Meet Our OppU Achiever: Kaycee Hailey
We’re proud to announce the next recipient of the $2,500 OppU Achievers Scholarship, Kaycee Hailey.
Kaycee is a senior at West Charlotte High School, where she has created opportunities for young people to share their stories. She herself is a writer and artist, producing work that highlights the educational inequity that she and her peers have experienced in a racially segregated school district.
In middle school, Kaycee was assigned to attend West Charlotte High School, and she recalls the fearful concerns voiced by her teachers and counselors.
“And of course, they were saying this because [West Charlotte] was mostly Black and mostly low-income,” Kaycee said.
But when she arrived at the school, she realized that these concerns were the product of stigma, and that in reality, her peers were “talented, smart, driven, dedicated people,” with amazing achievements. They didn’t deserve the stereotypes imposed on them, and they very much did deserve the resources they’d been denied as a result of them. For instance, Kaycee is a violinist who plays with an orchestra at the University of North Carolina because her school doesn’t have one.
Recognizing she wasn’t the only student who felt this way, Kaycee used her voice to shed light on the flaws of the education system. She published her first op-ed, about pursuing change at a segregated school, in the Charlotte Observer. Then, she started a newspaper to highlight other students’ stories. Additionally, she formed an LGBT alliance.
For her creative endeavors, one of her proudest moments came when she was chosen to perform with the Hamilton Education Initiative, a national program that brings the Broadway musical to high school students. Based on her knowledge of Sally Hemings’ family from Annette-Gordon Reed’s book, “The Hemingses of Monticello,” Kaycee and her group combined poetry and her violin skills to produce a performance piece titled “Hemings: Slave Woman.” Their nuanced performance—“something as simple as composing some string music and writing a poem”—helped dismantle the stereotypes people had about West Charlotte, Kaycee said. This is why she describes herself as an artist and advocate, because she uses her art to advocate for the people around her.
Looking toward the future, Kaycee is excited about receiving acceptances from schools including Spelman and the University of North Carolina. She plans to study history and African American studies, then attend law school to practice education policy law.
“I’m really interested in representing students who have not had a fair and equal chance in the classroom, because I know how important a quality education is,” she said.
She hopes to fight for students by changing curriculum and standardized testing to make it fairer for everyone. When asked what advice she would give to students, she said that she would urge them to take action if they see something missing in their community—not wait for someone else to solve the issue.
“[I]t might seem daunting at first…but if you understand the importance of what you’re doing, that can kind of push you through those times where you’re feeling unsure, or you’re feeling intimidated,” she said.
And she called on them to tap in to their inner courage.
“[D]on’t be afraid to speak out, because there is so much value in your opinion…no one is just like you and no one has the exact same place as you,” she said, adding that “whether it’s at a town hall or just in the classroom, [speaking out] is adding something significant to the conversation, because that perspective has never been said before.”
You can read more about Kaycee’s achievements in her passionate essay below.
“Are you nervous or scared?”
These questions were asked of me in the eighth grade, a time when all of my conversations with peers were centered around high school. I knew that this question, asked by a close friend, had a hidden message that she was unwilling to say. Unluckily, others were undeterred by the need for tact.
“Are you afraid you’re going to get shot?”
This question was asked because of the school I was assigned to attend. West Charlotte High School was known for being low performing, crime-ridden, and segregated by race and class. West Charlotte was unlike any school I had attended. I have witnessed multiple students getting dragged out of the cafeteria in handcuffs or surrounded by cops on campus for dubious suspicions of crimes. My peers have been subjected to baseless bag checks in the middle of class. I can recall countless times when student movement has been prohibited on campus due to threats to our safety. During a rare field trip opportunity, my peers and I were followed by a dozen police officers because we looked “suspicious.” In the classroom, we experience inferior conditions when compared to students at different schools in our district. Few advanced courses are offered, and teacher turnover is rampant as educators quickly become frustrated with the conditions of our school.
I knew that I wanted to change the circumstances around me. First, I strove to be a model student. I took advantage of the limited course offerings at my school and filled my schedule with International Baccalaureate classes. As an IB ambassador I prepare underclassmen to do the same. Next, I wrote about my experiences of educational inequity in the largest publication in the Carolinas. My writing has brought me to the stage of the largest theater in Charlotte. I have represented my peers on several news platforms. I have spoken on panels with Board of Education members, civil rights activists, local politicians, and leaders of educational organizations such as Teach For America. As a speaker for the local organization Community Building Initiative, I promote partnerships between companies and Title I schools. All of this work is fueled by my desire to create a more equitable education system.
While I am proud to be a representative of my school, I know that most of my peers also have compelling stories to tell. This year, I established my school’s student-led newspaper. This newspaper has given my peers a place to share their creative writing and art. I also include a student assignment spotlight, to ensure that my peers are getting recognition for their hard work in the classroom. This newspaper encourages my peers to develop their writing skills and identify their academic interests. I take pride in knowing that my contribution has shown my peers that they have powerful voices that deserve to be heard. Obtaining higher education will allow me to continue uplifting voices and fighting for educational equity in a professional setting.
Could you or someone you know use $2,500 for tuition? To apply, submit a short essay through our web portal.
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