2022 Graduates: Chanel Wilson Reaches for Achievement for Herself and Others
When Chanel Wilson was 10, everyone in her class was asked to research a career.
She sat and listened to everyone talk about being teachers, doctors and chefs. When her turn came, she said wanted to be the chief financial officer for a company.
“I wanted to be a CFO for a long time,” said the Loy Norrix High School graduate. “I just thought it sounded different. I realized that I really loved the business industry and I wanted a leadership position in business.”
Wilson, who will be attending the University of Michigan in the fall to study business, has been the winner of the Kalamazoo Social Justice Youth Award and the YWCA Young Woman of Achievement Award. She has already built an impressive business resume. She participated in the KRESA CTEs for business finance, international finance and sports management. She’s been a member of Norrix’s award-winning DECA business club.
Outside of her business interests, she’s been a member of the National Honor Society, PeaceJam, played violin with the school orchestra, and went on a service mission to Africa with Inner City Youth for Change. She’s taken leadership roles with the school’s executive board, the Kalamazoo County Youth Cabinet, the Youth Mobility Ambassador Cabinet, and the Kalamazoo Parks and Recreation department’s Youth Advisory Council.
“I think it’s important to join clubs. You should join everything. You get to learn different things from the conversations and interactions with so many different people,” said Wilson, who was the president of DECA this year. “You also need to take on leadership roles. It makes you nervous but you have to put yourself out there to lose that fear of failing. Sometimes failing is necessary to become successful. You have to fail to learn.”
Wilson, 18, is the daughter of Molli Kornak and Bobby and Denise Wilson. “I want to thank my parents, my educators and my family for helping me and encouraging me to blossom and become the best version of myself that I can be.”
Wilson attended Prairie Ridge Elementary School and Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts before attending Norrix. She comes by her high-energy, cando personality naturally and is pretty sure she was that way at Prairie Ridge.
“When I was in elementary school, I was always the kid that wanted to have that behavior card stay on green,” she said with a laugh. “Of course my parents motivated me, but as I’ve grown, I’ve just developed a self-motivation and just wanted to be ambitious.”
Even though she was highly focused, sometimes she did need extra encouragement. She remembers sitting in an informational meeting about the Academically Talented Youth Program, in which middle school students complete four years of high school requirements in two years.
“It’s a lot of work and you have to take a test to get in. I wasn’t sure,” Wilson said. “(Principal) Dr. (Jeff) Boggan pulled me out in the hallway. He said, ‘I believe in you and I believe you will be able to do the program. He gave me a pep talk and believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. When I completed the program, I told him ‘You’re the reason I went in that program.’
“It was a critical moment. It propelled me to reach for the stars and to believe you can do anything you put your mind to.”
ATYP was challenging. Wilson, who completed the math portion of the program, which requires students to complete Algebra I and II in seventh grade and precalculus and geometry in eighth grade.
“It was challenging, but I also liked being in a setting like that,” she said. It was eye-opening for another reason. Often, she was the only black girl in any of the classes.
“It gave me the opportunity to look out and see you may be in settings that make you uncomfortable, but maybe by being the only black girl in ATYP, there might be a girl in sixth grade who looks up to you and says, ‘Someone who looks like me can do that.’ Maybe it will give someone motivation because they may think if she’s doing that, I can do that too, no matter the color of my skin, or my gender or the stereotypes placed on women of color.”
Equity and representation are things she thinks of often as she considers the future. She said she likes a quote from Shirley Chisholm, who was the first African American U.S. congresswoman:
“If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”
Wilson said she sometimes felt added stress as the only black student in some of her advanced classes.
“Sometimes people don’t get a voice. Sometimes people are marginalized or overlooked. At the end of the day, seeing people discriminated against made me want to use my voice to accentuate those things and let adults know what’s going on. Sometimes you are speaking for yourself, and sometimes you are speaking for the people who are overlooked and unheard.”