Did you know that Mikva Challenge is also in Waukegan, Illinois? Students at the city’s two high schools joined forces to organize and execute a Mayoral Candidate Forum on March 22, 2017. Working in specialized committees with designated tasks, such as event moderation, operations, and publicity, 40 AP Government students spent eight weeks crafting a truly youth-led public forum.

One student, senior Joanne Dasalla, took her role in the Media Outreach Team to a next level, securing interviews with ESPN Deportes, CAN TV, and WBEZ. We sat down with Joanne to learn more about her views on civic action, youth voice, the relationship between the media and young people, and, of course, the Waukegan Mayoral Forum.

unnamed-4Student Spotlight: Joanne Dasalla

Tell us about yourself and how you got involved with Mikva Challenge.

I’m a first generation born in Waukegan; my parents emigrated from the Phillipines. When I turned 13 my parents decided to separate so my mom, my siblings, and I moved to [nearby] Willowbrook. At first it was hard to adjust, but I got involved in a lot of after school activities and made some new friends along the way. After I graduated from middle school, I attended Hinsdale South from freshman to junior year. I moved back to Waukegan for my senior year to help my mom manage our first business, called Sarge & Sage, at the Belvidere Mall.

I got involved with Mikva Challenge through AP US Government class and the planning of the Mayoral Candidate Forum.

How would you describe Waukegan High School?

My school, Waukegan High School’s Washington campus is packed with students. I can’t imagine what it’s like at  [the other campus,] Brookside! In my opinion, it’s pretty awesome because with such a large student body, one is bound to meet a bunch of talented and skilled people all around. Despite having a large population, you still get an intimate feel. The students and teachers are very friendly. I also like how WHS invests a lot of time and effort in the arts and never fail to show their Bulldog pride.

What is civic engagement like at Waukegan? How would you describe the student body’s engagement with community issues?

I noticed that civic engagement among Waukegan residents was pretty high during the presidential election. It was an eye opener because Waukegan is filled with Latinos, and seeing my Latino peers’ perspectives on issues happening in the nation made me more aware of how the government affects our daily life. My peers and I knew that deep down there was something wrong, something we disliked, and something that we needed to change, so we would openly talk about those things in class.

What are some issues you see in the Waukegan community?

A lot of my peers want to move out of Waukegan as soon as possible because they feel like there isn’t really much that their hometown has to offer to them. But that’s far from the truth; Waukegan has a lot of potential. We have to realize that and start investing in the future well-being of our city. After being away from Waukegan for quite some time and recently returning, I have been able to view my hometown from a different and more optimistic perspective. If we have more businesses, more community events, and less violence in Waukegan, I think the overall quality of living would be more favorable and more people would be inclined to stay.

Tell us a little about about planning the Mayoral Candidate Forum. What was your favorite part? What was hard?

Planning went day by day. The first day we were like, “Let’s think of the general things we need to organize the forum.” But once we started reaching out to people, like ESPN and CAN TV, that’s when we started saying, “We have to make sure this is good because we’re going to have very important guests attending the forum.” We wanted them to be impressed, so we paid careful attention to little and big details.

The times I enjoyed the most were getting interviewed [by the media] and seeing it all come together. Everyone, from middle school students to retired residents, was there. I even saw people trickling in halfway through the event. It just goes to show that people want to be informed. Even though we had low voter turnout in the primaries, there is hope that voter turnout will be a lot better on April 4th.

You’re really good at connecting with the media and getting publicity for this event. What are your strategies? How do you build relationships with media contacts?

I consider myself blessed and lucky to have family and friends who are involved in the media. My mom is one of those people, and so are Ms. Elma Lucas (founder and producer of Elma and Company at CAN TV19) and Sra. Patricia Martínez (program director and radio host at ESPN Deportes 1220).  It’s all about stepping out of your comfort zone, chasing after and asking for what you want.

I’m an introvert so I get a little shy around people, but I have learned how to be more comfortable in social settings. Whenever I feel like retreating into my shell, I remind myself that everyone has something to offer, including me. When we connect and collaborate, that’s when the magic starts to happen.

Do you feel that the media accurately portrays young people? Why/why not?

In general, not really. Whenever children and adolescents stand up for themselves or voice their opinions, the media portrays them as being disrespectful, disobedient, and rebellious. But it’s really about us teenagers trying to find our identity and sharing our point of view.

I’ve learned and have been told by the adults in my life told that even they don’t know everything. So what makes people think that adults will always be right just because they’re older? When we see that something isn’t right we need to be fearless and speak up.

What kind of impact do you hope to have on the way the media portrays young people?

I hope to serve as an inspiration to people of all ages around me. I would like to show my peers that even though others may view them as a child, or not quite an adult, they still have the power to make a difference. Age does not matter – it’s about who you are and what you can offer to the world. The media will begin to portray young people in a more accurate light once we show them who we really are and what we are capable of.

What advice do you have for other young people who want to get their voices heard?

Be fearless, and always be yourself. You can make your presence felt by others in many different ways, whether that’s through public speaking, music, art, dance, etc. Find out which medium is the best one for you, and if you can’t find one, you can always invent one. Allow your passion to serve as the voice and the inspiration for others to follow their dreams.

Do you want to run for Mayor of Waukegan one day?

I would love to run for Mayor of Waukegan one day! Waukegan has a special place in my heart- I always tell people about all the wonderful memories I’ve made. I plan on continuing to be an active member of the community and coming back to start a new chapter in my life after college and serving in the US Air Force.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Huge thanks to everyone for attending and supporting the forum! Thank you also to Mikva and our teachers for inspiring the idea and putting your faith in the youth to show us what we are capable of.