Inside USD

Wilson’s Work Drives Civic Engagement

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Christopher Wilson and other Alliance San Diego (ASD) staff members put 13 college student volunteers through a 45-minute training on Tuesday’s election day, before sending them to targeted community neighborhoods to remind residents to vote. Wilson spent part of his time providing volunteers with do’s and don’ts and, at times, a few light-hearted moments, on purpose, to put everyone at ease.

But as the volunteers prepared to leave ASD’s 30th Street office in North Park, Wilson delivered a final passionate reminder: “What you’re doing out there today is very important. It’s not just about voting; this is about California’s future, our kids, our community. Put your heart into it. You need to educate people that we need to invest in California and, today, this is the best opportunity to do it.”

The University of San Diego’s first Ethnic Studies graduate — Wilson ’03 also earned a history degree — is fully committed to making a difference as ASD’s director of civic engagement. The staff, along with support from California Calls and 120 volunteers, spent the past six weeks contacting 32,000 local voters in underrepresented areas by phone and in-person visits. The goal, Wilson said, was to remind this diverse, widespread population to vote and, specifically, regarding California propositions 30 and 32.

“The communities we were working in are normally left out in the effort to turn out voters,” Wilson said.

All votes matter but ASD’s targeted areas, which included Mira Mesa, Linda Vista, Claremont/Kearny Mesa and City Heights residents, sought to make an impact on local and state ballot measures.

“They’d be about five percent of the vote and they could be the tipping point,” said Matt Yagyagan, ASD’s education equity organizer.

Once Tuesday’s results were in and validated, Wilson felt vindicated and rewarded.

“The work that my team did over the last six weeks was great. We were the margin of victory in many of the local races and the statewide proposition races,” Wilson said. “The grassroots efforts to educate and motivate these low propensity voters, low-income communities and communities of color showed everyone just how much these communities matter in the political equation.”

Wilson’s work at ASD continues his long-standing community involvement and commitment. Born in Detroit, the now 45-year-old’s first exposure to activism came when his mother took him to Black Panther events. He later served in the U.S. Marine Corps and traveled the world, but Wilson ultimately decided on a different path for service.

Wilson enrolled at USD, got involved with the Center for Community Service-Learning and student government where in 2002 he was elected as USD’s first African-American Associated Students President. He was in the Black Student Union and was present for the formative years of USD’s United Front Multicultural Center, which celebrates its 15-year anniversary Nov. 16 in the UC Forums.

Wilson’s post-USD activism is a formula for bringing people together, educating others and fostering freedom of expression. One example is Elevated! It’s a spoken word program that mixes social justice and art that’s held on the first and third Thursday of each month at North Park’s Eveoke Dance Theatre. Wilson has hosted special spoken word performances for USD events sponsored by the Center for Awareness, Service and Action, the Women’s Center and the Center for Inclusion and Diversity.

Wilson’s daily drive to be the best he can be is contagious.

“Chris is the type of person who wants you to understand fully,” said Yagyagan, who has been at ASD for a year and a half. “He’s a very good teacher. Chris is very good at communicating the importance of social work. He’ll be real with you, too, and give you all the facts to help you become the best leader you can be. I know my own leadership capacity has been growing.”

Wilson’s passion clicked, too, with two college student volunteers, Charae and Silvia, who knocked on doors in Kearny Mesa on Tuesday. They had a string of unsuccessful responses, but that frustration evaporated when one 60-year-old female resident answered her door. She greeted the volunteers and voiced her appreciation for their reminder to vote.

“I’m just about to go,” she told them. “I’m really excited, too, because this is my first time voting in an election.”

Smiles brightened Charae and Silvia’s faces. They admitted their initial drive to volunteer was gaining extra credit for a class, but that facilitating even one person’s right to vote gave each of them a noticeably deeper sense of pride.

“This makes us so happy,” the women said. “People say that young people don’t care about elections or voting, but we do. It’s very important. It inspires us.”

Wilson said many local students, including some from USD, were ASD volunteers leading up to the election. It’s important to gain this insight and awareness of not only elections and the issues, but to put one’s inner Changemaker into action.

“I’d advise all students to connect to their passion. Find out what it is they care about and find a way to connect it to their educational process,” Wilson said. “Find a community organization that’s doing work in that area and start as a volunteer. If more people worked from their hearts to make a difference, we could live in a much different community a lot sooner than people think!”

— Ryan T. Blystone

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