Luka Heidari: from club meetings to Congress

Tara Wirtschoreck, features assistant editor

Senior Luka Heidari is one of the few high school students lucky enough to know what he wants to do with the rest of his life. Fueled by his passion for politics and activism he plans on someday running for office.

While acknowledging that holding office is a huge responsibility, Heidari believes that holding office would be a great opportunity for him to help his country.

 “Potentially getting to represent the people and the country that I’ve grown to love so much [would be a] great opportunity,” Heidari said.

A summer program called Ready to Lead (R2L) NextGen helped Heidari explore his interest in politics. In this program, which was run by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, he was able to meet congresspeople, learn about Latinx identity, and discuss social issues with groups of dedicated high school students, Heidari explained.

“I think that my interest and passion for politics and social activism is definitely secured,” Heidari said. “This definitely made me realize that this is exactly what I want to do for the rest of my life.” 

Heidari believes Latinx people are underrepresented in politics, and said that programs like R2L are essential to fixing that by helping Hispanic students realize that they are capable of entering politics if they want to.

“Programs and initiatives like this flip that narrative and show that [minorities] do have strength in numbers,” Heidari said. “Minority individuals, and specifically Hispanic students, who are interested in getting involved in politics definitely have the potential to make a difference.”

The R2L NextGen program would normally have been one week and in person, but because of Covid-19, it was virtual and lasted for four weeks, Heidari said. The program included around 90 Latinx students, many of whom were very passionate about politics. He added that there were three main topics of discussion during the program: Latinx identity, social issues, and public policy.

For Heidari, the most exciting part of the R2L program was the two weeks spent focused on public policy. During these two weeks, Heidari met with congresspeople including Rep. Tony rdenas (D-CA) and Rep. Henry Cueller (D-TX) where they discussed a multitude of topics such as tech innovations in public schools and discrimination.  He and the other members of the program also had mentorship programs with Ford Motor Company, where they learned about job and leadership skills. The culmination of the program was a group project where the members of the program created civic action plans for aggregating economic stimulus to Latino centralized industries, Heidari said.

“We [created] our own civic action plans on policy issues that we’re interested in doing,” Heidari said. “Then, we presented that to the entire cohort, which included members of Congress.” 

At the end of the R2L summer program, Heidari was one of five students who received an Outstanding Student Distinction award, he said. This award was for students who went above and beyond and helped lead the cohort, Heidari explained, and included a $1,000 scholarship from the Ford Motor Company. 

“I know that for me, and for many others, [the award] was a gift and an honor,” Heidari said. “I’m super thankful.”

Because of his passion for helping the Latinx community, Heidari uses his leadership skills to support Latinx clubs at South. Gabrielle Mikos, sponsor of Unidos and Spanish teacher, said that Heidari finds ways to bring a sense of community to Unidos by creating slideshows, and planning icebreakers and meeting activities. Mikos thinks that Heidari’s best quality, though, is his ability to make everyone feel welcome.

“He is super approachable,” Mikos said. “Luka always has a smile on his face and is very welcoming and sociable. He can chat with anybody. I think that’s a great quality of a leader.” 

Another club that Heidari has helped lead is Chicano Bowl, an academic quiz club that is focused on Mexican American history. He was an especially important leader during the 2020-2021 school year when many people were virtual, explained Danita Fitch, sponsor of Chicano Bowl and head of Language department. He helped organize events for Chicano Bowl, including a virtual competition involving many different local high schools. 

“He was one of the primary leaders that really led us through [the pandemic],” Fitch said. “In fact, the other sponsors from the other high schools, like Highland Park High School, Vernon Hills High School all knew him because he was at all the planning meetings with the adults.”

Fitch also believes that leaders like Heidari are essential to helping the next generation of Latinx people in politics. 

“The groups that have been systemically left to the side don’t have that level of confidence [in the government].” said Fitch. “I think that young students like Luka that are really passionate about politics are able to attract these people who are enabled and empowered to take action as well.”