Ms. Leona Boling Blackburn is the second child of 16 and grew up living in public housing in Niagara Falls, NY. “Some people erroneously think if you come from a large family and grow up in the projects, that your expectations to succeed are low,” she states. Leona’s lifelong mantra, “Smile and Keep On Steppin', ” attests to her message that “hard work makes for success.”
Leona graduated from Niagara Falls High School and moved to Buffalo in 1962. She worked in numerous positions including sewing piece-work for a uniform company, preparing food as a short-order cook, and providing child care services. In 1965, she secured a job at Carborundum and worked in many different titles, the last being a Tube Furnace Operator, making $3.54/hour. While working there for five years, Leona enrolled in the College Preparation Course at the Cooperative College Center, the pre-cursor institute to the present-day University at Buffalo Educational Opportunity Center. Upon completion, she immediately enrolled at the University at Buffalo and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Black Studies with a minor in Political Science. Leona accepted an opportunity at General Motors in 1970 and was one of the first women to get hired at the Chevy Plant on ”August 6, 1970” she proudly recalls. At GM, Leona worked as an Engine Spray Painter, Engine Tester and General Inspector. Utilizing her political science background, she became a co-chair and then chair of the GM Women’s Committee, and was actively engaged in the Civil Rights Committee which served as the forum for workplace grievances and investigations. Her trail blazing accomplishments were recognized and she was honored as a recipient of the Leadership Institute Award. Leona retired from General Motors after 35 years, in 2007.
Leona is active in the community. She substitute teaches Buffalo middle and high school students (as she has since retired) and mentors seventh and eighth graders via her involvement with the Niagara Falls Chapter of the Links, Inc. She tells area youth not to go backward and to stay encouraged and engaged.
Her persistent message to all is still, “Smile and Keep-On Steppin’. ”
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