Essence Wilson is Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer at Communities First Inc., where she
oversees strategic operations of the thriving nonprofit. The organization is focused on three key
areas: equitable real estate development, economic mobility and community
engagement. The award-winning organization, which serves more than 45,000 people annually,
has completed more than $50 million in real estate development. Essence’s responsibilities
include resource generation, improving organizational efficiency, strategic problem
solving, expansion planning and organizing community engagement efforts.
She serves on the Neighborhood Small Grants Program Committee and the Women and Girl’s
Fund Committee of the Community Foundation of Greater Flint. In addition, Essence is chair of
the Flint/Genesee Continuum of Care; a board member and Board Development Committee
Chair of Flint Institute of Music; and Vice President of the Community Economic Development
Association of Michigan (CEDAM). She also is a member of The Links Inc. and The Pierians Inc.
In 2015, Essence was named to the Michigan Chronicle’s 40 Under 40 list and in 2016 earned
the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce’s Claire M. White Award. She was selected as a
Next City Vanguard in 2017, proposing community development solutions to stakeholders in
Newcastle, Australia, and working with like-minded professionals from around the world. In
2022, she was named to the Flint & Genesee Chamber’s 40 Under 40 list.
Essence has a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Kettering University and
a Master's degree in Management, Strategy and Leadership from Michigan State
University. Her Kettering education and prior experience working at General Motors helped her
develop skills as a leader and innovator, which has served her well in the nonprofit arena. In her
work, she uses problem-solving skills learned in the automotive industry to address community
issues. Essence serves on committees in philanthropy, housing, homelessness and the arts with
the goal of challenging the status quo and making life better for others.