Louise Wilson’s legacy lives on at Experiment in Self-Reliance

Louise Wilson’s legacy lives on at Experiment in Self-Reliance
February 09
06:00 2017



While Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and Malcom X helped pave the way for civil rights at the national level, often local leaders doing the real ground work are overlooked during the month of February, Black History Month.

When discussing the fight for equal rights in Winston-Salem, Earline Parmon, Larry Womble, and Larry Little are some names that often come to mind but, not many know about the contributions of Louise Wilson.

A native of Bristol, Tennessee, from the day she arrived in Forsyth County, Wilson dedicated her time to ensuring those in need had the tools and resources to succeed in every aspect of life. After serving as an educator at Winston-Salem State University and the local school system, Wilson was named the first executive director of Experiment in Self Reliance (ESR), an agency that works to empower working low-income and chronically homeless individuals and families to achieve their full potential for long-term social and economic self-reliance.

ESR was born out of the Equal Opportunity Act of 1964, which was signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson.  It was founded in 1965. Wilson began working at ESR that year as assistant director. She became executive director in 1968. Under the tutelage of Wilson, the organization played a pivotal role in launching Head Start, Crisis Control, Trans-Aid and Legal Aid here in Forsyth County. With the help of a governing board made of 15 members, Wilson was also instrumental in forming the Neighborhood Youth Corps after school program, and a number of YMCA and YWCA camps.

Wilson was also the driving force behind sever-al job-training programs designed to improve the physical, social, and economic conditions of the community. Even after retiring in 1985, Wilson worked closely with then new executive director, Robert Law, to ensure a smooth transition. She also worked with other organizations in the community, including the local branch of the NAACP, N.C. Senior Citizens Federation, Council of Executive Directors, the Southwestern Association of Community Service, the Urban League Board of Directors, and the Association for Community Cooperation Board.

A year after she retired, ESR established the Louise G. Wilson Legacy Society to celebrate Wilsons’ legacy to serve.  Even though she passed away just two years after the society was established, the imprint Wilson left on the city of Winston-Salem is still visible. Today, ESR is still working to improve the lives of those in need, and just as the needs of the community have changed, ESR has evolved as well.

ESR Executive Director Twana Roebuck said the agency has evolved from an emergency agency to an agency that focuses more on self-reliance through employment and leveraging vocational skills to aid in stabilizing their families.

Roebuck said, “I count it all joy to know that I stand on the shoulders of a trailblazer that formalized programs and services that we are continuing to implement through our mission of empowering people to become self-reliant.”

Each year, the Louise G. Wilson Legacy Society holds a donor celebration ceremony to personally thank donors. It is held with ESR’s fundraising event.  This year, Winter Wonderland at the Ballpark will be 4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 19, at the BB&T Ballpark to raise funds to support its services, as well as offer donors and partners an avenue to get together, fellowship, and enjoy jazz music and food. Donors who give $1,000 or more each year will be inducted into the Louise G. Wilson Legacy Society at the event.

For more information on the celebration, contact Twana Roebuck at (336) 722-9400.

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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