Jonathan Wilson, a strong dynamic leader can be spotted supporting social justice issues locally, regionally and nationally. Born in Chicago on June 18, 1991, Wilson, the youngest of four, stands out when it comes to taking charge and blazing trails.
Wilson is quick to refute the statement “children are our future,” by saying, “We are present now moving in the direction of the future, rather than waiting for its arrival, let’s get busy working on the present.”
Wilson and his family moved to Gary when he was nine years old. Wilson graduated from Calumet High School in 2009. He began attending Indiana University Northwest where he majored in Political Science, later transferring to Purdue University, Calumet. Wilson said he chose Political Science after reading the Autobiography of Malcolm X. Wilson said reading the autobiography taught him how the political system is “supposed” to work, transformed his life and way of thinking. He says he was not a bad kid, but was making bad decisions and hanging with the wrong crowd.
Wilson is the recipient of the Fulbright Award, a flagship education exchange program with fully paid expenses and a teaching stipend. In October Wilson will travel to the Ivory Coast in West Africa where he will spend nine months teaching English to students of various ages.
Taking charge is what Wilson does best. During high school Wilson became a member of the Central District Organizing Project (“CDOP”), a grassroots organization in Gary, Indiana, focusing on various community campaigns for change. His first introduction to protesting was the “Yes We Garbage Can,” a response to the decision of the City of Gary to privatize trash pickup. Wilson has also participated in anti-war protests and stop the violence rallies. He proudly remembers marching with protesters in Detroit, Michigan for Ayanna Jones, the little girl who was killed when Detroit police mistakenly raided the wrong house.
The most memorable protest for Wilson, was responding to the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri after the shooting of Michael Brown. Wilson said he and other Purdue students went to “ground zero,” because he wanted to see the struggle first hand. Once there he was able to talk to and become friends with many of the people. Wilson expressed that although there was an active presence of police and militia, he was more fearful of the uncertainty and unknown. He said seeing the action and looking at the commitment of the people captivated him to the point where he was ready to go to jail or die. They had had enough and were not budging. After three trips, he plans to return later to help build a stronger community.
At home in Indiana, Wilson took direction from his mentors Lori Peterson and Kim Magee, also members of CDOP, by becoming an instructor at the Gary Freedom School where he worked with children who are considered “at risk.” He said it was an instant chemistry. They are not bad kids, just kids in need of guidance and direction. Some of the projects included a farmer’s market where people could purchase fresh vegetables and fruits; retreats and mini social justice campaigns. Wilson said during his three-year tenure he worked with thirty students, most of whom have gone on to college.
At Purdue, Wilson was a member of the Social Justice Club, Black Student Union and Los Latinos. He participated in open mic events, student-led protests on campus, works on the retention of black students and various other cultural events. Wilson attributes his attendance at Purdue for making him who he is through the experience of working in his local community.
Wilson also traveled to Africa and Nicaragua., witnessing experiences and situations that allowed him to see situations with new perspective.
“Although people in America are poor, it’s taken for granted here, says Wilson. Being in a country where people push through the struggle every day and remain the nicest people you could meet is a humbling and inspiring experience.”
Wilson spent three weeks in Tanzania, when he was selected through a church group. As a member of Trinity United Church of Christ, Gary since he was fifteen years, he also credits the church’s pastor, Reverend John J. Jackson, Sr. as sparking his activism and being a tremendous mentor and spiritual leader.
The person Wilson credits first and foremost for his success is his mother, Ruth Wilson. Wilson says that although they were not poor and did not have a lot, he remembers seeing her make a way out of no way. Wilson says his mother was good at concealing the family’s financial struggles. They were not rich, nor did they have material things, but they were never hungry or homeless.
Wilson said his mother saved his life when he was stricken with a high fever by running down the street with him to the hospital when there was no ambulance available. He says he learned from a solider how to be a solider watching his mother overcome drug addiction and surviving cancer.
Wilson works at the Carmelite Home with small boys, ages 3 to 6, under the custody of the state, acting as a father figure and mentor teaching them basic skills for living. As with Ferguson, Wilson says he is nervous venturing around the world but wants to return to Indiana where he plans to continue to empower and encourage people to fight for a better life, better education and better world.
*photo taken by Purdue University Calumet