Erica Nelson, JD
LIFT Wisconsin Executive Director
Erica Nelson is a visionary leader and strategist who has been at the forefront of major initiatives to advance social, racial, environmental and economic justice for nearly 20 years. Her work includes advancing practice and policy reform in child welfare and youth justice as well as leading efforts to address the drivers that perpetuate and deepen racial and economic inequities in our justice and human service systems. Her advocacy has encompassed reforms in juvenile, criminal and civil legal justice institutions as well as in the child welfare, social services and health care arenas. Nelson began her career as an attorney at the Center for Family Representation representing parents involved in New York City’s child welfare system. After moving to Wisconsin in 2010, she founded and directed the widely acclaimed Race to Equity Initiative, and most recently served as Advocacy Director at Kids Forward. She has been an active force in a number of major progressive civic initiatives including as a task force member of the Madison Forward Fund (a guaranteed income pilot project); President of the Board of Directors for Operation Fresh Start (an innovative youth build organization); and a member of Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count National Steering Committee.
Nelson has authored numerous policy reports, delivered frequent speeches and presentations, developed an acclaimed podcast on youth justice, contributed op-eds and testimony on pressing policy and racial equity issues. She has been a guest on local and national radio programs and has been featured as an expert in documentaries. Her work has earned her several prestigious recognition and awards, including the Whitney Young Award from the Urban League of Greater Madison, and the Community Shares of Wisconsin Community Change Agent Award, and 2015 Women to Watch Brava Magazine.
In March of 2023 Nelson was recruited to head LIFT Wisconsin, a ground-breaking new project launched to increase access to civil legal justice for the tens of thousands of low-income Wisconsinites who are unfairly burdened by civil sanctions, fees and fines that often frustrate their ability to escape poverty and gain self-sufficiency. The project oversees the development and dissemination of an innovative online tool that helps individuals effectively navigate complex civil law problems and, at the same time advocates for the elimination of civil law provisions and practices that disproportionately and adversely impact low-income individuals.
Nelson is a graduate of UW-Madison and Rutgers Law School. Before entering law school, her first career was as a contemporary ballet dancer in New York City. She has two amazing children, an overly energetic Black Lab, and one day hopes to gain “an above average” mastery of mountain biking, surfing, and sailing among many other things.