Wesley Watson (he/him)
is the Rise Michigan State Organizing Director. He has long been passionate about social justice issues in his community. As an introduction to his background, he has experience in public health education, community, and grassroots organizing, most recently as the West Michigan Regional Coordinator for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. As part of his role at Michigan LCV, I have worked closely with our state government affairs team to advocate for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s MI Healthy Climate Plan. Our focus has been ensuring that Michigan legislators invest in tackling climate change and environmental injustice through the state budget. Additionally, I have been working with state partners to push for legislation that achieves 100% clean energy by 2040 and supports the Clean Energy Future Plan, and in November of 2023, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed one of the boldest clean energy packages in the nation. Wesley also served on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist’s Clean Energy and Environmental Election Leadership Team.
Engagement Manager for the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum. In that role, he led the organization’s work to engage underrepresented communities in the state’s circular economy investments, supporting the growth of new regional markets and managing their grant project with the Climate Action Campaign and Environmental Defense Fund on continuing the drumbeat for urgency on bold federal climate and infrastructure investments throughout Michigan. Wesley also served as the Deputy State Field Director with For Our Future and West Michigan Organizing Director with NextGen America. Wesley was highlighted in the Washington Post in 2020 for his efforts in reaching new young voters in Michigan and organizing during a pandemic. In that and past roles, he has tackled environmental justice and healthcare issues ranging from lead eradication, access to clean drinking water, criminal justice reform, voting rights advocacy, and removing public health barriers in communities of color.
Previously, he served the Grand Rapids community through the Grand Rapids Red Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving health, reducing risk, and preventing HIV throughout West Michigan. As part of his work, he collaborated with fellow staff members, community partners, and local law enforcement to decrease the Opioid Epidemic in West Michigan. He also served as a national advocate for the Black AIDS Institute to fight health disparities and stigma in Black and Brown Communities. He also worked closely with Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar to address the overdose and HIV rates in communities of color.
Wesley was also featured in two CBS 60-minutes episodes with a special contributor reporter, Oprah Winfrey, in 2017 and 2018, organized by national political pollster Frank Luntz about a nation-divided post-2016 election with a focus on the real West Michigan planned in the 2016 presidential election. The second CBS 60-minutes episode highlighted how community members from all different political party backgrounds can find common ground despite political debates.
Wesley recently started his own political environmental and brain-trust called Watson’s Consulting in the Summer of 2023 with the primary focus of creating space at the legislative table for Black and Brown organizations in Michigan. We also focus on helping Black, Brown, and Tribal communities apply federal and state investments from the CHIPS Act, Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Inflation Reduction Act, and Justice40 Initiative. In the last quarter of 2023, Watson’s Consulting helped lead and secure over $20 Million in federal and state funding for frontline communities in West Michigan. This includes 15,000 urban tree planting projects within the city of Grand Rapids to create more access to green spaces and trails in communities of color another leading project is an EV ride-sharing and infrastructure program in the City of Grand Rapids.
Watson believes If we as a community and society can equip and mobilize our brothers and sisters with the resources and tools to become agents of change through intersectionality, then the result will be tangible progress on issues & a cultural shift around the politicization of our democracy/society. When we show up, we show the movement up. We are all responsible for fighting for equity and expanding our democracy in our communities. We must continue getting into “good necessary trouble” to pave the way for future generations. It’s power within our voice and vote; we must always leverage our voice for positive community change. Wesley was honored and received the Great Expectation Award at the 2021 African American Leadership Awards. He dedicated that award to his late father, Tommie Watson Jr., Who was his mentor and got him involved in community organizing to invest in improving the lives of every single member of our community.
Wesley loves to spend time with his beautiful mom and listen to Jazz Fusion, Bossa Nova, and Neo-Soul in his spare time.