Marion Barry and John A. Wilson (Courtesy of Wilson Scholarship Fund)
Marion Barry and John A. Wilson (Courtesy of Wilson Scholarship Fund)

Tom Sherwood had it right in 2018 when he said we should not forget John Wilson, that he might have dramatically changed the course of city history and that Wilson was intent that the D.C. Council, largely seen as a minor player in city politics, be a co-equal branch of government.

He was the first chairman who talked about the council as an independent, separate, equal part of the government and made it so with staffing, budgets, and laid the foundation for the council being the independent branch of government that it is today.

The H Street Community Development Corporation (HSCDC) agrees completely with Sherwood and since 2008 has provided John A. Wilson Scholarships to DC Public and Charter School Students to encourage new generations to consider careers in public and community service.

Miguel Portillo is a 2015 scholarship recipient who grew up in Columbia Heights and heard about the John A. Wilson Scholarship through his counselor at Capital City Public Charter School.

The scholarship was a real benefit for Portillo who did not want to burden his parents to pay for college. He is currently employed at Deloitte as a risk and financial advisory consultant.

“The financial support was important, but HSCDC has also helped me to develop networking skills and put me in situations where I can meet key people and make contacts that can help me as I pursue my career,” Portillio said.

Another scholarship recipient says that her life’s work is advocating with and for youth and she is determined to encourage more students in Wards 7 and 8 to apply for this scholarship.

“I contacted the manager of the scholarship program to figure out what can I do to help with outreach and spreading the word about this scholarship,” said Mariah Green, a 2012 recipient. “I love that this is a locally based scholarship that supports students in District schools. H Street CDC goes beyond just providing the financial support, they help you develop leadership skills and confidence that you can make a difference.”

The Honorable John A. Wilson devoted his career to serving the public and championing education and opportunities for youth. Raised in poverty on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Chairman Wilson became a courageous leader of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee in the 1960s civil rights movement.

He later moved to Washington and began a distinguished political career. He led the successful 1974 campaign for adoption of the District’s home rule charter, then served 18 years on the D.C. Council. He served as council chairman from 1991 to 1993.

Eric Jones Sr. was one of Chairman Wilson’s most trusted aides throughout his career in elected office with a relationship that dates to their days with SNCC.

“John had a strong belief that one of the responsibilities of government was to assist those in need and to support young people in their development through sports, educational and employment opportunities,” Jones said. “He was very intentional about hiring young generation staff to expose them to opportunities that were not available to our generation in electoral politics and governing. Many of them have gone on to do great things and speak affectionately of his impact on their lives.”

HSCDC established the John A. Wilson Scholarship Fund as a lasting memorial to the late civil rights leader who was also a founding member of HSCDC. His leadership facilitated the 1984 birth of the organization, which produces affordable housing and commercial retail and office space throughout the District.

Since 2008, HSCDC has awarded more than $650,000 in scholarships to deserving DC Public and public charter school students. Recipients of the John A. Wilson Scholarship attend some of the most prestigious colleges and universities in the country.

The youngest Americans — millennials and Generation Z — are set to exercise their political muscle in 2020, making up 37% of the electorate, according to a new study by Pew Research.

With 2020 being a year of major political elections at every level, HSCDC sees this as a pivotal time to encourage more young people to think about careers in public and community service.

The John A. Wilson Scholarship is one way that HSCDC is preparing new generations to step up, become soldiers in the army of social justice and ensure that their voices are heard!

Meta Williams is chief of communications and external affairs for H Street Community Development Corporation.

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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