Dr. Willie Wilson is the founder of the Dr. Willie Wilson Foundation.
Philanthropist, entrepreneur, and recording artist Willie Lee Wilson recently gained notoriety after earning nearly 11 percent of the votes in the 2015 Chicago mayoral election. Wilson's candidacy sparked an historic run-off election and secured his place in the Windy City’s rich political history. But his humble beginnings in the South and his rise to financial success are even more impressive.
Wilson was born on June 16, 1948 in Gilbert, Louisiana. He grew up in impoverished conditions and rose to found multiple successful enterprises including Singsation!, the first nationally syndicated African-American owned and produced Gospel program on commercial television that broadcasts internationally on WGN-TV.
Wilson is a 50-year resident of Chicago, having moved to the city in 1965. It is there that he began his legacy of becoming one of the first black owners of a McDonald’s restaurant. In 1970, Wilson was hired by McDonald's to do custodial work including mopping floors for $2 an hour. He was awarded the opportunity to run the establishment when disgruntled employees walked out and he was asked to stay on when the former managers returned.
After working with McDonald’s for 10 years, Wilson decided he wanted to open a McDonald’s himself and resolved to meet with McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc about the issue. Kroc agreed to give Wilson a McDonald’s restaurant after a discussion at an annual shareholders’ meeting in 1979, and with capital provided by South Shore Bank, Wilson took a suffering Chicago franchise and turned it around within a year. While working at McDonald’s, Wilson earned several honors including the Outstanding Store Award and Top Sales Performer Award. He would eventually own several McDonald's franchises in the Chicago area.
In 1987, Wilson turned his attention to owning a television production company, Willie Wilson Productions, and in 1988, he was moved to pursue his faith after hearing the song, “What Shall I Render Unto the Lord?” at his church. He sold his McDonald’s restaurants to dedicate his life to Gospel music and started doing church solos and singing with the Norfleet Brothers. He created several albums: I'm So Grateful, Lord Don't Let Me Fail, Just A Closer Walk With Thee, Through It All, Somewhere Listening, It is I That Gain the More
and I'll Fly Away.
In 1989, Wilson’s Singsation! premiered, a half-hour weekly program of Gospel music. The show is produced by his television production corporation. Singsation! is regularly hosted by Wilson and is available in over 60 million households every Sunday. A gifted singer, Wilson earned an Emmy Award in 2012 for one of his Gospel performances on the popular television show.
Still holding entrepreneurial ambitions, in 1997, Wilson founded Omar Medical Supplies, one of America’s fastest growing distributors of disposable products for use in medical, industrial and foodservice areas. Omar has sourcing offices with employees in the United States, as well as in Shanghai and Beijing, China. The company's client roster includes diverse organizations, from Fortune 500 companies to "mom and pop" stores located nationally and internationally.
Wilson is the recipient of a Doctor of Divinity degree from Mt. Carmel Theological Seminary, a Doctor of Humane Letters from Chicago Baptist Institute
International, Honorary Doctorate in Humanitarianism from Swisher Bible College and a Doctorate in Humanitarianism from Denver Institute of Urban Studies and Adult College. In November 2003, the Illinois State House of Representatives adopted resolution HR0491 in the 93rd General Assembly to honor Wilson’s successes as a member of the National Black McDonald's Owner Operator Association and his contributions to his community.
Wilson is the author of two books: His 2008 autobiography What Shall I Do Next When I Don't Know Next What to Do? is available now at http://www.drwilliewilsonbooks.com/. And the 2015 manuscript Lies, Tricks & Politics, which details his historic Chicago mayoral campaign, and the controversial tactics that the incumbent tried to use keep him out of the race is coming soon.
He is the current chairman of the Trustee Board of Chicago Baptist Institute International. Wilson continues to reside in Chicago with his wife of 18 years.