Learn how to support mental health of children of color

Kennedy High graduate Wilsee Kollie organizing event Saturday

Wilsee Kollie, then a Cedar Rapids Kennedy High School senior and now enrolled at Kirkwood Community, stands for a portrait May 26. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids resident and college student Wilsee Kollie is hosting a conversation Saturday about how families and community members can support the mental health of children of color as a part of a new fellowship program called Our Future Iowa.

The program — launched during the summer of 2022 — was created by Angel Ramirez and Ayla Boylen of Cedar Rapids to empower young people to find ways of addressing barriers faced by under-served communities.

Ramirez and Boylen — who both moved to Cedar Rapids for college several years ago and stayed — launched the fellowship as a way to equip young people to be leaders in public service, political organizing and advocacy.

Panelists Saturday will talk about their own mental health journeys, how families can have conversations with their children about mental health, self-care and community resources available.

“There’s a stigma surrounding mental health, especially within communities of color,” said Kollie, who graduated from Kennedy High School in 2022 and is enrolled at Kirkwood Community College. “It’s really hard for families to find resources.”

“Being a young person, I know what it’s like to feel like you don’t have anyone to talk to about your mental health,” Kollie said. “I want to let young people know they have a big community of people surrounding them.”

This free event is from 1 to 2:45 p.m. Saturday at the downtown Cedar Rapids Public Library, 450 Fifth Ave. SE.

Panelists include Anne Carter, health equity program manager fro Linn County Public Health; Harold Walehwa, a graduate from Coe College with degrees in African American Studies and Social and Criminal Justice and a graduate student at the University of Iowa; Tiffany Walehwa, a licensed professional counselor from St. Louis, Mo.; and Okpara Rice, chief executive officer of Tanager Place, a children’s human service agency in Cedar Rapids.

‘Our Future Iowa’

The eight-month fellowship requires between 10 to 20 hours of work a week. Compensation is being adjusted once a quarter, with the current hourly wage $21.24 an hour. Fellows are expected to:

  • Develop and implement a community project they design,
  • Work with local organizations that align to their personal interests,
  • And participate in professional development training.

Projects should capitalize on existing programs instead of compete with them, and fill existing gaps in services, Ramirez said. Through project development, fellows will propose a budget, create a timeline, develop an outreach strategy, identify community partners and work with local leaders.

“This is exactly the kind of thing we envisioned,” Ramirez said of Kollie’s mental health panel. “Wilsee’s project was birthed from her own experiences and what she wanted other young, Black women to have access to. It’s one person is creating a wave of change in their community, and that’s incredible.”

Our Future Iowa received a $67,000 grant from Linn County through the American Rescue Plan. The program also is being funded through donations.

Ramirez and Boylen applied for a Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation Grant, which invests in local nonprofit organizations that contribute to improving quality of life in the community.

Fellows are expected to live in Linn County. The next application for a fellowship will open in March. For more information, visit our-future-iowa.org.

Comments: (319) 398-8411; grace.king@thegazette.com

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