116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Wilsee Kollie started at Kennedy High School “closed off, shy and soft-spoken,” but because of her desire to learn and grow and mentors who gave her a hand up along the way, she is leaving a leader.
Kollie, 18, is one of 412 students to mark graduation Friday from Kennedy High at the Alliant Energy PowerHouse.
While at Kennedy, Kollie became an integral part of growing the school’s Black Student Union and advocate for equity for students in the Cedar Rapids Community School District.
Kollie has been an advocate for the removal of school resource officers — police officers — from Cedar Rapids schools because students of color are disproportionately affected when police are in their school. She was part of a video earlier this year created by the Cedar Rapids Community School District to educate students on their rights and what they should and shouldn’t do when interacting with an officer.
Kollie also helped organize an event at Kennedy High earlier this year to educate her peers on why the use of racial slurs is inappropriate, among other events to bring Black students together.
The Black Student Union “made space for Black students,” Kollie said.
She was co-leader of the Black Student Union this year, a role passed down to her by Kennedy Class of 2021 alumni Raafa and Rahma Elsheikh.
“When they graduated, I was so scared because I was going to be the next leader,” Kollie said. “I thought it was going to end then, that I wouldn’t be as good as them, but I had support from my co-leaders, and we were able to build off of last year.”
Kollie is confident the Black Student Union will continue to advocate for change at Kennedy High next year and in the future.
She attributes the Academy for Scholastic and Personal Success in Cedar Rapids for helping her learn to speak up and “become the leader I want to be.” The Academy for Scholastic and Personal Success teaches students about Black history, literature, math, science and holds a seminar to help students prepare for college and being successful there.
Ruth White, founder of the Academy, said Kollie "blossomed like a flower.“
“She’s evolved in to a very confident person,” White said. “One who can encourage other students to do what she knows they should without being aloof or judgmental. She’s able to get people to see the wisdom of her point of view.”
Kollie will attend Kirkwood Community College before transferring to the University of Iowa, where she will study to become a middle school teacher. Kollie also plans to become a writer — a poet — and one day wants to be a college professor of African American literature.
Rachel Collins, a counselor at Kennedy and adviser of the Black Student Union, said Kollie is “inclusive, inviting and does the courageous work.”
Kollie would be “the best teacher,” Collins said — one who knows it’s important for students to see themselves reflected in their teachers.
Collins, who is also on the board of the Academy, said Kollie is “one of the most significant transformations” she’s seen in her time working there.
“She is really good at seeing the balance between advocacy work and having fun,” Collins said. “These kids do such hard, real work that it’s really important for them to also celebrate life.”
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