Carolyn Wims-Campbell is 81, but isn’t slowing down anytime soon.
She just received the Col. William E. Richards Award for her work with the Topeka chapter of the NAACP. Branch President Carlton Scroggins praised her, saying she’s always ready to help whenever and however the situation warrants.
He also noted that she is not shy about voicing her opinions.
“Carolyn will be the first to roll up her sleeves to delegate, relegate, instigate, or most importantly motivate,” said Scroggins. “We love her dearly, like a sweet and saucy aunt who you don’t want to cross.”
The local chapter of the NAACP is just one of Campbell’s many roles these days.
She also serves on the policy council for Sheldon Head Start in Topeka; Shawnee County Oral Health Coalition; as a commissioner on the Kansas Volunteer Commission; and as a stewardess for her church, St. Mark’s AME in Topeka.
In 1995, she was elected to the Topeka Board of Education, where she served for 12 years.
During this time, she reveled in the opportunity to connect with the community and effect positive change. Her impact extended further when, from 2012 to 2016, she became the first Black person elected to the Kansas State Board of Education.
Starting in 1992, she’s worked at the state capitol in the office of the Kansas Legislature. She currently works in the office of Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes and plans to return when they are back in session this January.
“If the lord’s willing, I’m going to be there,” says Wims-Campbell. “I am thankful to God for allowing me to accomplish what I’ve wanted and for putting people in my path to tell me that this is what I can do.”
Wims-Campbell grew up in North Topeka and attended Black-only schools, where she thrived under the guidance of strong Black educators.
She attributes her love of learning to those early days when she was a classmate of Linda Brown, the namesake of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case.
Integration was largely not a problem for Wims-Campbell, except for a guidance counselor who suggested a career as a waitress over pursuing higher education.
Undeterred, she enrolled in business school after graduation and became just the second Black person hired at Southwestern Bell in Topeka, where she worked in the benefits office until the company’s closure in 1991.
Shortly after, she began working at the capitol, starting with Bill Brady and followed by a long list of legislators to whom she wasn’t shy about giving her opinion. She worked with senators Donald Betts, Anthony Hensley, and Rip Gooch, father of The Community Voice owner Bonita Gooch.
“One of my proud moments was serving as an executive assistant to Rip Gooch,” says Wims-Campbell. “That was an honor to serve a Black legislator.”
Beyond her official roles, Wims-Campbell’s commitment to education manifested in volunteering at Avondale East, where her child attended, and countless other boards and commissions.
Wims-Campbell emphasizes the importance of volunteering, attending board meetings, and immersing oneself in the community to understand the needs and intricacies of public service.
Her advocacy for continuous learning and broadening one’s knowledge base echoes through her accomplishments and the positive changes she has championed.
“Don’t let someone else determine your future,” says Wims-Campbell. “Find like-minded people to support you, and don’t listen to what you can’t do.”