Almost every day of the week, Joanne Collins’ day is filled with meetings, webinars, exercise classes and mentoring. Even though Collins turned 85-years-old a few weeks ago, she does not plan on resting anytime soon.

Her energy is high and besides, she doesn’t require much sleep. Her mentees know they can call her as late as midnight or two in the morning.

Collins said she was born with her drive and motivation. She’s been active and involved her whole life. She estimates she’s volunteered her time to more than 50 different organizations, some of which she still gives her time to. One of her trailblazing roles was being the first African-American woman elected to the City Council for Kansas City, MO. That was in 1974. She was elected again and again, until she retired in 1991.

Some of her current involvements includes participating with Greater Kansas City Black History Study Group; serving on the Kansas City Public Schools Retirement System Board of Trustees; and as chair of the Kansas City, MO, Climate Protection Steering Committee. She also volunteers with her church, St. Paul AME Zion Church in KCK, where for the past four weeks they have been filling backpacks with school supplies for young students in the area.

Still active in voting and politics, Collins mentors and encourages young African-American women who are interested in serving in elected positions. Most recently, she’s advised Alissia Canady, who is a Democratic candidate for Missouri lieutenant governor.

Many of the activities Collins participates in are on Zoom now. The exercise classes she takes with Kansas University’s Landon Center on Aging are virtual, as well as a new Mediterranean cooking class she is trying out. She suggests seniors make an effort to learn how to use Zoom, whether it’s asking a family member or friend, because it’s a great way to stay connected and active, especially during the pandemic.

Although she spends lots of time on Zoom, she also knows it’s important to get out as well, so she attends a Jazz Brunch every Sunday at the Phoenix and makes a trip to the River Market every week on the streetcar.

With such packed days, how does she advise other seniors to keep active?

“It’s just a one foot in front of the other, going forward, and taking care of yourself,” Collins said. “Doing for others has always made me feel better and I know when I get up in the morning, I’m going to do something for somebody else, but I’m also going to do something for myself that I enjoy, and life has been good to me for 85 years.”

Recently, Collins visited the Votes and Voices Exhibit at the National World War I Memorial and Museum that explores some of the history of the suffrage movement and celebrates the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment that gave White women the right to vote. Collins thanked the museum’s staff for their recognition of African-American women who also fought for the amendment to pass.

“We were just making sure that history records the fact that there were African Americans, male and female, who were suffragists and worked hard for the passage of the amendment,” Collins said. “I had gone to thank them for being inclusive because they had included some of the African American individuals.”

Jazzlyn Johnson

Jazzlyn "Jazzie” is the former senior reporter for our team, who joined the company in 2020 in the midst of the pandemic, through the Report for America service program. For the past two years, she covered...

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