As a part of Harris Public Policy's and the Center for Effective Government’s celebration of the 10-year anniversary of the Civic Leadership Academy (CLA), we asked previous fellows how CLA has impacted their work as civic leaders. These are their opinions and perspectives, informed by their own life experiences and worldviews (and do not necessarily reflect the views of Harris).

Miguel A. Blancarte, Jr., CLA'21

I became and experienced the Civic Leadership Academy’s Fellowship program during one of the most intense and toiling periods of my career. I am a proud member of the Class of 2021 CLA Fellows, and our cohort began CLA in January 2021, in the height of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus pandemic (aka COVID-19)–as COVID-19 vaccines were starting to be shipped to healthcare institutions nationwide for distribution. Since May 2020, when the City of Chicago began offering COVID-19 community-based testing, I had been doing COVID-19 response work–originally for the City and, in December 2020, Esperanza Health Centers (a federally-qualified health center with clinics in Chicago’s West and Southwest sides) recruited me to serve as their Director of COVID-19 Response and Community Outreach. Not only was I experiencing CLA virtually, in a global health pandemic, I was also working leading efforts to respond to the pandemic, and on top of that, I was starting a new job–a new role at a new organization. Before starting CLA, one of my mentors, who was a CLA 2018 Fellow, asked me if I was sure that I wanted to do the Fellowship then as it was going to be virtual and as that may change my experience. I responded to him, “the time is now.” And it was.

CLA in 2021 was, indeed, a virtual experience (with a delayed global practicum), yet it was the leadership curriculum and education that allowed me to improve my ability to be a problem-solver; and it was the network of educators and Fellows–other savvy civic leaders working for positive social change who have become friends, colleagues, and collaborators. Ultimately, it was a period of growth–personal and professional development that made me a stronger, better, more effective and thoughtful civic leader.

For me, the impact and spirit of the Civic Leadership Academy reverberate through bonds, and civic collaborations and partnerships. I grew some of my strongest social bonds, and I gained some of my best friends; individuals I trust, that challenge me, who provide feedback and perspective, and who make me a better, stronger individual. The network of CLA Fellows is collaborative and actionable, and I have been fortunate to collaborate with alumni–in both the nonprofit and public sectors–to make a positive impact on the quality of life of Chicagoans. For example, to provide protection and for a more equitable vaccine distribution in Chicago, during the global MPOX (Monkeypox) Outbreak of 2022, I reached out to Ricardo Cifuentes, CLA'20, and Massimo Pacilli, CLA'21, with an idea. Ricardo is a leader at Esperanza Health Centers and Massimo is at the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH), two individuals I collaborated with and who were able to loop their organizations in making the first-in-the-state 24-hour vax-a-thon and resource fair. This idea turned labor-of-love project became a reality because CDPH ensured the vaccine, and Esperanza was a provider who participated in the MPOX 24-Hour Vax-A-Thon & Resource Fair. Another example of the impact and spirit of CLA in action is a collaborative effort to better understand why Latine Chicagoans forgo voting in elections. Alongside José M. Muñoz, CLA'17, and Manny Pérez, CLA'16, and through the Illinois Latino Agenda, we are currently exploring a poll, survey, and study to sample an area of Chicago that may provide better insights as to low Latine voter turnout, where the Greater Cities Institute at UIC estimated that only 20.5% of eligible Latine individuals voted in the 2023 mayoral election.

“I have an idea, do you have a minute?” are words that I will continue to message other CLA alumni to collaborate in making Chicago a more equitable and healthier city for all.