We recently sat down with Mikva alumnus, Henry Cervantes, to interview him about his Mikva experiences and what he's been up to since his time at Mikva. This is what he had to say:
How did you first get involved with Mikva Challenge?
I first heard of Mikva Challange when I was a high school student at Farragut Career Academy High School. Mikva Challenge was working with several students who were friends of mine. What really caught my attention about Mikva Challenge was how attentive they were to student needs. There were a couple of programs at Farragut High School but this one was different; Mikva Challenge not only cared about youth voices on social issues but also believed in young people's ability to create positive social change.
What did you do with Mikva Challenge?
I applied to Mikva's Summer Government Leadership Institute Program. Under this program I was granted an opportunity not many young people have access to in my community- a student internship in our community's local Alderman's Public Service Office of the 12th Ward. At the age of 17, I was gaining real work experience at a government office. I was able to meet many constituents from my community and became aware of many of our needs. I canvassed the community for infrastructure and vandalism problems and learned to take public service requests. Through this work, I gained an understanding of city government and its structure and procedure not as an observant bystander but as an active participant. With this new perspective, I worked to inform many other young people of the importance that politics plays in our world. If one organization within our community has taught me first hand about the ideals of democracy, community and service learning - it is Mikva.
What are you doing now?
Currently, I am finishing up my undergraduate studies at Northeastern Illinois University at their University Without Walls Nontraditional Degree Program. My declared major is Youth Leadership Development and Community Violence Prevention. I also work in the Little Village Community for a small non-profit community organization called Telpochcalli Community Education Project where I lead various youth development programs focused on violence prevention and community engagement, including the Little Village Nonviolence Leadership Institute and the Annual Little Village Youth Forum. I also work in the Pilsen community for Marquette University's Center for Peace Making as the Peace Works Program Trainer. At three Catholic schools, I teach 4th through 12th grade students in restorative justice and nonviolent conflict resolution.
How has your experience as a Mikva Challenge student informed where you are today?
Mikva had a great impact in my life. Like most young people during my high school years, I was searching for a sense of purpose, trying to find out what my calling in life was going to be after high school. In my youth, I had many questions concerning history, power and politics and was definitely curious about violence and peace. Mikva Challenge provided me with the opportunity to get involved. Many young people want to get involved in the community but do not know how. Mikva knows how. Because of organizations like the Mikva Challenge, I was able to contribute to the betterment of my community in a tangible way. Mikva is one of the reasons why I made a decision to become an activist not only in my community but in the larger society. Mikva showed me how to think outside of my immediate community and be concerned about other communities.
At Mikva Challenge, our mission is to train life-long civic leaders. Our alumni, like Henry, and students affirm our success in getting young people to become leaders both today and tomorrow.