Although Ananda Mirilli knew from a very young age that social justice work would be her life’s mission, she never thought it would make her a living, until she came to Madison, Wisconsin.
Mirilli grew up in Rio de Janeiro watching many members of her family have careers in law and social services, who ingrained social justice frameworks into their profession and did grassroots work on the side. She believed she would have to do the same.
‘When I came here I realized I can get paid for the work and it can be my profession,” Mirilli told Madison365.
After over a decade of doing grassroots work surrounding families and youth education for local organizations like Centro Hispano, YWCA, and the Madison Metropolitan School District, Mirilli is taking her talents, ideas and experiences to state level as an Education Equity Consultant for Department of Public Instruction.
In addition to her family history and her desire to do social justice work, Mirilli’s experience pursuing her own education is what motivated her to do the work she’s done.
When she began her own pursuit for higher education, Mirilli was already a single mother taking classes here and there, who thought it would be 10 years before she earned her degree.
It wasn’t until a random encounter with another Brazilian woman in a restroom, that she learned she could get grants and scholarships for education as well as childcare.
“I had been in the country for six years and I had no idea that these things were available to me,” she said.
Mirilli went on to discover opportunities for employment through work-study and educational advancement through networking, all the while being discouraged from her goals by many of the resources that were supposed to help her succeed.
“I kept getting these implicit — and mostly explicit — messages of ‘you’re a single mom and you’re going to a technical college, it’s unlikely that you’ll get into UW-Madison,’” she said. “I was told that I should look into other schools and other majors, but I said no, I need to do this.”
Mirilli went on to earn her associate degree from Madison College and her bachelor’s degree from Upper Iowa University. In 2016 she earned her master’s degree from UW-Madison.
“I remember getting my acceptance letter from UW-Madison and sitting with my daughter crying,” she recalls. “People were not out there sitting down with you imagining you opening that letter. I know we want to realistic about what people are going through, but I think we do our communities a disservice when we aren’t also hopeful.”
“Getting the job I have now was about never giving up and never letting anyone tell me what I couldn’t do,” Mirilli said, also noting that her story shouldn’t be used against other people who are struggling.
For her this new position is an opportunity to bridge the gap between grassroots organization and institutions doing system-wide work on educational policy, to ultimately create a greater sense of belonging for all.
“I’m doing state-level work now and I’m thinking about how I might bring young people into the space to lead that work with and us inform our work, I think that’s really important,” Mirilli said. “A lot of people think there is this sort of hierarchy between people doing grassroots work and those working at a state level, but I’m trying to bring in that grassroots work and have it lead the work we’re doing.”
For Mirilli, her primary goal is to create sustainable structures that allow the work done at the state level to be responsive to the communities being served.
As a consultant who works primarily with special education, she also wants to highlight the intersectional needs of special needs students who hold various different racial, ethnic, and gender identities, socio-economic statuses, English language skills, and/or sexual orientation.
“It is very complicated for our system right now to look at a student with all of those intersectionalities and be able to address their needs from all of those culturally specific lenses,” Mirilli said.
Mirilli hopes to use her position to create better relationships between the state and organizations doing grassroots so that students and educators can feel heard and seen within the education system.
“My personal experience has shown me that this system is not built to see young people and what they’re bringing, it’s always been about let me give you what you don’t have, instead of it being an exchange,” she said. “I think we do a good job of having visions for young people and articulating what we want from young people, but I think this is an opportunity to actually listen to them.”