As a young boy in the 1940s, Isiah “Ike” Leggett lived in a four-room house without indoor plumbing with his 12 siblings, his mother, and his father. Four college degrees and many decades later, he became the first African American Montgomery County executive, while establishing himself as one of the state’s most respected public servants. Education was instrumental in his success, which is why he and his wife are starting the Ike and Catherine Leggett Scholarship, a new initiative that will benefit the county’s historically underrepresented students in higher education through the Achieving Collegiate Excellence and Success (ACES) program.
On September 23 at the Music Center at Strathmore in Bethesda, the “Leggett Legacy Forward” event will honor and thank the Leggetts for their outstanding service to the county and their commitment to higher education. The scholarship is their legacy gift to continue to serve the county in perpetuity. The fundraising team is aiming to raise one million dollars to support the scholarship through donations before, during, and after the free event.
Born in 1945, Leggett grew up in Alexandria, Louisiana. Like so many small cities in the post-war Deep South – segregation was law, poverty was the norm, and higher education was often unattainable. He played high school football before earning a degree from Southern University. After serving in the U.S. Army in the Vietnam War, he earned a law degree from Howard University paving the way for the next chapters in his life. He became a White House Fellow under President Jimmy Carter, a lawyer, and a university professor and politician, one that broke glass ceilings.
We wanted to identify a scholarship program that reaches out and helps those who want to advance but don’t have the financial means to do it, so ACES is just perfect – Catherine Leggett
Leggett became the first African American elected to the Montgomery County Council. He is now retiring after 28 years of service, including three terms as county executive. However, the Leggetts are only transitioning to the next phase of public life.
The Leggett family had already created an endowed scholarship through the Montgomery College Foundation, but the new initiative will serve students throughout the ACES pathway that starts in high school and ends after a four-year degree.
A partnership among Montgomery County Public Schools, Montgomery College, and the Universities at Shady Grove, the ACES program is free and provides access to individualized academic coaching, career readiness, and scholarship opportunities.
“We wanted to identify a scholarship program that reaches out and helps those who want to advance but don’t have the financial means to do it, so ACES is just perfect,” Catherine Leggett said. “We believe that it is so important to go to college, we believe that college education gives you the discipline, the vision, and a focus for your future.”
Helping Students Get a Leg Up
The scholarship will provide a helping hand that can make a difference for students like Antony Canales, a young man from El Salvador who came to the United States at 14 and has been part of the ACES program since high school. Canales graduated from MC in May with a business degree and is starting classes at USG to pursue a marketing degree from the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.
He is not eligible for state or federal financial aid, but private scholarships have provided financial relief to his immigrant parents, going as far as covering his tuition in full. That fact alone has played an essential role in keeping him in college, as he has been able to focus his time and energy on classes. He will continue to apply for scholarships while he is at USG. The Ike and Catherine Leggett Scholarship can help bridge the gap for students in need of financial aid, such as Canales.
The event is free and open to everyone, but those interested in attending must reserve a ticket through either the Leggett Legacy Forward or the Strathmore website. ACES students and coaches will attend and provide information to anyone interested in learning more about the program. In addition, award-winning jazz musician Marcus Johnson will perform.