Pioneer Profile: La Mikia Castillo

La Mikia CastilloIn this Pioneer Profile, La Mikia Castillo, EP’s Associate Director, Los Angeles and Alumna (2010 Graduate School Fellowship), talks about her Angeleno roots, how an eighth grade history class awakened her passion for social justice, and how she’s trying to change systems and impact individual lives at the same time.

  1. Where did you grow up and what was it like? I’m an Angeleno through and through! I grew up in South Central Los Angeles, Inglewood, and Hawthorne, CA. My family has been in Los Angeles for generations, so I was raised with much of my extended family very close by. We didn’t have much, but we had each other, and I enjoyed having my aunts, uncles, and cousins around—they were an integral part of my childhood and helped shape me into the person I am today.
  1. What do you like most about where you live now? True to my Angeleno roots, I have chosen to make my home here in Los Angeles. What I love most about the neighborhood I live in now is its diversity, sense of community, and walkability. The richness and variety of cultures, including a large Central American population, make me feel right at home given my Panamanian roots. When I walk down the street and enjoy the warm Southern California sun on my face and hear the countless languages that fill the air, I feel like I’m in an international marketplace. I can’t imagine living anywhere else. (Well, maybe Panama… I can definitely imagine living in Panama.)
  1. What is your favorite school memory? Mr. Kwitty’s eighth grade history class. He made history feel alive and relevant, and I began to understand history’s influence on today’s realities. During one class, after reviewing U.S. child labor laws, Mr. Kwitty led a discussion about sweatshops. We examined where our clothes and shoes were made, who was making them, and how those workers were being treated. That day, the term “exploitation” was added to my vocabulary. I was shocked, horrified, and started my first personal boycott of a product as a result of that class. I vowed to be a critical consumer, and to educate others to do the same. Something awakened in me then, and continues to drive my passion for social justice and equity now.
  1. Which leader (alive or not, in any field) do you most admire? I admire several leaders, past and present. I am fascinated by Queen Esther’s leadership as depicted in the Biblical Book of Esther. Initially reluctant to lead, she was persuaded to believe that her position as queen put her in a unique position to help save her people from genocide. She risked herself for her people, which I think is admirable.

    I also admire Sojourner Truth, Martin Luther King, Jr., Cesar Chavez, Malcolm X, Rigoberta Menchu, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Bishop Oscar Romero, and many other leaders who have fought and continue to fight for justice and equity.   

  1. When was the first time you thought about working in education? When I was a freshman in college I felt isolated as one of few – and many times the only – people of color in my classes. I realized that the lack of diversity that I saw in college was rooted in the poor quality K-12 education offered to students of color, especially those in low-income communities. For me, I was one of the top students at my high school, yet in college, I struggled with work that seemed basic to my peers. It was clear that something was terribly wrong and I wanted to help fix the problem. I felt strongly that my role in education would and should be outside of the classroom, but I had no idea what that would look like.
  1. What has been your most memorable moment working in education? The day my younger cousin was admitted to UCLA. (I wanted him to apply to my alma mater, USC, but he had his heart set on UCLA.) My husband and I had spent hours working with him to craft his personal statement and complete his college applications. He had to overcome many barriers to even get through high school, so UCLA felt like a long shot to him; we encouraged him and told him that he was qualified and capable. When he received the admissions letter and scholarship offer, it felt like he’d won the lotto. He is the first person in his immediate family to attend college, and I am honored that I took part in helping him get there, even if in a small way.

    One thing I always tell our EP Fellows is that although we are working to change systems, we cannot forget about the power we have to impact individual lives.

  1. What do love about your job? I get to help our Fellows experience “aha” moments that help shape the trajectory of their education careers. When we push Fellows to their “learning edge,” and make them think more critically than they have before about hot button topics – like the opportunity gap; the roles that race, class, gender, and more play in education; and the challenges and opportunities of choice in education – those are the times when I’m reminded of why I love this work.
  1. If you had a magic wand, what’s one thing you would fix or change? I would eliminate all racism and injustice, and ensure that every person sees every child as their own child.
  1. What are you still learning to do? I’m still learning to be patient. Systemic change takes time, but it’s difficult to wait when I know that so many students’ lives and futures are impacted by our broken system every day.
  1. What or who inspires you? My faith, my husband, and my family. My faith plays a significant role in the work that I do. The more I study ancient Biblical texts, the more inspired I am to seek justice. Each time I read the Bible, I am blown away by how much individuals sacrificed on a personal level to improve outcomes for the collective. They inspire me to want to do the same.

    This brings me to my husband, whom I watch make sacrifices every day to serve the youth in our community that are often disregarded. Daniel engages, supports, and empowers youth who have experienced tremendous trauma, and many of whom have encountered the juvenile justice system. He pours his heart and soul into his work in a way that inspires me to want to do and give more.

    Finally, there’s my family. My family has influenced me significantly. My passion for the work that I do is deeply rooted in the values that they instilled in me. I’m inspired by their flexibility, their perseverance, their commitment to each other, and their love.


Felt like I was reading my own interview! Very inspiring. Lets me know I am searching in the right direction! Thanks for sharing!
I am so in awe of this woman. La Mikia Castillo is amazing!

Join the Conversation

Commenting Policy

Education Pioneers does not discriminate against any views but reserves the right to remove or not post comments that are off-topic or contain obscene language, threats, or defamatory statements.