Skip to content

How one victim of police violence has turned his experience into a mission to build connection and trust between communities and police.

2023 Catalyst Fund Awardee
Leon Ford
Catalyst Fund
United States

Who can rebuild community trust in police? In Pittsburgh, that effort is being led by a victim of unjustified police violence: Leon Ford, who was shot five times and paralyzed during a traffic stop blamed on mistaken identity in 2012. Ford’s journey back to health and stability were already the source of several inspirational books, but he wanted to do something not just to improve community relations, but to help ensure officers never repeated the kind of horrific violence to which he was subjected. In those same years, Pittsburgh’s confidence in policing was on a sustained downward trend. These tensions were felt most in the same neighborhoods that most needed quality public safety services—but where inequitable policing made residents feel victimized without improving safety. Black residents in Pittsburg are five times more likely to experience arrest than their white counterparts. The erosion of trust also affects police: Pittsburgh officers are resigning at high rates and the police warn of insufficient staffing.

I lean into my gratitude and I’m happy to be live, but I’m still frustrated with the system. But I don’t live in that frustration. I turn that frustration into action

Leon Ford, Co-Founder, The Hear Foundation

Recognizing the importance of building a relationship between police and the community, Leon Ford partnered with then-Police Chief Scott Schubert to form the Hear Foundation. Their goal is to build authentic connections between the police and neighborhoods in order to collaborate on improving public safety, through funding initiatives that address their focus areas of gun violence, mental health, and workforce development. Since their founding, they have hosted summer camps, trained community leaders, and restructured school safety programs. These initial programs have already reflected improved connections, proving their 1-to-1 model of relationship building to change hearts and minds.

community leaders trained by The Hear Foundation
police shootings occur every year in the US
nonprofit in Pittsburgh dedicated to collaborating with community leaders, police and residents


Leon Ford is the Co-Founder and Co-Board Chair of the Hear Foundation. In 2012, he was shot by police and paralyzed; from this life-altering event he became a prominent activist for police reform and reconciliation. His personal experience of healing uniquely positions him to understand the complexities of police reform and lead this work of relationship building.

The Hear Foundation leadership team

Leon Ford speaking with community members

view all impact stories