Ensuring that the annual celebration of student achievement put on by the Civic Coalition for Minority Affairs went off without a hitch required the organizational skills of a general combined with the zeal of an evangelist.
Dr. Margaret Wilson proved up to the task, year after year, as she organized the effort to salute Arlington public-school students at key points in their educational journey: fifth grade (transitioning from elementary to middle school), eighth grade (moving from middle to high school) and 11th grade (beginning to think about their future beyond school).
Yet that program was only one of a varied number of civic activities undertaken by Wilson, who died Nov. 26 at the age of 90. A celebration of her life is slated for late January.
A psychologist by profession, Dr. Wilson’s local civic life spanned more than four decades, including service starting in the early 1980s as chair of the Arlington NAACP’s education committee.
In 2014, when she was honored with the local NAACP’s Charles Monroe Civil Rights Award, Dr. Wilson said though much had changed for the better, there was much work left to go.
“I wish I could say we were glorious or victorious, but we still need to fight,” she said.
Dr. Wilson was selected for that honor, former NAACP president Elmer Lowe Sr. said at the time, because she worked “to ensure that the minority children of this community are not forgotten.”
In her role as president of the Civic Coalition for Minority Affairs, Dr. Wilson for three decades organized the annual student-achievement celebration, selected a keynote speaker and provided words of support both to the students themselves and to the broader community.
“We’re honoring the children who excel academically – I mean, really excel,” she said at the 26th annual event, held in 2018, where 65 students were celebrated.
Having such programs to reinforce positive academic behavior was vital, said Carolyn Clark, then the interim supervisor of minority achievement for the county school system, at the 2018 event.
Community involvement like the awards program is necessary to make sure students “have everything they need to excel and move on to greater things,” Clark said.
Dr. Wilson was no-nonsense when it came to ensuring students were kept on track academically, particularly when it came to literacy. She stressed the basics – starting with literacy – as being the building blocks to success.
“We have got to have reading in hand when [students] leave fourth grade,” she said. “You must if you’re going to succeed.”
For her service to the community, the NAACP and the Urban League – she was a life member of both those civil-rights groups – Dr. Wilson was the recipient of the Arlington County government’s James B. Hunter III Human Rights Award and a number of accolades from the Arlington school system.
Dr. Wilson was educated in the public schools of Pittsburgh, Pa., and earned a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Pittsburgh. She went on to earn a master’s degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Case Western Reserve University, and at one time served as a member of the Council of Representatives, the legislative body responsible for the oversight of the American Psychological Association.
Dr. Wilson joined Howard University as a faculty member in the Urban Affairs and Research Institute, reopened clinical services for the D.C. Mental Health Center, then began work at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, where she served until retirement in 2007.
She was preceded in death by her husband, Leon, and is survived by a host of cousins and devoted friends.
A celebration of life is planned for Friday, Jan. 27 from 2 to 4:30 p.m. at Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, 4444 Arlington Blvd.