The Life of Leo Colon, a Born-and-Raised Hobokenite

We rarely get to build a career in our hometowns. Most people move away to pursue careers elsewhere, but Elias Leo Colon Jr., also known as Leo, didn’t look far. In fact, he looked no further than the town that raised him, Hoboken.

After overcoming many obstacles as a young boy and teenager, Leo knew that he wanted to do something, to be something that would allow him to help others. His funny, friendly personality continues to allow him to connect to his Hoboken community. As a police officer and veteran, Leo has the privilege of fulfilling that dream of helping others, all in the same town he was raised in and has become a part of the Hoboken community’s fabric and history. Read on to learn more about his life story.

leo colon hoboken

Leo’s Roots

leo colon hoboken

Leo is a Puerto Rican Hoboken police officer. He was raised at 208 Harrison Street in the Hoboken Housing Authority with his parents Mildred and Elias, and siblings, Rico and Delia Colon. Their father was a boiler operator and passed away in 1986 when Hoboken was not the desirable city it has come to be. In the ‘80s, much like New York City and other populated cities during that decade, Hoboken was directly affected by drugs, and communities that were home to people of color were hit the hardest. Leo’s mother, also known as Milly, raised him and his siblings as a single parent during a time when there were obstacles, adversities, and a lack of resources for Latinos

Read More: The Legacy of Tom Oliveri, a Hoboken Latino Activist, Through His Daughter’s Eyes

While Leo’s family didn’t have much growing up, they had each other and their community. Hoboken had a large population of Latinos and Black people during that time, and there was a sense of respect and friendship among the residents. “I always felt like we fit in because everybody had the same problems. Like us, many of them were poor, but my mother always had food on the table for us. She did a great job of raising us on her own. My grandfather, Rev. Fernando Luis Colon Jr, was a leading figure in my life as well, ” Leo tells Hoboken Girl

Growing Up in Hoboken

Growing up in the Mile Square at that time, sports were everything. My favorite things to do were play football and baseball. Especially because I had great coaches by my side. Two coaches, in particular, were there for me when things were rough. I considered them my father figures, Coach Dom Luciano and Coach Buddy Mathews,” Leo says. “Sports kept me out of trouble, and I met a lot of great people throughout my sports career.”

“When I wasn’t on the field, you could find me at Benny’s Pizzeria, grabbing a slice.” That’s right — that Benny’s is still around today!

“Some of my first jobs were delivering jersey journals in town, sweeping the storefront at Big Banners, washing dishes until I moved up, and served slices at Benny’s Pizzeria. I worked for the owner’s wife, Mrs. Drishti. She took a chance on me and taught me the importance of hard work,” he shares. 

leo colon hoboken

After graduating from Hoboken High School, Leo served in the United States Marine Corps from 1994 – 1998. He received an honorable discharge and came home as a Corporal E-4. In the Marines, an E-4 {Corporal} has to earn his stripes and added responsibility, and the road to promotion is a competitive one. “What I took away from serving in the Marines in three words, God, Country, and Corp. This is what you live by, and nobody can never take it away. Regardless of your skin color, we all believed in the meaning of those three words. It brought us together. We all bleed red and green,” Leo shares.

Joining the Hoboken Police Department

leo colon hoboken

In 1999, he joined the Hoboken Police Department as a Special. “Specials” are police officers who are authorized to exercise full police powers and duties similar to those of a permanent police officer, but are not officially a regular appointed full-time police officer. However, that changed in 2002, when Leo officially became a part of the force. 

More impressively, Leo was a part of a police force unit that no longer exists in Hoboken, the Mounted Patrol Unit. 

“I became a mounted police officer in 2006 and continued to work with my horse, Spirit, until 2010. I was the first Puerto Rican in the history of Hoboken to be a mounted officer, and that is something that I am extremely proud of,” he said. “I grew up riding horses in Puerto Rico bareback {no saddle}. It’s something that I loved to do. I remember seeing the police officers riding them in NYC and wanting to do that someday.” 

See More: Nellie Moyeno: A Q+A With This Longtime Hoboken Resident

Leo trained with his horse, Spirit, in Newark, and as he puts it, it took a lot of time and investment to create a bond between them. “The kids loved seeing the horses in town, so I used to bring Spirit to the Housing Authority and let them pet her,” he tells HG. After the unit was dissolved, the horses were adopted by a fire captain who continues to take care of them.

Leo now serves in the department’s traffic division and is also a member of the mayor’s security detail.

Leo’s Accolades 

leo colon hoboken

Leo has received numerous awards throughout his career, but the ones that mean the most to him are for his action during 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy. “After 9/11, I spent six days in Manhattan, helping clean up the debris from the buildings and searching for bodies. During Hurricane Sandy, I helped rescue residents whose lives were threatened by the flooding. There was one woman who was stuck in her car as the water was rising several feet at a time, and without even thinking about it, I ran over to her car through the water and pulled her to safety,” he says. “Afterwards, I realized that there were electric wires loose around the car where I was standing, but that’s not something you think about when you’re in the moment. I’ll never forget those experiences, I’ve never seen anything like that before, and I still have dreams about those times.”

On June 5th, 2020, a Black Lives Matter protest took to Hoboken’s streets where 10,000 people from around New Jersey peacefully marched through the town to bring awareness to the Black community’s treatment for centuries, which came to a head with the murder of George Floyd. Leo was on duty that day and was one of the Hoboken police officers who knelt with and hugged protesters demonstrating their pain and frustration. 

Learning Over the Years

leo colon hoboken

It’s no secret that a career as a police officer is challenging. As protectors of communities, police officers constantly learn and grow with the community, especially for those police officers who serve in the same small town they grew up in. “The best part about being a police officer in my hometown is watching the kids from the Housing Authority grow up over the years. Joking around with them and even having serious conversations about how they can grow up to be anything they want to be if they put their minds to it, means a lot to me. This is my community, and these are my people.” 

As for the day-to-day, “My day starts off yelling at my two sons to take the dog and the garbage outside in the morning, being out of my house by 5:45AM, heading for 7Eleven for a big cup of Brazilan coffee, and heading to work.”

“I owe everything to my wife Awilda, who is the glue that keeps our family together, and my two sons, Leo and Elijah, who I always remind that God comes first and education is the key to life. It’s because of my wife, my children, and my mother that I am the man I am today. I am beyond grateful to wake up every day and serve the same community that I’ve called home my entire life.”

The trials and tribulations that Leo and his family overcame together set the foundation for him to face the world head-on with a compassionate outlook on life and a keen sense of community that has allowed him to become someone that people know and respect today.

EMAIL BUTTONS


Written by:

Victoria is HG's Editorial Assistant. She is a fourth-generation Hoboken native, BNR in the Mile Square, and Jersey City. Through playing softball in town for fourteen years, playing the trumpet for the Hoboken High School Redwings Band, and graduating from New Jersey City University, these two cities have a special place in her heart. When she isn’t Style Assisting or volunteering at Symposia Bookstore, Hoboken Fire Museum/Hoboken Historical Museum, she’s exploring everything the Concrete Jungle has to offer. You can catch her at art exhibitions, local festivities, traveling, diving into a new book, thrifting, or indulging in some form of arts and crafts.