Cynthia RodriguezCynthia Rodriguez is one of the six youth change-makers we’re honoring at our Annual Awards Benefit this year. She’s our School Leader award winner and we sat down with her to talk about her involvement with Mikva Challenge and her experience being a champion of youth voice.

How did you get involved with Mikva Challenge?

I first got involved with Mikva Challenge back in middle school, when one of my teachers encouraged me to join Orozco’s Peace and Leadership Council. I was a shy student and so initially I dreaded Monday and Wednesday afternoons when I had to be at the Council sessions and play weird silly games and answer goofy ice breakers. But it all changed and I got vested in Mikva and so many of its other programs.

Was there a time or a moment you felt inspired and energized to become a youth leader?

I actually liked doing the research work and analysis, so that kept me anchored in the Council. The vast research our council did on the community’s police cameras and the responsibility and validity that was allotted to us as middle schoolers created an eye opening experience for me. Mikva truly enabled me to recognize the validity of my experiences and opinions and it’s role in policy making. Moreover, they taught me that in order to be heard, I had to actually speak. Before Mikva, my statements and presentations were about as solid as the timid voice that delivered them. Now, I armed with an assertive yet confident tone that allows me to effectively communicate and represent my voice. I have always been passionate about helping others, Mikva provided me with the experiences and tools to continue doing so in a holistic, professional, and practical manner.

What’s your dream for the future?

My dream is working in educational public policy. Mikva has provided me with the confidence, exposure, challenges, and innovative mindset to address such politically tense, complex issues in a mature and professional way. Being a part of the Mayoral Youth Commission, where we provide various city officials with recommendations to better the lives of youth in Chicago, I have realized the integral role of policies and regulations. Seemingly it is as if one can only change policies and mindsets, Mikva challenges you to do both, and that, is civic activism at its best.