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Most of the questions being asked come from voters in Chicago.
The segments that will make up the debate (subject to change):
Philanthropist, entrepreneur, recording artist and first-year politician 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? 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.
Ja'Mal Green grew up on the Southside of Chicago and has experienced the effects of poverty and gun violence firsthand. Green is an activist and entrepreneur whose activism and efforts have reached national and international audiences. Ja'Mal brings a marginalized perspective to issues such as race relations, economics and the current state of political justice in America. Since starting his first youth organization at age 15, Ja'Mal has worked tirelessly as a community organizer and motivational speaker, mentoring youth and implementing programs and policies to help reduce gun violence, while also serving as a conduit between law enforcement, politicians and the community at large.
A leading voice at the forefront of the pursuit of justice, Ja’Mal was handpicked by Bernie Sanders to serve as his official surrogate during the senator’s groundbreaking 2016 campaign, where the young activist electrified crowds of thousands with his rousing introductions. A popular media figure, Green is a frequent panelist on ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, FOX News, MSNBC and has amassed thousands of followers through his growing social network. Green is also the founder of Majostee Allstars, a non-profit with the mission of empowering underprivileged youth and encouraging self-improvement through training, mentoring, and guidance.
A lifelong resident of Chicago, John Kozlar was born into a proud family: parents Ken and Nancy, brothers Michael and Louis, and sister Michelle.
John Kozlar graduated from Mark Sheridan Academy on Chicago's South Side, and in 2007, graduated from Mount Carmel High School. After Mount Carmel, he went on to attend the University of Chicago and graduated in 2011 with Honors in Political Science. After college, John Kozlar attended the John Marshall Law School, became a licensed attorney in the State of Illinois, and is a member of the Chicago Bar Association. John is an employee of Aon plc in Chicago, and is a part of the Professional Risk Solutions team.
John Kozlar's first run for public office came in 2011 (at the age of 21) when he ran for Alderman as a progressive candidate in the heart of Chicago's political machine - the 11th Ward. With only $520, John Kozlar came within just 1,255 votes from forcing a run-off with then 13 year incumbent Alderman James Balcer. Four years later, John Kozlar ran for Alderman, this time against a member of the well-known Daley family. Against all odds, and for the first time in over 70 years in the 11th Ward, Team Kozlar forced a run-off against Patrick Daley-Thompson. Machine politicians and elitists spent over $650,000 to defeat John in 2015, with over $50,000 coming from current Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
As an active member in neighborhood developments, with a focus on building community relationships, John Kozlar is genuinely determined to make Chicago a better place for all residents. He is an advocate for the strong growth potential that our city offers and believes that Chicago consists of sound neighborhoods where great things can be accomplished when everyone works together. An energetic, bright, and respectful individual, John Kozlar understands the importance of securing our city's future, and continues to listen and learn the needs of each of our communities, door to door. He will work hard each and every day for Chicago - a place he proudly calls Home.
Amara is a problem-solver, advocate, lawyer, phd, ironman competitor, marathoner, daughter of activists, and defender of the public with a passion for public policy.
Amara is not someone who only talks about what she will do as mayor – she demonstrates her commitment to Chicago by showing what she has already done. Amara has a uniquely broad and deep background of local, national and international experience necessary for managing a city as complex as Chicago.
She has worked from the top level of city government to the grassroots level and everything in between. She has experience managing a municipality, consulted on projects in cities around the world as a public policy expert, run non-profits, serves as a leader in the business community, and works at the grassroots level as an organizer on the issues affecting Chicago’s neighborhoods.
Through her work, she has forged authentic relationships across the city on many areas of policy including economic development, housing, public finance, education, workforce development, food security, public safety and more. As a bridge-builder and advocate, she has actively worked to usher in transformative policies that improve quality of life for Chicagoans. Amara believes in thinking outside the box, challenging systems, and building new ones that reflect values that put the public’s interest first.