and the polarized realities of our nation. Within District 1 there are valuable citizens with ideologies that vary throughout the political spectrum from liberal, to progressive, to moderate, to conservative. There are citizens who deserve accessible healthcare, affordable living and working conditions. There are immigrants who are human beings that deserve their rights protected and respect, there are children that deserve to be safe walking to school, and there are elderly who deserve appropriate services and living arrangements. 

District 1 deserves a candidate who is invested in protecting and enhancing the way of life for its people, and Darnell is committed to serving and uplifting all people.