Born in Hopkins, South Carolina to educators, Wilma lived the majority of her life in SC. There were four children born into the family with her being the youngest. She is the sister of the late Representative Joe Neal who passed away unexpectantly in 2017 after serving 25 years in the SC House of Representatives. Rep. Neal was also the founder of the World Development Alliance. Rev. Neal was also the pastor of the Calvary Baptist Church in Chester, SC for over 30 years. A position previously held by our father, the Rev. C.R. Neal, Sr.
After the death of Rep. Neal the family decided to try to give Joseph a living legacy for his many years of sacrifice and work trying to better all South Carolinians. It was decided that the family would pursue an agency that addressed one of Rep. Neal’s passions, the HIV/AIDS epidemic. This led to the founding of The Joseph H. Neal Health Collaborative in 2018, in Columbia, SC. Her continued involvement is in honor of her brothers’ work, worldwide, to help others and keep his name and life’s work vibrant and alive.
Wilma received her BA in English from Columbia College and did further work towards a Masters in Labor Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Her professional life has been in the area of serving others and helping workers find empowerment through their workplace and the political process. Her work in this arena is significant and some highlights are covered below.
Earlier in her political career she managed her brother Joseph’s many campaigns for his seat in the SC House of Representative where he served for 25 years.
She worked for US Vice President Walter Mondale as Advance Staff in his bid for the Presidency of the United States. She served SC Governor David Beasley as his Legislative Liaison during a period of great turmoil and successfully guided through his agenda without the rancor seen in other states on such issues as Welfare Reform.
Wilma organized the “Burned Church Tour” throughout SC for Rev. Jesse Jackson and President Bill Clinton bringing them face to face with communities that suffered from racist actions that destroyed many buildings of faith in the minority community in SC.
She has specialized in Get Out The Vote (GOTV) for candidates all over the country running for Governor, Mayor, State House Seats, Judgeships and more, conducting workshops to share her techniques and strategies for successful turnout in electoral politics.
She retired from the UNITE HERE, an international labor union, where she served in various capacities from Field Organizer, Organizing Director, Staff Director, Special Projects Coordinator to the National Organizing Director and Director of the MRDD Program. Her work with the union has taken her all over North America and the world helping to teach workers to fight for their rights in the workplace and exchange experiences and knowledge. Having been one of
only twenty people from throughout the country to be chosen to travel to Turkey to meet with dissidents, labor union members, Roma’s and NGO’s in Ankara and Istanbul and to Russia, primarily Moscow and St. Petersburg, to meet with similar organizations and workers, she has witnessed firsthand the travails and issues facing people of color and workers all over our globe that can and should unite us. She co-wrote an article about her Turkey trip called “The Bear Has Forty Stories”, published internationally.
She served as Board Member to the SC ACLU for several years and has worked tirelessly to address the many legal inequities faced by South Carolinians.
Wilma currently serve as Board Chair for the JHN Health Collaborative.
She also serves on the board of the World Development Alliance as it tries to move governments, elected politicians, businesses, workers and attitudes toward a more just system of serving people.
Currently residing in NJ, Wilma has been involved with securing housing for special needs children and adults by assuring each town has set asides to insure this population secures decent, affordable housing. She has served on the NJ Regional Family Support Planning Council, District 4, since 2014.
Wilma has had the privilege of travelling extensively throughout the US including Alaska and Hawaii, portions of Canada - Quebec and the Maritime Provinces, Germany, France, Amsterdam, Switzerland, Portugal, Spain, Peru, Mexico, Costa Rico, Nicaragua, Curacao, Bonaire, Nassau, Puerto Rico, Trinidad and Tobago, and Colombia, SA.
She is married to Brent Garren, Senior Associate General Counsel for SEIU 32bj in New York City and they have two daughters and one grandson, Joseph, who is named for her brother.