Monthly Features

May 2017

What is your full name? John Paul Makilya
What country are you from originally? Kenya
Briefly describe what life was like in your native country.
My experience of life in Kenya is one shaped by a childhood spent in Nairobi, one of Africa’s most cosmopolitan and dynamic cities. Despite Kenya’s amazingly temperate weather, warm people and incredible food, the country is plagued by power outages, high crime rates, and extreme inequality. Kenya has made strides to remedy some of the social challenges it faces but life for ordinary citizens remains quite challenging. 
What is your occupation? I work as a Global Operations Associate at Flexport, a global freight-forwarding company.
What circumstances surrounded your move to the United States? My father is a naturalized American, and I’m a naturalized American through him.
When did you become a citizen? I became a citizen six years ago, a year after graduating from college.
How long did the process take for you to become a naturalized citizen? Briefly describe your path to citizenship.
I took about six years to become a citizen after becoming a permanent resident. My path to citizenship was uncomplicated, and I decided to become an American as soon as I completed the residency requirements needed to apply.
What emotions did you feel the day you got naturalized? I was incredibly happy to become an American and saw my path to citizenship as more than just a path upward economic mobility but rather an assumption of a new cultural heritage.
What stood out or surprised you the most to you the day you were naturalized? The universal approach to citizenship that America has really stood out to me on the day I was naturalized. Being an American is tied to an idea of freedom and limitless opportunity (both real and imagined) that simply doesn’t exist elsewhere in the world.
What do you appreciate the most about being a U.S. citizen? Freedom of speech and religion.
Finish this sentence: “I believe my citizenship counts as an American because the freedoms guaranteed by our constitution and way of life provide all citizens with a political, cultural and social voice that has no limits.”
How has your U.S. citizenship changed your life? Becoming an American has allowed me to vie for and obtain professional and cultural opportunities that aren’t available anywhere else in the world.
How would you describe about the value of being American to today’s youth? Embrace all that is good about America and being American, and learn about our country’s great history. 

December 2015 
BobbyPopeFeature: Bobby Hill, “The Boy Who Wowed the World”

This holiday season, we are excited to feature 14 year-old Bobby Hill, the singer who performed “Pie Jesu” for Pope Francis during his visit to Philadelphia. Check out how this high school student has used his new found fame to engage citizens and youth in making a difference in their community. 

What are your most recent accomplishments after the papal visit?Since singing for the Pope, I’ve traveled to Jakarta, Indonesia to sing at a party, I was named one of the “Power 100,” by Ebony magazine, and recorded my Christmas single, “O Holy Night,” at Electric Lady Studios in New York. That was one of the best experiences, because so many greats have come through that studio, like Adele, D’Angelo and Amy Winehouse. It was Jimi Hendrix’s old studio.

If you had to describe your music in one word, what would it be?


RiversideWe know you were inspired by Pope Francis to perform at the Riverside Women’s Correctional Facility. How was that experience?

It was moving to be able to provide comfort and hope to others simply through my music and my voice.

Citizenship Counts encourages students to make a difference in their community by creating a service-learning project. Tell us about the ways you give back.

I am hoping to organize a benefit concert in late February to raise awareness and money for Philadelphia youth in need. It is inspiring to see how Citizenship Counts encourages young people like me to give back to our community in this way.

In your opinion, what is the greatest benefit of living in a diverse, inclusive, democratic society?

You are able to get different ideas from other people that makes for a better world.

What does being “American” mean to you

To me, American means being a strong, independent person with lots of opportunity.

BobbySnowCoverDraft4What made you first realize you wanted to pursue a career in music?

I’ve always loved to sing, play music, and perform in front of people since I can remember. I started out singing in my church choir and found out about the Keystone Boychoir from some people at my church who knew how much I loved music. I’ve been with the choir since 2008.

Who are your musical influences?

At this point, Josh Groban is one of my favorite artists. He has such a great tenor and I’d love to sound like that after my voice changes from a soprano.

Do you play any instruments?

I used to play violin and can play a few songs on the organ, piano, and guitar.

What social studies topic most interests you?

I am most interested in African American history.

What does being a citizen mean to you?

Being a citizen means to contribute to a society and contributing help others in that community.

If you could change one thing in the music industry, what would it be?

I’d like to see musicians being paid properly for their music. Artists should be able to make a living from their craft, as I hope to one day.

If you could sing with anyone, who would it be?

Celine Dion

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I hope to be great, developed tenor with a lucrative and fulfilling career.

What is your wish for future generations?

A wish for world peace and to live in a world where we could all get along.

You can listen and download Bobby’s music by clicking here.

Citizenship Counts Ambassador: Danya Kaakani

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We are so happy to introduce Danya Kaakani, the first Citizenship Counts Ambassador to be nominated by one of our readers like you! Danya is a Senior at Arizona State University who is making waves and building bridges with her interfaith work.

How do you personally connect to the mission of Citizenship Counts?

I personally connect to the mission of Citizenship Counts because I realize the benefits of living in a diverse and inclusive society where I have the ability of letting my voice be heard. I think this is an important reminder and it is also our job to give back to this country.

At Citizenship Counts, we aim to empower young people to be responsible, participatory and socially-just citizens. Tell us more about how you are doing the same.

With my public speaking work, my main goal is allowing kids to be more tolerable and understanding of different types of people. It is important to remember that just because someone may be different in their culture or religion, it does not mean that they are wrong. I think diversity is a beautiful thing and America is a melting pot made to accentuate each of our unique qualities.

What is your experience with immigrant populations/refugees?

Immigrants have surrounded me my whole life. My dad immigrated to the US from Lebanon when he was seventeen years old and my grandpa on my mother’s side was a refugee from Palestine. My friends and I have held many gatherings for Burmese and Somali refugees in the past and lately we’ve been welcoming in Syrian refugees. I hold compassion towards these people because they have all come from war torn countries and have experienced many hardships in their lives.

What does “freedom” mean to you?

America means freedom to me. It is a blessing to be born in a safe country where we have the right to believe, say, wear, and think what we want. Sometimes we take these little things for granted but it is so important to remind ourselves of our freedom, especially when in some countries people are jailed for their speech.

What is your wish for future generations?

I just hope that future generations are more accepting and tolerant of different types of people and ethnicities. I think this is a goal we’ve had for many past generations and it is something we need to always be working towards.

What role do you think peace plays in interfaith work?

Peace is everything in interfaith work. By achieving peace it is important to understand one another, and interfaith forums help facilitate this understanding. Oftentimes conflict grows from a lack of communication, so peace and tolerance can be achieved through communication and coming together.

What is the biggest misconception you come across in your work?

I think misconceptions come from lack of knowledge, so my goal in speaking to classrooms is to clear any fallacies they may have about Islam. With knowledge about the religion being fueled by mostly media bases, there are obviously some misconceptions, but I am here to answer any lingering thoughts people might have to allow for a more accepting community.

What do the next 5 years look like for you?

My plan for the next couple years is to continue school and pursue my PhD in Psychology. My goal is to take Peace and Conflict Resolution and look at it through a psychological lens, hopefully accomplishing this by expanding research. Ultimately I would love to work at a university and to find more methods towards peace building.

Who is your role model, and why?

My biggest inspiration has been Azra Hussain, the founder of the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Arizona. Her non-profit organization promotes interfaith dialogue and provides education about Islam. She has helped guide me in both of these aspects and I admire all the work she has done. She has found a productive way to dispel harmful stereotypes and bridge connections between people of all backgrounds. I am thankful for having her in my life and her motivation and guidance has helped me immensely in accomplishing my goals.


October 2015
AzulMeetsNewYorkSamBook of the Month: “Azul Meets New York Sam” from One Moore Book

In honor of Young Readers’ Day on November 10th, we are excited to showcase One Moore Book’s newest children’s book, Azul Meets New York Sam. The story follows Azul, a young Afro-Brazilian girl, and her friend Carioca when they meet Sam, a young boy from New York. The three explore Brazil together in an exciting adventure.
Citing books as a source of healing after leaving war-torn Liberia at the age of five, Wayétu Moore seeks to inspire children to discover the power of reading by founding her own multi-cultural children’s book company, One Moore Book.
While working in Washington, D.C. Moore noticed that children were more enthusiastic about reading when they
were familiar with the characters, places and foods in the books they read. Seeing a lack of literature highlighting children of color and immigrants, she decided to create her own. J is for Jollof Rice became the first in a series of books for young readers. One Moore Book highlights countries with low literacy rates including: Liberia, Haiti, Guinea and Brazil. Moore was inspired by award-winning author, Edwidge Danticat and published a book together which revolves around Haiti.
One Moore Book is more than just an online bookseller. They recently opened a storefront in Liberia after Moore experienced first-hand how difficult it was to access books. The Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) recently provided funding to introduce one of Moore’s books into 10 Liberian schools to provide greater access to books.
Moore hopes that children in the U.S. will be able to empathize with the struggles of others by recognizing their common humanity, despite differences in language or culture.  Moore is committed to making America a global partner by spreading optimism and strength to children around the world.
Click here for more books or to donate to One Moore Book’s project.

MarneyMurphyEducator of the Month: Marney Murphy

We are excited to introduce Marney Murphy as an amazing Citizenship Counts Ambassador! She has been an educator in Cincinnati for over 35 years teaching everything from social studies to reading, language arts, information science and mathematics at both private and public schools. Ms. Murphy is an innovative teacher with a passion for bringing her students’ learning to life. She has been conducting naturalization ceremonies on her school’s campus since 1986. She has won countless awards for her commitment to education including State of Ohio Educator of the Year.


In 2004, Ms. Murphy brought CC Founder Gerda Weissmann Klein to her school to deliver an inspiring keynote speech. For over six decades Mrs. Klein has spoken at hundreds of venues all around the world. However, this event in Cincinnati was truly something special. She was so inspired by the unique opportunity for students to be engaged and participate in the ceremony that Mrs. Klein decided to create Citizenship Counts. Her vision was that students across the country could benefit from the same experience that Ms. Murphy gave to her lucky students. Mrs. Murphy still teaches middle school students in Three Rivers Middle Schools in Cleves, OH. We are happy to honor her in this issue as our “Citizenship Counts Ambassador.”

How and why did you get into civics education?

During the early 1980’s, I began teaching in the district in which I grew up. The district has economic diversity, but no cultural or religious diversity. I took a group of Honor Society students to an International Folk Festival in Cincinnati where we witnessed a naturalization ceremony. The students were so impressed and wanted to host one on our school’s campus. Two years later and cutting through red tape, Three Rivers Middle School was the first school in the country to host a naturalization ceremony.

What makes teaching civics different from other subjects?

Civics education is who you are. What kind of a citizen are you? Are you a bystander, where you allow others to determine your journey? Or are you an active, informed citizen who understand how to critically evaluate information that will make an impact on you and others—indeed, determine the course of history.

How long have you been using the Citizenship Counts program?

I have been using components of the program since 1986

Why did you start using the Citizenship Counts curriculum?

The program allows one to implement a naturalization ceremony. I recently gave two copies of the program to two teachers from Winnipeg, Canada

What makes Citizenship Counts unique?

It specifically addresses the process of becoming a citizen of the USA. Also, it allows the student to go on a journey of their own citizenship.

How do you personally connect to the mission of Citizenship Counts?

I am very proud I inspired Gerda Klein to found this wonderful non­profit organization.

What do students like most about naturalization ceremonies?

Meeting people from other countries.

Who are some of your most memorable naturalized citizens/speakers over the years?

Three Rivers first speaker was Jerry Springer. At the time he was broadcasting the noon news on a Cincinnati television station. He is a naturalized citizen and gave a fantastic speech. Over the years, students have been surprised he spoke at our school and have emailed him to see if it was true. He responds with yes and a paragraph on the importance of understanding legal immigration.

Of course, the person who is dear to all students who have heard her speak is Gerda Weismann Klein. Gerda’s story and her passion and love for the US is contagious. At one ceremony three people (in their 80’s) from Russia were being naturalized. Gerda said, “ You will travel the world and people will put down this country, however, there is not one who would give anything to say, ‘I am a citizen of the United States of America.’” The three Russians shook their heads… it was a powerful moment.

Another speaker was President Gerald Ford’s son, Steve. Steve told of moving into the White House at the age of 16. Of course, when his parents left for a weekend, and he was left in a house with a swimming pool, bowling lanes, and lots of room­­­what do you do? Party. And that is what he did. He ordered a large amount of pizza for his friends. When the party was over, Steve was thrilled nothing was broken. His parents returned to the White House and nothing was said until three weeks later. Then, Steve was called on the carpet—the one with the Presidential Seal! President Ford asked what had happened a couple of weekends ago. Steve replied nothing, just invited a few friends over. President Ford then pulled out an invoice for about $700 worth of pizza and explained to Steve the first family must pay for their food and he had five days to come up with the money. Steve was very proud of his father and explained that time in history when President Ford pardoned President Richard Nixon. He painted a very vivid picture for the students. I still have students asking me if I remember President Ford’s son, Steve.

Neil Armstrong was to speak, but the day before he was called to testify at a Senate hearing…..that was so disappointing.

Olympic medalist, Julie Isphording, spoke at one of our ceremonies. She talked about the pride of standing on the Olympic podium as the National Anthem was played.

What is your advice for teachers just starting to use Citizenship Counts curriculum?

Just do it. Trust the program.

What is your favorite part about your job?

As the PreK—12 library media specialist, I am a part of the total curriculum.

What motivates you?

Breaking stereotypes and opening student’s minds.

What is your wish for future generations?

I would like to think we are educating our children to be kind to one another.


September 2015IGTMIIA
Book of the Month: “An Immigrant’s Guide to Making it in America” by Virgilia Kaur Pruthi

Virgilia Kaur Pruthi is an author, entreprenuer, and an exemplary citizen who has impacted the conversation on immigration with her innovative book, “An Immigrant’s Guide To Making It In America”.

Giving readers a contemporary look into the immigrant experience in America, Pruthi highlights the stories of immigrants to give a human face to the immigration process. Whether you were born a citizen or an immigrant yourself, this book will remind you to appreciate the opportunities you have and inspire you to work to give the same to others.

Here is more information about “An Immigrant’s Guide to Making it in America” and it’s amazing author:

You’ve made a career in product management and consulting. What made you want to write “An Immigrant’s Guide To Making It In America?”

There really was no guide out there to help immigrants and international students new to the US actually navigate the convoluted immigration system. While giving them insight into other people’s real stories. Not just the edge cases which the media covers. Content that was relevant for them.

Your book, “An Immigrant’s Guide To Making It In America” has stories from more than 35 immigrants. Why did you include so many stories?

I wanted to make sure that a diverse set of stories and backgrounds was represented. My goal was to have many more interviews however given the timeline for the book decided to stick with 35 people.
VirgiliaPicYou explain in your book that this is the best time in modern US history for young immigrants to begin making their mark. Why is that?

The newest wave of entrepreneurship has sparked conversations around immigration. Many small and large businesses alike are creating a lot of noise around immigration reform especially for those who have the drive to make a difference in their particular specialities.

What do you want people to take away from your book?

Do not give up. Everyone has a unique path and success is not the same for everyone. The American Dream is very much alive what matters is staying strong, being open to change, and staying patient.

Both of your parents are immigrants. How do you think that has shaped your personal experience?

Growing up in a humble environment where my parents worked multiple jobs, education was the number one priority, and we had to learn everything ourselves with no network or real understanding of how things work in the US. It has truly made me appreciate what access to knowledge can do for people going through change.

Tell us more about the Network of Women.

Balance is the key to creating the next generation of empowered women. Network of Women programs work to inspire, educate, and equip women with the personal development skills needed to pursue a healthier, happier, and well-rounded lifestyle. Our vision is to promote mindfulness, confidence, collaboration, and balance across diverse peer-to-peer communities. We believe the focus on personal development and wellness are paramount to ensure the overall prosperity of women across the globe, and to equip citizens with the necessary tools for navigating complex work and relationship systems across the digital age.

How do you connect to the mission of Citizenship Counts?

I love Citizenship Counts’ mission to educate and empower young people on what it means to be American. Many citizens don’t realize about how valuable being a US citizen and many times don’t discuss this openly with their friends. Having a curriculum that young citizens can engage with is truly unique and super impactful.

What experience has most prepared you for success?

Learning from failures. It’s okay to fail as long as you learn from the experience and apply it during your next endeavor.

What do the next 5 years look like for you?

Focusing on education and wellness through different mediums – whether it’s technology, policy, or community building.

If you could give your former self one piece of advice for the future, what would it be?

Stop comparing yourself to those around you and be confident of your own path. Set your own goals and follow them – knowing that if you change them from time to time it is okay. We are all human after all.

Who is your role model, and why?

I have multiple role models who I learn from everyday – luckily I can call them all my family. My mom (perseverance), my in-laws (importance of stability), my brothers (creativity), and my husband (being positive no matter what).

When have you been most satisfied in your life?

I don’t think I’m qualified to answer this question yet! There is still a lot left for me to experience. However being super Type A I try to remind myself to be satisfied everyday. Keeping a journal helps.

What motivates you?

Even when you make a tiny change, it can positively affect someone’s well-being. Educating others and helping them make impactful decisions is what motivates me.

What’s your superpower?
Ability to never give up. My mom would always tell me that ‘Never give in is our motto, strive to be strong…’ I can’t even remember the rest but the part I do remember stuck.

What is your wish for future generations?
Focus on solving problems and not complaining about what is the current status quo.


JasonEducator of the Month: Jason Steinagle

Learn more about Jason Steinagle, New York State Teacher of the Year finalist and 7th grade social studies teacher at Hamburg Middle School.

Why did you start using the Citizenship Counts curriculum?

The curriculum includes fun and engaging activities with primary sources to help enrich the meaning and value of being a citizen.

How long have you been using the Citizenship Counts program?

I have been using Citizenship Counts lessons since 2011.

What makes Citizenship Counts unique?

The students work cooperatively to understand the value of citizenship.

How do you connect to the mission of Citizenship Counts?

Students are encouraged to value their responsibilities of citizenship and appreciate cultural differences through these lessons and experiences.

How and why did you get into civics education?

Civics is at the foundations of a person’s involvement in their government, which affects how they relate to each other.

What makes teaching civics different from other subjects?

Civics follows a child into adulthood as they participate in their communities.

What is your favorite part about your job? 

Knowing history is our future.

What motivates you?

My motivation is the observation of students begin to value the purpose for action, whether individual or collective.

What’s your superpower?

I enjoying using primary sources and integrating technology to help make learning more successful.

If you had a chance to do it all over again, what would you have done differently?

I would not hesitate.

What is your wish for future generations?

My wish is health, happiness and wisdom among a diversity of people living in freedom and prosperity.