About Us

Mission: Chicago Desi Youth Rising (CDYR) seeks to empower Chicago youth to combat racial, economic, and social inequity. CDYR is a weekend summer leadership retreat for youth ages 15 – 21 who trace their heritage to South Asia and the diaspora, and who want to grow as changemakers. Participants draw upon their diverse experiences and intersectional identities while they examine and challenge the underlying causes of their communities’ problems and conditions to become agents for social change.

Vision: During the 3-day retreat, youth will engage in experiential, hands-on, and interactive workshops that aim to:

  1.  Connect their personal identities as South Asian youth to social movements
  2. Highlight how systems of oppression shape our world and individual experiences
  3. Foster a sense of belonging and solidarity across intersectional identities
  4. Provide mentorship
  5. Build the technical knowledge and skills needed to create social change, such as critical thinking, communication, leadership, advocacy, and community organizing
  6. Set them up for action

We welcome adoptees, desis of mixed heritage, any immigration status, all LGBTQTSIS youth, and residents of Chicago and Chicagoland suburbs.

To learn more about how we work click here.

Organizing Collective 

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Viveka Ray-Mazumder (Vi) is a 1.5 generation Bengali American youth worker and community organizer who is excited to be working with CYDR this year.  Vi is a transnational adoptee who grew up in New York in the wake of 9/11.  This catalyzed Vi to become active around issues of racial justice, youth empowerment, and prison abolition.  Currently, Vi runs a program called KINETIC for immigrant and refugee youth in Chicago Public Schools through Asian Americans Advancing Justice—Chicago.  Vi is a former collective member of the Transformative Justice Law Project of Illinois, a current core member if i2i: Asian Pacific Islander Pride of Chicago, and serves on the Advisory Council of the Journal of Critical Scholarship on Higher Education and Student Affairs. Vi is passionate about using art as a tool for social change, and building strong communities and chosen families. Vi holds a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Middlebury College.

Hina Mahmood is a Program Officer at Woods Fund Chicago. She is committed to making philanthropy work for and with communities in true partnership. While currently working in the field of philanthropy, her roots are in community organizing and social services. She served as an Education Organizer at Organization of the NorthEast and Grow Your Own Coordinator at Northeastern Illinois University. She also has experience in the public sector, having served as the Infrastructure and Social Service Coordinator for 49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore. She received her Masters from the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. Hina serves on Chicago Freedom School’s Board of Directors and is a co-chair for the Chicago Chapter of Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy.    

IMG_5388Aneesha Gandhi is a queer, East African Desi, who immigrated to the States as a child. She is currently a staff attorney for the National Immigrant Justice Center’s LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative, where she works with detained and non-detained LGBT immigrants. Additionally, Aneesha is a co-chair of the LGBTQ Immigrant Rights Coalition of Chicago, a board member of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) Chicago Chapter, and a member of The United People of Colors Caucus (TUPOCC) of the NLG. Aneesha received a bachelor’s degree from Smith College where she double majored in Spanish and American Studies with a focus on Asian American Studies. She also holds a JD from Northeastern University School of Law.

cydrpicAysha Mahmood provides individual and family therapeutic services as a clinical social worker at Pillars – a school and community-based mental health service provider. Her area of specialty is trauma focused care, parent engagement and positive youth development. She has extensive prior experience working with youth, as an educator and mentor. Aysha received her bachelors degree in Political Science from Northwestern University and went on to work on U.S.-Middle East relations with the International Policy team at the Center for American Progress. She also holds an MSW from the University of Michigan. While at Michigan, she was the recipient of the Detroit Clinical Scholars Fellowship – a program focused on providing mental health services to underserved racial and ethnic minority youth. Aysha currently serves as a program coordinator for the Muslim Mental Health Conference, a program aimed to raise awareness for the mental health care needs of Muslim Americans.


V Chaudhry is a PhD student at Northwestern University in the Department of Anthropology. V’s research focuses on US-based transgender activism, particularly among transgender people of color, and the relationships and negotiations between organizers and funders and funding agencies. With ten years of LGBTQ and QTPOC (queer and trans people of color) organizing and advocacy among high school and college students, V is committed to making (political) education more accessible to young people, particularly those who are from marginalized communities and experiences. 

Sophia Zaman is proud daughter of her Bangladeshi mother, who taught her to always seek justice and live purposefully. As a volunteer during the 2014 CDYR retreat, Sophia was deeply moved by the collective’s mission to activate South Asian youth by challenging anti-blackness & the myth of the model minority, and empowering them with the skills and relationships to uplift our communities. She brings over 5 years experience in the student movement, organizing for racial, gender and economic justice, most recently as President of the United States Student Association, where she represented 1.5 million college students at the White House and in Congress. Currently, she serves as Executive Director of Raise the Floor Alliance, a worker center collaborative advancing justice for low-wage workers. Sophia is a fierce believer in grounding rituals to sustain movement work, so during her downtime you will usually find her nurturing her flora, experimenting in the kitchen, or doodling with mehndi.

Serena Hodges is a bi-racial Bengali-American and a previous participant in CDYR! She currently studies Documentary Production at DePaul University. As a DePaul Leadership Scholar, she is paired with a CPS high school classroom to use restorative justice practices to talk about violence within their communities. She has also worked as a media intern for Chicago’s South Asian Film Festival and is currently working as an assistant for a feature length documentary about language and the standardization of English in India. After graduation, she hopes to continue to make films that deal with racial justice and centering marginalized voices, but, above all, wants to continue to collaborate with organizers and activists to use the camera as a tool for social change.

Advisory Board

Kulsum Ameji is a staff attorney at LAF.  Since graduating with honors from Smith College, Kulsum has dedicated her career to nonprofit and social justice work. She has interned with, volunteered for, and served in a board capacity for numerous organizations, including Karamah: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights, the Coalition for African, Asian, European, and Latino Immigrants of Illinois (CAAELII), the Association of American Women for International Understanding, Stone Soup Cooperative, Hamdard Center for Health and Human Services, Apna Ghar, and others. Kulsum is the recipient of numerous fellowships and awards, including the Community Renewal Society’s 35 Under 35 Nonprofit Leaders Award, the Chicago Foundation for Women’s Impact Award, the Community Changemaker Award from KANWIN, the Women of Color Policy Institute’s Lead The Way fellowship, ILAO Advocate of the Month, and the Urban Justice Center’s Human Rights Institute. 

Tanuja Jagernauth is a healer activist, cultural worker, and educator. A 2007 Albert Schweitzer Fellow and Fellow for Life, Tanuja believes that offering sliding scale services within a framework of harm reduction, body/fat positivity, and trauma informed practice facilitates health and healing in a way that is liberating for the practitioner as well as the patient. A Sage Collective member and graduate and faculty member of Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, she uses the tools of acupuncture, herbs, nutrition strategies, bodywork, body-centered writing, and National Acupuncture Detoxification Association treatments to facilitate healing and transformation in individuals and the community. As an immigrant, woman of color, survivor of trauma, and former crisis counselor, she is committed to witnessing and supporting the process of healing from wounds that may have been inflicted at any stage in a person’s life.

Rajya Karipineni is a proud South-Asian American raised in Maryland, and putting down roots in Chicago. Her family is from Andhra Pradesh, where she’s been fortunate enough to spend several years, including a powerful experience of caring for her grandmother as she battled cancer. Rajya currently works at the University of Chicago Medicine, motivating a community of 16-90 year-olds to serve in healthcare while picking up some life lessons along the way. Previously, she worked with businesses driven by social and environmental missions over profit. In these social enterprises, she’s supported businesses on a national scale in India and city-wide in Chicago. Rajya is pursuing her masters in social work at the University of Chicago, and holds a bachelor’s degree from Washington University in St. Louis.

Samip Mallick is the Executive Director, President and Co-founder of the South Asian American Digital ArchiveHe was formerly the Director of the Ranganathan Center for Digital Information (RCDI) at the University of Chicago Library.  He holds a M.S. in Library and Information Sciences from the University of Illinois, a Bachelors degree in Computer Science from the University of Michigan College of Engineering and has done graduate work in Ancient Indian History at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, India.  He was also previously the Assistant Bibliographer for the Southern Asia Collection at the University of Chicago Library and has worked for the South Asia and International Migration Programs at the Social Science Research Council (SSRC).

Amisha Patel serves as Executive Director of Grassroots Collaborative and Grassroots Illinois Action, affiliated non-profit organizations working to win racial and economic justice in Chicago and statewide.  Both organizations educate and mobilize Illinois residents to build real power for working families, by fighting for living wage jobs, quality public schools, good housing, and safe streets, and by connecting these fights to the voting booth.This follows six years at Service Employees International Union Local 73, where Amisha organized hospital employees and Head Start workers, and worked in coalition with community organizations to fight against school closings.  She worked for five years doing arts-based violence against women prevention programming in communities of color in the Bay Area.  The documentary that her youth created, Young Azns Rising! Breaking Down Violence Against Women, screened in numerous film festivals and won the Asian Emmy for best documentary.

Sharmila Rao Thakkar has been working and volunteering in the nonprofit sector for nearly 20 years. As executive vice president at a small family foundation in Chicago, Sharmila guides the board’s funding decisions, engages the next generations in their leadership development, and provides strategic direction on grantmaking and other grantee outreach and community partnership initiatives.  Sharmila has worked in health care communications and public health education, including with the Ford Foundation’s sexual and reproductive health unit and International Women’s Health Coalition in New York. She co-founded the Women’s Health Initiative at Sakhi for South Asian Women in New York and was founding board member of the national South Asian Public Health Association (SAPHA), where she contributed to the first comprehensive report on South Asian health issues. As a longtime volunteer, supporter and board member of the Chicago Foundation for Women, she has served as a philanthropic mentor. Sharmila holds a Master of Public Administration from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, a Master of Public Health from the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Relations from Brown University.

Rekha Radhakrishnan is a lover of all things in arts & media-newspapers, books, movies, and records-Rekha is a communications professional with experience in the non-profit, corporate, and academic worlds. Rekha grew up in Texas eating her way through taquerias and dosa shops in equal measure. Rekha has both a BA and MA in English Literature, and you can often find her at music venues across the city looking for a great show.

Sangeetha Ravichandran is Program Director at a Long Walk Home. Born and raised in India, she moved to Chicago to pursue her education in fine arts. She then moved on to receive a Masters in Art Therapy from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Sangeetha’s activism, education, art and research have been primarily focused on working with women and girls of color who have survived gender violence. She also is on the board of an international non-profit organization From the Roots, that works with young visionary social entrepreneurs to accelerate their growth into influential community leaders.  She is committed to organizing using arts and transformative justice approaches to bring about social change. 

Anjalee Verma is an artist and Master of Arts in Art Therapy enrolled at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her professional experiences include working with survivors of trauma (violent, sexual, and identity-based) from both the perspective of the individual and the community. She currently works as a member of the Creatively Empowering Women Design Studio (CEW) which is an enterprise that utilizes Art Therapy as a means for economic empowerment. Anjalee is vested in the idea that creative engagement and its resulting processes have the ability to heal and change any individual, situation, or communal reality.

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