A Conversation With David L. Collier-King

David L. Collier-King loves Walt Disney. In fact, he carries this quote from the famous animator with him wherever he goes: “Around here, however, we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things because we’re curious and our curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” 

Collier-King’s own career path essentially started when he became a member of his high school student council, during which time he was also a member of the National Student Council (NatStuCo), a program of NASSP. Thanks to this program, he developed leadership skills and a burning desire to make a difference in his community. Since graduating from Westside Leadership Academy in 2013, he has earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Alabama State University and a master’s degree in urban affairs from Loyola University Chicago. He has started his own publishing company, Visionary Publishing LLC, where he publishes new and exciting voices. We caught up with Collier-King to find out how his time on the National Student Council has guided him on his journey.

Advise: Tell me about your background and how you got to where you are today. 

I was born and raised in Gary, IN. I am the oldest of six children and a first-generation high-school graduate and college student. I grew up in an environment where many people would say, according to the statistics, that what I am doing is not possible. But I always believed that everything is possible and that I could ultimately take a different path from what I saw growing up. 

One reason I am where I am is because God blessed me with some inspirational people who invested in me, who made sure that I knew my capability and challenged me to be better than I was the day before. The first person is my late uncle, Solomon Dye, who was a pastor. He showed me ideas of leadership, values, and the characteristics needed to be successful in the world. He gave me a passion for seeing education as more than just a requirement; it’s a lifelong commitment to becoming a better person. 

The second person is my high school student council adviser, Jaqueline Staten. She still lives in Gary, and we talk on a regular basis. I met her at my very first student council meeting. One day, when I was walking to lunch, someone said, “You should come to the student council meeting.” I was curious, so I went and sat in the back. She immediately called me out and called me up to the front. Since that moment, she’s been a very powerful influence in my life. She is always very positive, very optimistic. She never negates my ideas. She always says, “It sounds like a winner to me. How are we going to do this?” I appreciate her optimism and forward-thinking vision. 

Advise: When did you join the National Student Council? 

My first experience with the National Student Council was in 2010. I had just joined the Indiana Association of Student Councils (IASC) as the district representative. At one of the events for IASC, the members talked about a big conference that would take place in Indianapolis—the National Student Council Conference. I thought, “Oh my goodness; I want to go! It’s in my home state and it’s close. I can drive there.” As it happened, my student council adviser Mrs. Staten and her husband drove me to the conference, and I am eternally grateful for that opportunity. I attended every national conference after that until I graduated high school, and Mr. and Mrs. Staten were right there with me. 

Advise: What was your favorite part of working with the National Student Council?

My favorite part was meeting other student leaders from across the country. I also loved the opportunity to travel to different places, see different things, and be exposed to life in ways that my peers hadn’t. Because of my travels and experiences, even when I went home to an environment that struggled with gang and gun violence, that struggled with crumbling schools, abandoned buildings, abandoned businesses, I always had inspiration and a different view. I could look at a field and see a beautiful building; I could look at a dilapidated downtown and think of the possibilities of what it could be. Being in NatStuCo also helped me learn how to communicate with people who are not necessarily on the same page as I am. I learned how to have genuine understanding and loving relationships with people who sit on opposite ends of the aisle in terms of political ideology. 

Advise: How has your experience in the National Student Council changed your perspective?

My perspective changed in many ways. Being involved with NatStuCo allowed me to think of diversity as not just color of skin but also where people come from, their experiences, and their different political ideologies. I never approach someone and think negatively about them. When we’re talking about people who think differently, or look differently, or come from different backgrounds, I always believe that they have the best intentions, and [I see] the good in people. For me, NatStuCo shifted my perspective and gave me a hopeful and optimistic point of view. Additionally, IASC and the people involved with it literally changed my life. My family and I had a fire in our house. All of a sudden, the IASC had gathered people from across the state to raise money, donate clothes and household items for us. They showed us love and kind hearts. The IASC inspires hope in me that things can get better, and that people are always looking for ways to do good for other people. That is how we shift a community: when people are passionate about people, not just processes, not just policies, but when we’re passionate about actually helping people. 

Advise: What kind of changes would you like to see for the future of education?

I would like to see educational leaders find a way for students to discover the value of their education. One of the things that I found quite depressing in my educational experience was that many students don’t know why they are in school. They are there because the state says they have to be there, but they don’t know why they have to learn. The adults in the building need to encourage students and really let them know why they need to learn what they learn, so they can be prepared for their own futures. 

With the encouragement of my mentors, I was always passionate about education, and it was something I was committed to because I knew it was the pathway to my future. When I was in middle school, as much as I hated math and science, I stuck with those classes because I had band at the end of the day, and I knew that I would get to go to band. I’d get to do the things that brought me joy. And as much as I hated math and science, I knew I needed both to play an instrument. All of it was interconnected. It made me think about how every element of education plays a role in supporting the other—whether you are painting a picture as an artist or playing an instrument as a musician—math and science will play into what you’re doing. I’d like to see students find something that they can put their hooks into and say, “You know what? This is why I come to school.” 

Advise: What is the best piece of advice that you can give to current student council members or advisers?

The best piece of advice that I can give to current student council members, advisers, or potential student council members is to keep that fire. Keep the fire in your belly that you get at events, trainings, and conferences. Do what you need to do to remember that inspiration, those resources, those tools that you get when you connect with other student council members. I still have the bag that I got from my last NatStuCo conference. When I need inspiration or to be reminded of why I do what I do, I look at those items and my soul comes alive. I reignite that fire within me and get to work. 

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