• Michelle Castillo, Ed.M. • Knowledge is Power • March 17, 2022 •
Remarks at the March for Education on the Texas Capitol, Austin, March 12, 2022
My name is Michelle Castillo and I am the deputy director of advocacy for IDRA. We are a nonprofit organization that has for almost 50 years now advocated for an excellent public school system that values all children.
Together with the student organizers of today, we are in partnership with organizations leading the effort to protect public schools from school censorship. You can follow us on Twitter at @IDRAedu to receive action alerts on how to stay engaged.
I am here today not only as an organizer and advocate but also as a mother of a one-and-a-half-year-old, born into a world that feels like it’s falling apart.
Born in a state that will target and terrify the parents of transchildren for simply loving and validating their babies for the blessing they are, instead of targeting poverty or the child abuse in our foster care system.
At a time when the children of our state, of our country, of our world face seemingly insurmountable challenges: the existential threat of climate change, unending racial and gender violence, and unnecessary world hunger; a book is not only a friend, but a lifeline.
It’s why one of authoritarian government’s first moves is to ban books – to make us feel small, isolated, and hopeless.
A book is a reminder that though we may be living through bleak times, we are not alone.
A book is a liberation manual for how our ancestors overcame the existential threats of their times.
A book is both a keeper of the resilience of the human spirit and ignitor of the flame for radical hope.
I’ll never forget the first book that challenged and transformed me. I was in the 4th grade and our take-home book was “Number the Stars” by Lois Lowry.
The book, set during World War II follows Annemarie, a ten-year-old girl, living in Nazi-occupied Denmark with her best friend, Ellen, who is Jewish. Even as a 10-year-old girl, Annemarie draws courage from her family to confront the evils of discrimination, oppression, and genocide.
Through Annemarie, 10-year-olds everywhere – but particularly young girls – understand that children have the power to create a world where “young and old can create an ideal of human decency, and not a narrow-minded and prejudiced one.”
As a little Latina born and raised in our overpoliced border, this knowledge about children overcoming injustice was empowering. I could be like Annemarie and her family — I could do something about injustice.
And that’s why we’re here today, because state leaders want to ban the books that empower you with the tools to do something about injustice.
State leaders want to ban books that affirm children – from the child asking questions about why racism exists to the child asking questions about gender or sexuality.
But we’re not going to let them! You’re already not letting them.
Young people, you are part of a long lineage of changemakers.
Young people across history have held up a mirror to our country to help reveal its flaws. But young people have also demanded, and done, the necessary work to see it live up to its founding ideals of equality and justice for all.
From the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the 1960s organizing freedom schools, to the East Los Angeles student walkouts that launched the Chicano movement, and the youth today who are part of Black Lives Matter, United We Dream, climate justice organizers, and the student gun-reform movement organizers, there is a powerful lineage of youth activism that has shaped our country for the better.
And that’s why we’re all here. Because we are with you in organizing for a country, for a state, where success is not determined by the zip code you grew up in, where ideas in classrooms are celebrated and not censored, where all children are valued, and where public education delivers on the promise of a more perfect Union.
Today is not the beginning, nor is it the end of our struggle. Young people – we are with you in your fight for the #FReadom to read.
[©2022, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the March 17, 2022, edition of Knowledge is Power by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]