By Amanda Algarra, Public and Global Affairs Intern
On Tuesday, June 2nd, Niagara Foundation was thrilled to have Brian Brady, Executive Director of Mikva Challenge, join us for a round table discussion. Mr. Brady has led Mikva Challenge for 15 years and aspires to bring civic empowerment and political participation to the youth here in Chicago by giving them a voice in the community. While his concentration lies in lower income youth of color, Mr. Brady hopes that all young people can open their eyes to the potential power and influence they can have on our country.
Along with Louise DiLullo, Volunteer Director of Mikva Challenge, Mr. Brady began the discussion by outlining the three program areas of the organization, of which include: community reforms, youth councils, and elections. Mr. Brady gave an enlightening speech on the importance of youth in the community because he believes that young people can help adults make good decisions by opening their eyes to the many problems that adults may not see or experience first hand. For example, one problem that had been addressed was poor attendance in school, and the big question was: Why are kids not going?
As it turned out, many students did not have clean uniforms to go to school in due to their lack of resources of laundry – and that was the reason why they were not going to school or showing up to class. By simply addressing the problem, a solution could be created, and soon, laundry programs were established at the school. To think, if this seemingly simple problem of laundry were not addressed, how many students would not be receiving their full education?
Of course, this was only one of the many challenges our youth face today. Others include gang violence, health, immigration, employment, criminal justice, and much more. With Mikva Challenge, these issues can be recognized and reformed – and all in the hands of the youth that experience it.
Mr. Brady continued the discussion by speaking on the importance of youth involvement in politics. He believes that the politics we see on TV can often be seen as quite boring, but politics in person is a different story. It actually can be fun and engaging – and it is something the youth can really enjoy and be really good at if they chose to involve themselves in it.
What we learned in school was that politics are solely conservatives versus liberals, but Mr. Brady believes that a true democracy is a negotiation; it is neither left nor right, but it is something that meets in the middle. For students to become a part of something so empowering is crucial not only to them, but also to our community. These young leaders create strategies for change, and they can do so in a way that is viable for that change. Mikva Challenge allows the youth to be able to carry out their ideas for reform by giving them the opportunities and resources to do so.
What began in only 2 schools and 40 students has now expanded to 120 schools and more than 6,000 youth. It is no secret that Mikva Challenge will continue to grow and empower youth not just in Chicago, but also all over the nation – especially with expansion in Washington DC and Los Angeles.
Niagara would like to thank Mr. Brady for his enriching talk on Mikva Challenge. His enthusiasm and passion towards our youth here in Chicago is inspiring, and we can’t wait to see what Mikva Challenge has in store for our nation’s future!