Dwight Wilson ’73
Friends School Headmaster
Former general secretary of the US/Canadian
by Sara Bodnar '03
This profile originally appeared in Bowdoin magazine, Vol. 75, No. 1, Fall 2003
Dwight Wilson's '73 appointment as general secretary of Quakers in the United States and Canada made him the only African-American in U.S. History to have led a 99% European American denomination. When Dwight attended his first meeting of the Quaker Friends Congregation thirty-four years ago, he knew he was home. Dwight became a Baptist minister at age 17. During his second year at Bangor Theological Seminary, a committee from Durham Maine Friends Meeting asked him if he would apply to be their pastor. Dwight accepted the invitation, and after he walked into the meeting, he was both surprised and delighted with what he discovered. Women and children were allowed to sit in the pulpit, and periodic strings of silence enabled Dwight to gather his thoughts. After the meeting's completion, Dwight overheard two women describing their signs for a peace demonstration. "I became a conscientious objector to all forms of violence before I ever met one; it was as though I had invented it," said Dwight. "And then to find myself in the midst of a community where everyone was a conscientious objector, was wonderful."
Dwight transferred to Bowdoin three years later and continued to pastor the Durham congregation. Three years following his graduation from Bowdoin, Dwight applied to be the general secretary (the leader) of the original grouping of Quakers in the United States and Canada. "I was applying for the top position at age 27," Dwight said. "When I sent my resume in, I thought I would be easily dismissed." Dwight was shocked after he made it to the final group selected, and was completely stunned when he was offered the position. "Why did you choose me?" he asked when the clerk of the search committee called. "Because of your spirituality," the clerk answered. "But you never asked me any questions about my spirituality," Dwight said. "That's how we know about it," the clerk replied.
During his two terms Dwight traveled all over the United States and Canada. He gave speeches at annual, quarterly, and regional gatherings, and also met with small groups that were isolated from the main stream of Friends. "It was a demanding job," Dwight remembered. While he was serving as general secretary, Christian Century Magazine selected Dwight as one of the country's most influential religious leaders. Jesse Jackson was the only other African-American leader featured in the article. "I sure didn't think I had that much influence back then," Dwight humbly remarked. "To put me in with Jesse Jackson, I was pleased."
This past fall Dwight made another mark in history. He became the first African-American to lead Friends School of Detroit, an institution that has celebrated diversity throughout its 37-year long history. Dwight is the only African-American male to head one of North America's 80 Friends Schools. He now works with children whose ages range from three to 14 years. He has had extensive experience with children, as both a father of four and as a leader of various programs promoting educational advancement for teachers of color and financially disadvantaged children.
"I'm first a father," Dwight said. "If I walk out of the lobby in the morning, I want to get stopped and hugged by three to five kids who are different genders and different races." Dwight's daily agenda includes visits to each of the school's 11 classrooms and reading to an assortment of age groups. "I took an 18 thousand dollar cut to come here [Friends School] because it's clear to me this is where the spirit wanted me to go," Dwight said. "Even while I was at Bowdoin, my choices have always been about service to others. I don't regret any of that."
Dwight Wilson '73 addresses a multicultural summer enrichment program held at Friends School, Detroit.