Mikva Alumnus, James Alford, talks about his experience as a Mikva Student
I am going to start by telling you a story that I know like the back of my hand.
There was a 16-year-old boy who attended his first Mikva event at Whitney Young High School two years ago. It was a Youth Activism Conference with over 150 students. He got to the event 45 minutes early, went upstairs and positioned himself in a corner. As the event went on, he began to interact with the other students, and was surprised that they were all so excited about taking action in their communities. This is when he got hooked to Mikva!
As you probably guessed, I was that shy and quiet 16-year-old boy. Reflecting back on this event has been a big learning experience for me. I realize that it took me longer than others to find out what I was great at. But now I know that I am great at being a leader. I have stepped outside of my comfort zone, and am much more vocal about who I am and what I care about.
The 2008 Presidential Election was a big turning point for me. I began to do things I could not have imagined. I helped register people to vote for the Primary and the General Election. Campaigning was a huge part of enhancing my leadership skills. I understood that my voice counts. Even though I couldn’t vote because of my age I was able to persuade undecided voters to vote for the candidate of my choice, Barack Obama.
Through the Mikva Challenge program we campaigned in Indiana. I made phone calls and went door-to-door talking to people about Obama. I felt like I was a part of history. Because of my work in the 2008 election, we were able to turn Indiana blue for the first time since 1964. I can also tell my kids and grandkids how I helped elect the first black President. Talking with my peers, we agreed that seeing our President, Barack Obama, make it to the top has been an inspiration for us all. A lot of us had the dream of being President but we didn’t think it was possible because we weren’t white. Now, I know I really can be President because of my experiences and participation in Mikva Challenge.
One of the biggest things the Mikva Challenge does is policy making. Mikva takes teens’ ideas and gives them the opportunity to present these ideas to people in power. I have had the wonderful experience of working on the Education Council to help make recommendations for Chicago public high schools.
Many students don’t know how to think critically about an issue and make a plan on how to talk to someone in power. But Mikva trains us for this difficult task while ensuring that we enhance our civic leadership skills.
Remember that shy 16-year-old? He just presented recommendations to the CEO of Chicago Public Schools on how to improve high schools. He is sharing his thoughts with you right now, not hiding in the corner, but telling you: young people can’t expect to have big dreams such as mine– to be President– if we are not properly educated and taught that one day we will have to run our country. Mikva does this.
“The Collaborative changed my outlook on life by giving me another perspective. I literally went from wanting to be a lawyer wanting to incarcerate individuals to wanting to prevent them from getting to that point by engaging them in their community.”
Earl’s change of heart can be seen in life decisions he has made. He began as a participant in our after school program then became a part of our Leaders Corps throughout his college years. Upon graduation from Temple University, he joined VISTA where he worked for one year with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and then a second year in the Mayor’s office. He is now part of the Philadelphia Teacher Residency Program of the Philadelphia Education Fund and pursuing a Masters Degree in Education at Drexel University. We know that he will be a leader who will change people’s lives by engaging them in the community.
Asia Dorsey began her activism work young. As a third grader, she joined Earth Force at her school. She participated for three years, learning about and influencing major environmental issues in her community. Through her experience in Earth Force, Asia learned that no matter your age, you could make a real difference in your neighborhood. She says, “the way Earth Force was introduced to my school..was like, ‘this is your opportunity to look around yourself and see how you want to affect a change.'” Specifically, she discusses her recycling effort, in which her class did research on recycling and presented findings to their parents and communities. Together, they were able to institute a new neighborhood recycling program. Beyond the civic impacts Asia experienced, she also made some of her best friends for life, “All of us that stayed in Earth Force are in college now.” She is now studying sociology and environmental issues in college. Watch her story below:
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