Rev. Michael W. Waters

Democracy Cohort

Rev. Michael W. Waters is using the pulpit to champion civic action.

Rev. Michael W. Waters is the pastor of Abundant Life A.M.E. Church in Dallas, Texas, as well as a professor, author, and activist. He’s served on the frontlines of social justice movements, and his efforts alongisde communities have resulted in the removal of Confederate monuments, the passage of paid sick leave, and the memorialization of lynching victims. He’s written five books, including Something in the Water: A 21st Century Civil Rights Odyssey, For Beautiful Black Boys Who Believe in a Better World and Liberty’s Civil Rights Road Trip.

Nearly twenty years ago, Michael founded the SMU Civil Rights Pilgrimage to cities and sites significant to the civil rights movement. He continues to lead groups on these trips, to encounter the “elder foot soldiers whose protests gave birth to a more complete American democracy.” He is the vice chair of Foot Soldiers Park in Selma, Alabama, an effort to honor the heroes of the civil rights movement and inspire the activists of tomorrow.

Our democracy is hindered by apathy, voter miseducation, and voter suppression. But Michael sees a powerful antidote to all three: storytelling. Family stories have been a wellspring of inspiration for him, and as he’s addressed crowds across Texas, the U.S., and world, Michael’s seen the power of stories to drive civic engagement and embolden people on the front lines.

His Emerson Collective Fellow project will explore how storytelling can serve to enrich democracy. He will dissect which modes of storytelling are most effective in communicating democratic values, look at what stories are missing from the national consciousness, and study how storytelling can inspire voter participation and boost activism against suppression.