Youth Changemaker: Wilton Johnson

"Wilton's work on the Wisconsin Youth Advisory Council is an incredible example of how successful young people are at collecting and sharing the thoughts of their peers.  Wilton has been tireless advocate for homeless young people and those in the foster care system fearlessly sharing their stories." 


- The Campaign for a Presidential Youth Council

Wilton, a former foster youth who currently lives in a transitional living program, has served on a Wisconsin-wide Youth Advisory Council (YAC) for two years.  The Council’s mission is “to inspire change by providing education, advocacy, support, training and awareness-raising to governmental systems and the general public to better the image of youth by addressing the issues on behalf of current and former youth in foster care in Wisconsin.”

Although he has faced struggles, Wilton has found incredible strength and compassion, and allowed his experiences to help him serve others.  Through engagement and informed advocacy, Wilton focuses on policy areas including foster care, health care, student’s rights, mental health services and services for runaway and homeless youth.

Involvement with the Wisconsin Youth Advisory Council (YAC)

The YAC works directly with Wisconsin policymakers and champions causes that impact youth in foster care, such as access to mental health and medical services. As a member of the YAC, Wilton joins other youth from across Wisconsin to discuss the issues that affect them and their peers, and it’s clear that Wilton thrives on this peer interaction. 

“Wilton has gained respect and recognition in the YAC and the greater Milwaukee community for his leadership,” says Rebecca Kanitz, one of his nominators for the Top 24 Under 24 Youth Changemakers series. “He has incredible motivation.”

In May 2012, Wilton attended the 23rd Annual Children Come First Conference and Youth Mental Health Summit, which brought mental health service providers and youth together to engage with each other.  Here, Wilton actively built bridges between youth and mental health service providers. Through the open forum, he helped inform service providers' programmatic decisions, offering feedback to improve programs and modalities and ensure they're relevant to youth "consumers."

Supporting Runaway and Homeless Youth

As an active and influential member of the Pathfinders Drop-In Center, Wilton co-facilitates a group called Youth Rising Up (YRU). YRU is a youth-led grassroots organization to improve the lives of homeless and runaway youth in Milwaukee by advocating for social change and educating youth on their rights and responsibilities .

As a YRU leader, Wilton respectfully and peacefully organized his peers as they demonstrated for social justice within the Milwaukee Police Department and the Milwaukee Public School System (MPS). They launched the "Re-Assess MPS" Petition initiative, which demanded an expanded and revised Student’s Bill of Rights. Wilton also presented at an Urban Initiatives Conference where he presented on restorative justice as a form of peer mediation.

"In all areas of his life, Wilton stands out among his peers as a positive beacon and source of hope for others in his community,” -  Nominator Rebecca Kanitz

Wilton was the co-author of a youth profile which was the cover story for a local agency’s newsletter. His story highlighted the positive impacts of drop-in centers and youth shelters for runaway and homeless youth.

A Public Advocate for Youth in Foster Care

As a young man who grew up in the foster care system, Wilton is a strong advocate in Milwaukee for foster care services and aftercare for youth who have been in care. Wilton recently gave a presentation, “Life After Foster Care and the Importance of Advocating for Self,” at the annual conference of the Wisconsin Association of Child and Youth Care Professionals. Wilton has also served as a public speaker for youth in foster care, sharing his testimonies before professional service providers, judges, lawyers, state legislators and members of the U.S. Congress. 

Wilton was a panelist during a “Lunch and Learn” educational session held at a local children’s court. This session addressed the concerns of young children who are involved in active court cases in the child welfare system.

He was recently invited to represent Milwaukee's homeless youth population in Washington, DC. at the National Alliance to End Homelessness annual conference and received a plaque from Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker acknowledging his as role an ambassador and voice of youth aging out of foster care.

As a passionate representative serving on various foster youth panels, Wilton has sparked important conversation and reflection among those in his community working to improve the foster care system. His experience within the foster care system, he says, helps him to provide a clear and accurate picture of what life is like for many youth in out-of-home placements. With this experience and perspective, Wilton is able to advocate for his peers in ways that others who have not lived as foster youth cannot.

One of Wilton's nominators (he had several), Rebecca Kanitz, says, "I am so proud of Wilton for all that he has accomplished and for the young man that he has become.  It is an honor to know such a special young man. I am looking forward to seeing what the future holds for this exceptional young changemaker."

Wilton does not see himself a singular force. He believes that every young person has a story to share and insights to improve the country. "A Presidential Youth Council would reverse the perception that young people in America are disengaged  from the political process," says Wilton. "It would also ensure the engagement of youth in policy making and government as a whole.

"I am really ready to spark action among other youth as a 24 Under 24 Youth Changemaker, and want to serve as a voice for the unheard individuals of America," he says.


This profile is one of the Top 24 Under 24 Youth Changemakers, a series hosted by SparkAction and the Campaign for a Presidential Youth Council to recognize young changemakers influencing policy and practice at the local, state and national levels.

The members of the youth-led Campaign chose the 24 youth who are featured in this series, from entries submitted by peers and mentors. Read about the selection process.

We’re always looking for more profiles of young people making a difference, so submit one of your own!


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