Reverend Leslie Watson Wilson, People for the American Way

Reverend Leslie Marie Wilson is First Lady of Saint Matthew A.M.E. Church and is the current National Director of African American Religious Affairs (AARA) for People For the American Way and People For the American Way Foundation. As the director, Leslie is responsible for program planning, implementation of the two core programs that make up AARA: African American Ministers Leadership Council (AAMLC – c3) and African American Ministers In Action (AAMIA – c4). She has also created four new opportunities to inform and engage faith leaders: “Healing Grace – Shepherds Gathering: A Dialogue on The Black Church, Stigma, Prejudice and Homophobia,” the VESSELS civic education and participation initiative, the Micah Leadership Council for faith leaders under the age of 40, and the VASHTI health and leadership initiative for African American women and girls. AARA endeavors to build a strong association of progressive clergy, theologians, seminarians and ministry lay leaders who will encourage African American churches and communities to become more civically engaged and promote social justice programs and policies in areas of public education, health care, equal justice, civic participation and economic justice for all. Representing now 2,400 women and men from various Christian traditions across the country, leaders participate in strategic trainings, issue briefings, projects and partnerships to faithfully and effectively provide a prophetic, progressive voice and presence that counters right-wing religious rhetoric and advances a vision of “a beloved community.” AARA is essentially a ministry that works with people of faith who believe in help and not harm, power and not pain, and hope in the face of hopelessness.

Recognized by the Center For American Progress as one of “15 Faith Leaders to Watch in 2015,” Reverend Wilson is the former national policy director for the Balm In Gilead and served for nine years as the director of the Multicultural Programs Department of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice where she managed and developed La Iniciativa Latina (LIL), the Women of Color Partnership Project (WOCPP), and the National Black Church Initiative (NBCI) which included annual planning of the National Black Religious Summit on Sexuality for African American clergy and laity. Leslie has served as the national coordinator and field director for the National Rainbow/PUSH Coalition and the coordinator of the Public Policy Institute of the Citizenship Education Fund, the 501(c)(3) arm of the Rainbow. She is a master trainer, has received training by several institutions, has written 6 training curriculum (1 award winning) and has provided training to over 28,000 leaders almost exclusively within the African American faith community for over 30 years.

Formerly Leslie Watson Malachi, she is happily married to Reverend Melvin Eugene Wilson, Pastor/Teacher, Saint Matthew A.M.E. Church, Orange, NJ. Leslie attended Southern University (Baton Rouge, LA) majoring in political science, Trinity University (Washington, DC) focusing on business administration, and graduated with a BA in ministry from Richmond Virginia Seminary. A published poet, she recently contributed writings to “Mr. President: Interfaith Perspectives on the Historic Presidency of Barack H. Obama” and “These Sisters Can Preach” (volume 2), published by Sims Publishing Group. Leslie is the oldest and only female of nine siblings.