Tell us about your Mikva Challenge experience.  

It is because of my high school guidance counselor (Catherine Lindskog) that I came to know Mikva Challenge. During my freshman year of high school, my counselor encouraged me to apply to join Mikva’s inaugural Education Council. I was not initially interested in the opportunity because I did not think I was qualified. I did not consider myself a leader, I was ambivalent about politics, and I did not know it was possible for a young person like me to join an organization like Mikva Challenge. I grew up on the city’s west side, in the Austin community, and frankly, many organizations’ recruitment efforts did not reach communities or non-selective enrollment high schools like mine. However, my counselor’s unrelenting encouragement ultimately convinced me to apply. So, I am so grateful that I took advantage of the opportunity. I participated in an array of Mikva programs including Issue-to-Action, where we established a student advisory board at my high school instead of a student council, and I was able to utilize the video production skills I mastered through another Chicago non-profit, Community TV Network, to document the 2004 New Hampshire primaries.

I can unequivocally say that Mikva Challenge played an integral role in helping me find my voice. Mikva equipped me with the tools necessary to use my voice to ask the tough questions, call out social inequities, and to speak on behalf of those whose voices otherwise wouldn’t be heard – many of whom I shared similar experiences with, but most I did not.

Mikva Challenge taught me that issues such as gun violence and school funding inequality are not Chicago issues or urban issues but challenges that we all collectively must tackle. Before issues like gun violence became a national conversation, Mikva had already awoken my consciousness and those of thousands of other Chicago students.

What are you doing now?

I recently relocated back home with a conviction that it was time to leverage my talents to make an impact here in Chicago. Currently, I am Program Manager, Education in Chicago for IBM Corporate Citizenship. In this role, I manage the company’s flagship education program Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) at Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy and help strategize the broader education portfolio in Chicago.  Before IBM, I worked as a high school English teacher and served as a political appointee in President Obama’s Administration.

How has your experience as a Mikva Challenge youth informed who you are today?

Mikva helped cement my desire to be a servant leader. I have always wanted to use my experiences and expertise to respond to the long-standing gap in opportunity for urban communities, especially those from underrepresented populations. Mikva Challenge provided me with the skills and confidence needed to actualize every desire of my heart.

De’Rell will receive the 2018 Mikva Challenge Outstanding Alumnus Award at the 2018 Mikva Challenge Chicago Youth Change Maker Benefit.

Will you join us on Wednesday, April 18th?