Project Soapbox Allows Students to Speak Their Minds

Spending a cold, snowy November Saturday at Jones College Prep for the Mikva Challenge Project Soapbox speech event was an inspiring experience. More than 250 high school students came out and gave the world a piece of their minds in 2-minute speeches on policy issues that fire them up.

Estefani Armenta, a junior at Benito Juarez High School, reminded me of my high school self; very shy and quiet, but confident when discussing an issue she is passionate about. Armenta’s speech tackled a thorny topic: how teenage girls are objectified by boys and men and how girls are punished in school due to their outfits.

“It happens everywhere, women being objectified,” said Armenta.

Even at school, Armenta’s friends have been punished for their outfits. “Other girls would get in trouble or they would have to change their outfits because it was too short, or the fingertip rule. I feel like girls should use whatever they want and feel confident with whatever they have.”

Project Soapbox not only offered Armenta a platform to raise awareness about sexist treatment of young women, it gave her a chance to challenge herself as a public speaker.

“This is really out of my comfort zone,” Armenta told me. “I’m a really shy person. Going up there was a big step because I don’t like talking in front of a lot of people and they are strangers. When I got up there, I was, like, really shaky. I tried to make eye contact but it was hard.”


Chicago Military Academy Senior Will Take His Speech to D.C.



Rayvon Savary, a senior at Chicago Military Academy at Bronzeville, brought the national opioid crisis home in a very powerful speech.

“I had a personal experience with opioids. I almost had an addiction. I did get saved by my family because they saw the signs,” he said.

Savary’s speech mixed together rap, personal storytelling, and data to paint an image of those who are struggling with opioid addiction that humanizes them. Our loved ones could be struggling with addiction, we need to be able to support them and provide them with resources.

As the High School Judges’ Choice, Savary will be going off to Washington, D.C to give his speech at Soapbox Nation, an opportunity for students to speak to a national audience and meet with public officials on Capitol Hill. Even though Savary won’t be able to come back to Project Soapbox next year, after graduating from high school he wants to keep raising awareness about opioid addiction.

As the day came to an end at Project Soapbox, I overheard a few students saying to each other “I feel like we can really change the world around us,” and “I can’t wait to come back next year, everyone was so good!” Many students were excited to come to Project Soapbox to challenge themselves, advocate for policy, share their personal stories and meet other students like them.

Project Soapbox truly offers a space for students’ voices to be heard and their opinions and experiences are valued.


Photos courtesy Mikva Challenge via Facebook

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Samantha Smylie