The 35U began with a vision to inspire the leaders of tomorrow by telling them about the leaders of today. With millions of people involved in government, education, business and community service across the country, it sometimes may be hard for the 35U to connect to leaders individually simply due to an age barrier. The 35U to us is any young adult from the ages of 18-35 in this country. These individuals have a voice – they can vote, serve, and most importantly, they can make a difference for future generations.

Today’s Q&A feature is Sarah Leonardi, Broward County School Board Member for District 3. Sarah has been teaching in Broward’s high schools for almost a decade. As a child living abroad, especially in Egypt, she saw the importance of access to a good education. She became a teacher, like her mother, to make a difference in this world. Sarah was elected by the constituents of District 3 to serve on the Broward School Board on August 18, 2020, and will be the youngest member to serve on the Board. Her candidacy focused on increasing accessibility and transparency throughout the district, improving the mental health infrastructure in our schools, and prioritizing employee salary raises. She looks forward to engaging community stakeholders and using her fresh teacher perspective to work towards those values.

Sarah is an inspiration to the youth that want to pursue a career in education and government. We caught up with Sarah to find out what leadership means to her and what advice she would give to the next generation of leaders.

Why did you choose this career path?

My choice to run for the Broward School Board was a direct response to my experiences as a teacher. Walking into classrooms covered in mold, watching how long it took for my students to receive mental health services they needed, and witnessing how difficult it was for families, teachers, and students to navigate certain aspects of our system drove me to run. It was important to me to try to work for larger change rather than watching these things happen and not take any action.

Who inspired you get involved?

A few years ago I attended a rally in Miami where I watched a woman named Emma Collum deliver an incredibly inspiring speech about getting politically involved. I figured out that she was running for State House in District 93 – my district. Afterwards, I signed up to knock on doors for her. Emma was so inspiring for a multitude of reasons. She took her frustration with the 2016 election, helped organize the largest single-day protest in US history, and then ran for office.  She’s the kind of person who makes you feel like you’re the only person in the room, she ran her campaign with authenticity, and is an incredibly savvy communicator. She made it so easy for folks to get involved, and it’s easy to look up to a woman like her.

Who were your mentors along the way?

I’ve been really lucky to find women and men who are not only really inspiring people, but also close friends. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Emma Collum is one of those people, and I think a lot of women would say the same thing. Emma was an integral part of our campaign’s success, and was responsible for making sure I was prepared to run when I did. She helped direct the big picture goals of the campaign, but also helped me deal with the day-to-day difficulties and tasks. When COVID-19 hit, she spent hours on the phone guiding me through transitioning our campaign from in-person events and canvassing to creating phone banks for wellness checks. In the months after the election she’s helped guide my transition as I get ready to be sworn in this month. She does this kind of work for dozens of candidates and is also a full-time attorney and I’m not sure when she sleeps!

Another mentor of mine is Joanne Goodwin. who has spent her life volunteering for Democratic causes. Her first campaign to volunteer on was John F. Kennedy’s and took me under her wing when I volunteered on my first campaign. She then became the volunteer coordinator for our campaign when I ran and counseled me through a lot of tough moments in the campaign. She’s a wealth of information and experience and is selfless in how much of that she shares with people.

How do you define a leader?

A leader is someone who will listen, learn, and show up and work in their communities. It’s easy to make excuses when something goes wrong and boast about when something goes right, but real leaders can sit in the discomfort of doing the opposite.

What projects are you currently involved with in the community that engages the next generation of leaders?

I’m really proud to sit on several volunteer boards that do this work. Ruth’s List Broward is one of them. Ruth’s List is a statewide organization that works to get pro-choice women elected to office, and it’s unique because it focuses on state and local elections. The Broward chapter of Ruth’s List does some really incredible work around recruiting women, especially young women, to run for office and we work hard to mentor and provide volunteer support to those candidates. It’s probably one of the most dynamic organizations in Broward County right now.

What advice would you give to the next generation of leaders who want to get involved?

I would say to think about what would give you purpose in life, and start volunteering in that space. Don’t be above doing the grunt work. Listen, observe, and learn from the people in those spaces, especially the people who have been around doing that work for a long time. If you show up consistently, work hard, and make yourself useful, opportunities will come to you.