Solomon Crenshaw Jr.
For The Birmingham Times
Leon Moody stood outside Norton Student Union Building on the Miles College campus Wednesday as a room inside the building was being renamed.
But Moody would learn that he was not just there as director of student activities. He was there, and surprised, as the student center inside Norton hall was being renamed in his honor.
“This man bleeds purple and gold,” Student Government Association (SGA) president Geanette Bender said. “Today, Mr. Leon Antonio Moody, we are giving you your flowers as we name our student center the Magic Student Center in dedication to you and all you have been.”
With that, members of the student council unfurled a purple banner with a photo of Moody from his college days at Miles nearly two decades ago. The dedication included the phrase: “Where The Magic Happens.”
“Magic” is the nickname that Moody earned on a magical homecoming night as a running back at Atlantic Community High School in Boynton Beach, Florida when he rushed for four touchdowns, had 21 solo tackles, more than 150 yards rushing, 50 yards receiving and about 25 yards passing.
Bender, a native of Asbury Park, New Jersey, said she has long known about that night. “He’s told me many times,” she said with a laugh.
These days, Moody’s magic comes from what he has meant to students at the Fairfield college.
“A lot of us come from backgrounds where we don’t have the best father figures,” Bender said. “We don’t have that male leadership in our lives and Mr. Moody is literally the epitome of that. He cares so much about this school. His love for the school makes us want to love this school the way that he does.
“Mr. Moody is the type where he’s like, ‘My Miles College. It doesn’t have to be the biggest school in the world, but it’s my HBCU (Historically Black College and University), and I love it,’” Bender added. “To see what a person who went to Miles College, then veered off and came back and he’s now teaching and is now the director (of students), it leaves us as a student body breathless.”
Moody, 42, earned a math degree from Miles in 2000 and a computer science degree in 2004. He returned to the institution in 2007 as a running backs coach. He wears multiple hats at the college — director of student activities, director of Greek life, web developer and digital graphic designer, which includes work as a photographer and videographer.
“And I still work 15 percent as an IT technician as well,” he said.
Charles Stallworth, the Miles dean of students, said Moody, who lives about a mile from the campus, has an infectious, charismatic attitude.
“He’s like a calming spirit,” Stallworth said. “It’s almost like you can’t duplicate it.”
Moody landed a football scholarship to the University of Alabama under coach Mike DuBose. But the incoming freshman visited his brother who was playing at Miles and that changed the course of the younger brother’s life.
“I just came over to visit,” Moody said. “With all that HBCU culture, I felt at home more at Miles than I did down at the University of Alabama so I transferred to Miles and hoped to play football.”
Unknown to him at the time, then-football coach Cecil Leonard’s previous experience with players from Florida had seemingly left a bad taste in his mouth.
“He wasn’t too fond of kids from Florida, which I did not find out till I got there,” Moody said. “Basically, my first year was my last year playing football at Miles, which pushed me into baseball and ultimately cheerleading as well. I maintained a scholarship at Miles to stay and earn two degrees.”
Moody said Wednesday Bender brought him to tears for the second time this year. The first time came during her acceptance speech after she was elected SGA president.
“It was heart felt,” he said. “It had me crying. Her last statement was, ‘You are Miles College.’ And since I’ve been here at Miles, I just want students to have the same fun experience that I had when I was attending Miles.”
Moody said his role at his alma mater is an opportunity for him to give back some of what he received.
“I do a lot of mentoring of the students,” he said. “Miles is a unique institution and we get students from all over and all types of backgrounds. Many need the mentoring, especially our young African American students. I was one of those students who needed mentoring . . . ”
The student center is a three-part building with a campus store to the left, a bottom level that is for tutorial and multipurpose use and a top level for testing and counseling. That building holds a special place for Moody. That is where he proposed to his wife, LaToya Kemp Moody. The couple became partners on the Golden Bears’ cheerleading squad.
“We had our first child (Amber, now 17) while attending Miles and had our baby shower in the same building,” said Moody, whose younger children are sons 13-year-old Leon and 10-year-old Michael. “Ultimately, that is almost full circle.”
Updated at 10:18 a.m. on 9/25/2020 to correct which part of the building was renamed.