Charles Wilson isn’t shy about discussing poverty and the issues that face many inner city and poverty-stricken youth on a regular basis. The Maryland entrepreneur doesn’t just point out the problems, he offers solutions that are partly based on his own life experience.
That experience includes a stint in the United States Navy at age 17, becoming a husband and father at the age of 18 and overcoming definitive odds to assert himself as a true leader, motivator and example of what Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) can do to quickly change the fortunes of the hopeless.
“The first thing for me is exposure and making our young people [are] aware of what career opportunities exists. We see the same story lines about STEM and nuclear energy, that there isn’t information and that no one is aware of the opportunities,” said Wilson, the managing partner at CW Consulting Group, co-founder for The Legacy Initiative, and a member of the American Association of Blacks in Energy in Washington.
Wilson is also a senior reactor operator trainer, one of the most highly regarded and respected accomplishments in the commercial nuclear industry.
“No one goes out into these cities and communities talking about having a career in nuclear energy, but when you see a black man who has been successful and once the kids are exposed to potential careers, [you can] provide a map with specific goals and it becomes real,” he said.
Wilson makes it a habit of showing young individuals his paycheck stubs because that’s when they appear to understand that the effort is worth pursuing, he said. It’s also a method that he uses to display his unique connection to them.
Wilson grew up in the rough and hardscrabble streets of Chicago. After graduating from high school, he had no plans or goals set. He joined the Navy and excelled on high-level aptitude exams, most critically the Nuclear Propulsion Exam, which led him on his career path of becoming a nuclear chemist. Within two years, he earned 140 college credit hours and held a job that entailed chemistry on nuclear reactors.
“That, I didn’t see coming but I scored the highest and was in a class with five [white] males,” he said. “I was 17 and they were in college, but I was the only one who passed the exam.”
After three years on a submarine and six years in the Navy, Wilson took a job with the Exelon Corporation as a nuclear chemist and nuclear chemistry instructor.
“This part of my journey forced me to be more strategic in my thinking and planning. It not only helps me become more focused and more responsible, but it allows me to help others, including some of my family members,” Wilson said.
A member of the American Association of Blacks in Energy in Washington, D.C., Wilson co-founded the Legacy Initiative, a nonprofit that has already provided successful mentorship to more than 2,500 students.
Wilson is scheduled to meet with Baltimore colleges, stakeholders, economic development council members and others to implement a program locally that will provide grants and scholarships to help facilitate training for youth.
“We want to create among the students an army of future mentors and we want to invest in new mentors,” Wilson said, noting that he knows it will take some time but he wants to eradicate youth unemployment, a critical element in breaking the cycle of poverty.
“I want to deliver to these young people something to aspire to. These STEM and nuclear jobs are high paying jobs with highly skilled workers,” he said. “These are jobs that can be had with just a high school diploma and two years of certification so you’re talking about a turnaround from high school in a relative short period of time as opposed to the traditional four-year college education and all of the loan and other debt that it carries.”
Wilson says the quick turnaround is important to young, often inpatient individuals.
“Because, they’ve been disappointed so much and lied to so many times and sold dreams, you have to make it real to them and I show them that this is real and when they look at me, they can see themselves because I’m still a relatively young man,” he said.