As director of community health policy and planning for the Peoria City/County Health Department, Dr. Leslie L. McKnight helps lead efforts to improve community health and well-being through prevention, promotion and protection—a role which has become even more significant during the COVID-19 pandemic. Originally from Chicago, she relocated to Peoria in 1999 when she married her husband Andre. One year later she was hired by the City of Peoria, where she worked in community and economic development for nearly 19 years.
A member of the 40 Leaders Under Forty class of 2010, Dr. McKnight was named the 2009 Central Illinois Community Leader of the Year by Advocates for Access and was the recipient of the Top Ten Outstanding Young Professionals Award from the Illinois Jaycees. She received her PhD in organization development from Benedictine University in 2013 and currently teaches management and leadership classes in Bradley University’s graduate and undergraduate business programs.
Among her favorite hobbies, Dr. McKnight likes to create flower arrangements. “It does not matter if they are silk or fresh—I enjoy arranging both!” In addition to her favorite vacation spot of Cancun, Mexico, she enjoys “staycation” excursions in Illinois with her husband. “The economic developer in me is passionate about buying and experiencing local,” she notes. “We have so much to offer in our own communities—we don’t have to go to Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana or Iowa to have fun!” Finally, she would like to make a public service announcement: “If you haven’t already, please get your COVID vaccine, continue to follow safety precautions, and ‘Let’s end this pandemic together!’”
- Favorite vacation spot: Cancun, Mexico. I enjoy the Mexican culture, cuisine, beaches, resorts, everything! It’s definitely a destination place to relax, unwind and have fun.
- Favorite film: Tombstone. I think I watch this movie once a quarter. I know most of the lines—my favorite is, “I’m your huckleberry, that’s just my game!”
- What song always makes you happy when you hear it? “Happy Feelings” by Frankie Beverly and Maze. You can play this song anywhere, anytime, anyplace, no matter what you are going through, and I guarantee you will be singing it before it is over. Try it!
- The one TV show I don’t usually tell people I watch is… Ultimate Fighting Championship mixed martial arts (UFC/MMA). I’m the youngest and only girl with two older brothers who grew up watching WWE. I was usually their opponent in the “ring,” which was the living room.
- What’s your idea of perfect happiness? Peace. I believe we are all striving to live in some form of peace in our lives. It makes life worth living.
- Which talent would you most like to have? To play the bass guitar. Any song that has a bass guitar is probably a jam.
- What’s some of the best advice you’ve been given? If you can’t manage your emotions, they will manage you. Don’t internalize how you really feel; channel it to something positive and you can change the world!
- What social issue fires you up? Institutionalized racism. Oppression and supremacy are the greatest threats to freedom and progress of a society. I am an agent for positive change.
- Proudest moment: Marrying my soulmate Andre. We met and courted over the phone for three years. We finally met at Starved Rock, got married a year later, and it’s been over 20 years so far!
- If you could have any superpower, what would it be? The power for everyone to see their potential. I see so much greatness in people; usually I’m excited when I meet people because I can see what they can become. I wish they could see what I see. PM