Project Soapbox is a public speaking competition facilitated by Mikva Challenge that calls young people to speak out on issues that affect them and their communities. These powerful speeches have lasting, transformative impacts on classrooms, schools, and communities.
What comprises a Project Soapbox speech?
Dr. Natalie K. Houghtby-Haddon is the Associate Director of The George Washington University Center for Excellence in Public Leadership, and an Associate Professor in the GW College of Professional Studies. She teaches leadership theory, ethics, change management, and personal development for a number of the Center’s leadership development programs. As part of her administrative duties she serves as Program Manager for the Center’s Defense Information Services Agency Executive, Mid–Level, and Emerging Leaders Development Programs. Her other work for the Center includes new business development and proposal development, Center operations, curriculum development, teaching, faculty advising, and management of client relationships and contracts. She is also the Faculty Program Director for the Center’s new Master of Professional Studies in Public Leadership with a Specialization in Multi-Sector Management.
Prior to her appointment with GWU-CEPL, Dr. Houghtby-Haddon was President of Immaculate Heart College Center in Los Angeles. She also served both as the Interim Executive Director and faculty member for the Institute for Community Leadership in Los Angeles, CA, a collaborative effort of the LA County Department of Health Services, the UCLA School of Public Health, the University of La Verne, and the Immaculate Heart College Center.
She received the Ph.D. in the Human Sciences from The George Washington University, and holds the Doctor of Ministry and Master of Divinity Degrees from the Claremont School of Theology, as well as a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Boston University. She is also an ordained elder in The United Methodist Church, and served a number of local churches in the Los Angeles area prior to her appointment at Immaculate Heart. She is the author of Changed Imagination, Changed Obedience: Social Imagination and the Bent-Over Woman in the Gospel of Luke, published by Wipf and Stock Publishers
Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, now in her thirteenth term as the Congresswoman for the District of Columbia, is the Ranking Member of the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit. She serves on two committees: the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
Before her congressional service, President Jimmy Carter appointed her to serve as the first woman to chair the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She came to Congress as a national figure who had been a civil rights and feminist leader, tenured professor of law, and board member at three Fortune 500 companies. Congresswoman Norton has been named one of the 100 most important American women in one survey and one of the most powerful women in Washington in another. The Congresswoman's work for full congressional voting representation and for full democracy for the people of the District of Columbia continues her lifelong struggle for universal human and civil rights.
Congresswoman Norton's accomplishments in breaking barriers for her disempowered district are matched by her success in bringing home unique economic benefits to her constituents. Among them are senatorial courtesy to recommend federal judges, the U.S. Attorney, and other significant federal law enforcement positions for the District; up to $10,000 per year for all D.C. high school graduates to attend any public U.S. college or university and up to $2,500 per year to many private colleges and universities; a unique $5,000 D.C. homebuyer tax credit, which has sharply increased home ownership in the District and was a major factor in stabilizing the city's population; and D.C. business tax incentives, including a significant wage credit for employing D.C. residents, which has maintained businesses and residents in the District.
Congresswoman Norton also has brought significant economic development to the District of Columbia throughout her service in Congress, creating and preserving jobs in D.C. The most significant are her work in bringing to D.C. the U.S. Department of Homeland Security headquarters compound, now under construction, and is the largest federal construction project in the country; her bill that is developing the 55 acre-Southeast Federal Center, the first private development on federal land; her work that resulted in the relocation of 6,000 jobs to the Washington Navy Yard; and her successful efforts to bring to the District the new headquarters for the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, along with an additional Metro station at New York Avenue, which has resulted in the development of the NOMA neighborhood.
Congresswoman Norton helped end the city's most serious financial crisis in a century, in the 1990's,by achieving a historic package that for the first time restructured the financial relationship between Congress and the District, by transferring $5 billion in unfunded pension liabilities and billions more in state costs to the federal government.
The Congresswoman, who taught law full time before being elected, is a tenured professor of law at Georgetown University, teaching an upper-class seminar there every year. After receiving her bachelor's degree from Antioch College in Ohio, she simultaneously earned her law degree and a master's degree in American Studies from Yale University. Yale Law School has awarded her the Citation of Merit for outstanding alumni, and Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences has awarded her the Wilbur Cross Medal for outstanding alumni, the highest awards conferred by each on alumni. She is the recipient of more than 50 honorary degrees.
Brian Pick serves as the Chief of Teaching and Learning for the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS). In this role, he leads the district’s efforts to ensure that teachers are equipped with the best resources and professional learning opportunities so that all students achieve at their highest potential.
Prior to becoming Chief, Brian served in various capacities at DCPS, including Policy Analyst, Chief of Staff for School Management and Support, and Deputy Chief of Curriculum and Instruction. Most notably, Brian has led the development and rollout of the DCPS Teaching and Learning Framework, spearheaded DCPS’ Race to the Top application process, which ultimately resulted in a $30M RTTT grant, and led the implementation of the Common Core State Standards. In recognition of his achievements, he was awarded the 2012 National Curriculum Leadership Award by the Council of Great City Schools. Prior to joining DC Public Schools, Brian taught in California for three years as a Teach For America corps member, and he served as an Education Pioneer.
Brian graduated from Princeton University with a degree in public and international affairs. He completed his teacher credentialing work at San Jose State University, and holds a master’s degree in education policy from the University of California, Berkeley. Brian currently serves as an Independent Board Member for Student Achievement Partners.
Mario Rossero began work at the Kennedy Center as Senior Vice President of Education in July 2015. He has a long history in arts education as both an administrator and a classroom arts teacher. Prior to the Kennedy Center, Rossero served as the Chief of Core Curriculum for Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and prior to that he was the Director of Arts Education where he designed and implemented the first - ever CPS Arts Education Plan and helped raise $13 million in city and federal funds to increase access and quality of arts education. He previously held a similar position at Pittsburgh Public Schools.
Courtney R. Snowden is a sixth-generation Washingtonian born at Howard University Hospital. Raised in the Shepherd Park neighborhood of Ward 4, Courtney now lives east of the river (EOTR) in Ward 7 with her young son, Malik. In 2014, Courtney was elected Alternate National Committeewoman to the DC Democratic State Committee, and later ran for an at-large seat on the DC Council. The Washington Post endorsed Courtney as the foremost candidate in the 15 person field, recognizing her “keen understanding of the need to connect neighborhoods if the city is to thrive. She understands policy, is adept at building coalitions and is both smart and passionate about education reform.”
Courtney is a graduate of DC Public Schools and received her B.A. in Political Science in 2000 from Beloit College in Beloit, WI. After graduating, Courtney returned home to the District to join the legislative staff of Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) on Capitol Hill.
An active leader in the city’s LGBT and African-American communities and a staunch public education advocate, Courtney has devoted her life to making Washington, DC, a better place for all its residents, corner to corner. She has a record of coalition building and bringing people from different backgrounds together from across the city.
As a principal at The Raben Group, a premiere progressive government relations firm, she advises the firm’s clients on a variety of public policy issues through direct lobbying, strategic planning, and coalition building. Her diverse client portfolio includes Google, the Committee for Education Funding, the National Urban League, and Graham Holdings.
An active, engaged volunteer her entire life, Courtney has lent her grassroots mobilization expertise to Democratic campaigns around the country. In 2008, she served as an active member of Women for Obama and LGBT Americans for Obama, acting as a surrogate around the country. For the last six weeks of the general election campaign, she volunteered her time and talent in Colorado to get Barack Obama elected. She’s also worked on the campaigns of several members of Congress and a number of candidates in the local DC community. Her first campaign was in support of Arrington Dixon for DC Council when she just a little kid.
Courtney moved to the Deanwood neighborhood of Ward 7 in 2005 with her twin sister, Crystal Snowden. Crystal is a teacher, first at Ron Brown Middle School and presently at Friendship Collegiate High School. In that time, Courtney has served as a mentor and tutor to academically challenged students in Ward 7.
Public service was instilled in Courtney by her parents, Calvin and Diana Snowden, and she lives those values through her service on the boards of the Richard Wright Public Charter School and Rockson Community Development Corporation. In 2008, she served as the first female board chair of DC Black Pride, and she’s was an active member of the DC GLBT Advisory Committee.
Santha Sonenberg is the Chief of the Juvenile Section in the Public Safety Division at the Office of the Attorney General, under Karl Racine, the District of Columbia’s first elected Attorney General. In 2015 she retired after more than thirty years as a career public defender who had represented indigent clients in the local and federal courts in D.C. at the trial and appellate levels since 1983. She began working at the Public Defender Service (“PDS”) in October, 1983. For most of the 1990’s she was an Assistant Federal Public Defender in the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the District of Columbia and then returned to PDS in August, 1998, where she was the Trial Chief for several years. She has done considerable research on the issue of the wholesale non-discretionary and judicially unreviewable prosecution of juveniles as adults by “direct-filing” adult charges against them without an opportunity for a “reverse waiver” or “reverse transfer” hearing before a judicial officer.
At conferences and training sessions, including the United States Department of Justice’s 2010, Indigent Defense Symposium, Ms. Sonenberg has presented on various topics, the vast majority of them relating to sentencing and youth charged as adults. Finally she has supervised numerous lawyers in trials, and in transfer proceedings in juvenile court, and has participated in a number of meetings spearheaded by the Campaign for Youth Justice regarding the issue of juveniles charged as adults. Her teaching experience includes training lawyers and law school students since the late 1980's, including having been a Visiting Associate Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center in the Prettyman Graduate Program and the Criminal Justice Clinic, and having been a supervising attorney and the Litigation Director at D.C. Law Students In Court. She graduated from Wesleyan University in 1979 and from Georgetown University Law Center in 1983.
Ms. Weissberg is a founding board member of The Weissberg Foundation, a privately funded charitable organization established in the early 1990s by her father Marvin Weissberg. The foundation supports many local and regional organizations from theater to prison reform with annual grants in total of between 1.5 and 2M. At the Foundation, Ms. Weissberg focuses her efforts on supporting national and international organizations that work to empower women by through economic prosperity, political access, social rights, security and changing laws that bar women from participation. Recently, she has combined her business expertise with her philanthropy concentrating on mission driven investment.
Ms. Weissberg has been a Trustee of Beloit College since 2010 and a member of the Beloit Weissberg Chair Advisory Council that focuses on human rights. She has been a Trustee of New York University since 2012. Past affiliations include the Washington Area Women’s Foundation Early Childhood Task Force, the Root Capital Gender Initiative, and Yachad. Ms. Weissberg received a bachelor of arts from Beloit College, in Wisconsin where she studied literature and theater. She began her master’s studies in anthropology at New York University, transferring to the University of Virginia in Charlottesville to complete her master of arts in anthropology. Before joining Weissberg Corp., she worked as an adjunct Professor of Anthropology at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, and the University of Virginia.
Ms. Weissberg lives with her husband, Stuart, on a farm in Leesburg, Virginia where she rides her horse, Dusty, accompanied by her dogs, Sugar, Mica and Dante when she can find the time. She has two college-aged children.