Remembering A Champion Of Watts Youth, Michael Wainwright, Passed Away At 72

Friends and family gathered on March 3 to celebrate the life of longtime Watts community leader Michael Wainwright, who died after suffering from Parkinson’s disease since 2016.

Wainwright, who was known as a champion of Watts youth, was passionate about helping young residents chart a path out of poverty and gangs.

At the funeral, one young person after another spoke about how Wainwright had helped them, including Traveon Cason, now a school teacher. “There are those that talk about change,” said Cason, who graduated from Santa Clara University seven years ago due to a scholarship program Wainwright created. “And then there is Michael Wainwright, the guy that rolled up his sleeves seven days a week to bring about change in his community.”

The memorial service was held at St. Lawrence of Brindisi Catholic Church in Watts.

Wainwright was remembered on Twitter.

“Michael Wainwright was a man of boundless energy and relentless positivity. He was bent on charting a path out of poverty for residents of Watts’ public housing projects, and he knew that began with education,” tweeted ghetto intellectual™ (@kzshabazz).

“May we continue to share in his depth of knowledge and extoll his practice and utilization of a liberating pedagogy grounded in liberation,” tweeted Ajani Oriki Ajamu (@AjaniAjamu).

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Wainwright helped countless young people make their way through college and into professional careers. 

He had a reputation of being demanding but fair.

“He was the kind of character who makes a good story: pushy, impatient and rough around the edges, despite his own middle-class upbringing and university degree,” wrote The Los Angeles Times columnist Sandy Banks. Banks interviewed Wainwright more than once over the years. The LA Times did not report the date of Wainwright’s death.

Wainwright knew of a different kind of struggle. He battled drug addiction for 15 years. When he won that fight, he spent the rest of his life putting others on a path to success.

Even when he could have used help himself, he was helping others. “Wainwright was jobless and living in Nickerson Gardens back in the 1990s when he began holding reading classes and cleanup campaigns for children in the public housing project,” recalled Banks. 

Photo: Members of Tree of Life Missionary Baptist Church pray before the start of a meeting in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, June 17, 2020. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

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