Mikva Proved that Nobodies Are Somebodies
by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar
The civic learning community in Illinois mourns the passing of Abner Mikva (1926-2016), a devoted public servant who co-founded the Mikva Challenge with his wife Zoe. The organization capped a half century career that touched state and national government, and all three branches of the latter. It’s work engaging young people in the political processes, both elections and public policy, allowed Ab to pass the baton to the next generation, and what a legacy he leaves.
The McCormick Foundation has proudly supported the work of the Mikva Challenge for the past 13 years. The organization played a key role in the expansion of civic learning both in Chicago and throughout Illinois, including the current #CivicsIsBack Campaign.
Whether it’s engaging students in campaigns on both sides of the aisle, training them to serve as election judges, or elevating youth voice through citywide and school based youth councils and committees, Mikva Challenge proved time and again that young people are not nobodies, but instead somebodies set at their own devices.
The work of the Mikva Challenge now transcends the City of Chicago, encompassing the suburbs, downstate, and even Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles. Their “secret sauce” centers on “action civics,” a form of student-centered learning where students learn about the political process by serving as change agents themselves.
Action civics dovetails perfectly with the new civics course requirement in Illinois, specifically learning about government institutions, discussions of current and controversial issues, and service learning.
It’s fitting that Ab bid his earthly confines farewell on the nation’s 240th birthday. He served his state and country admirably and left us with the tools to form a more perfect union. We must accept this perpetual challenge with passion and integrity in the spirit of Abner Mikva.