116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Jefferson High School senior Nkasa Bolumbu was studying to compete last spring in the National Academic Decathalon in Alaska when the coronavirus sidelined her plans.
Bolumbu, 18, joined Jefferson's Academic Decathalon team in fall 2019, determined to try new things after working through depression during her sophomore year of high school. The team won the state championship in March.
Going to nationals in Alaska would have been her first time on an airplane. Instead, she watched eight seasons of 'Game of Thrones.'
'I was devastated,' Bolumbu said. 'From there, I felt stagnant.'
As summer approached, Black Lives Matter protests gained momentum in Cedar Rapids, sparked by the May 25 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
'It inspired this revolutionist in me to see change and call for it to happen,' Bolumbu said.
She attended a protest in downtown Cedar Rapids later that month where she stood on a park bench and spoke about police brutality.
'I wanted people to know you've got to keep loving,' she said. 'You can't solve anything by hating back.'
Bolumbu also was inspired by peers at Kennedy High School — Raafa and Rahma Elsheikh — who spoke at a Cedar Rapids school board meeting over the summer calling for anti-racism work in the school district.
She joined Jefferson's Black Student Union, an organization working to build a community of Black students at all four Cedar Rapids high schools.
In July, she got a job at The Gardens of Cedar Rapids retirement community, helping serve residents food and take care of other needs.
'Two people at the nursing home I work with died from COVID-19,' she said. 'I don't know how to process it.
'(COVID-19) has come into my workplace, and that was scary not knowing if I had coronavirus or not.'
Bolumbu was home Aug. 10, when the derecho hit. When it passed, the found the roof of her house was gone — and the ceiling caving in some places.
She and her family stayed in a hotel for a few weeks, but the insurance wouldn't pay for it forever. During repairs, a lot of the insulation had to be removed from the house, Bolumbu said.
'It's cold as Antarctica,' she said.
She's been in online-only learning since Cedar Rapids schools reopened Sept. 21, learning from a 'bare bones' home, she said.
She is planning to graduate high school in May. She wants to go into the medical field, and is considering what college to attend.
She worries about feeling lonely when she leaves home, but overall feels good about the future.
'I want to act. This summer with the pandemic, derecho and protests, it taught me words will never be enough. Words can offer solace, comfort and ignite a fire, but your actions are what keep you going.'
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