Alumni Spotlight: Sal Castro ’61

Alumni Spotlight: Sal Castro ’61

A tribute to a Los Angeles legend in educational leadership, activism

Sal Castro'61 speaks to high school students about getting a college education.

Alumnus Sal Castro’61 speaks to high school students about his experiences during the 1968 East Los Angeles high school walkouts as well as the importance of higher education in their lives and in the community.

For more than four decades, Sal Castro ’61 has shown a
commitment to educating youth in greater Los Angeles about the power of learning.

Education, he says, has the ability to reverse social
inequities and pave a path for achieving unforeseen opportunities—and everyone
has not only the right, but the obligation to pursue knowledge.

“Change is through education, and that’s what I have
dedicated my life to,” Castro said on recent evening, waiting outside a library
auditorium where he would speak to several dozen high school students. “I try to
motivate these kids, to help them see a brighter future, and to do my part to
help mold successful, responsible leaders.”

Castro has carried his message from the playground, to the
classroom, to an annual Chicano Youth Leadership Conference (CYLC) he organizes in
Malibu, and put hundreds of students on the path toward high education. The
well-spoken and passionate educator, who received his bachelor’s degree in
social studies from Cal State L.A. (then L.A. State College), however, is
probably most well-known for his outspoken presence during the
1968 East Los
Angeles high school walkouts

Picture of Sal Castro (c) with high school students during the 1968 walkouts. (source: historical archive photo)

Picture of Sal Castro (c) with high school students during the 1968 walkouts. (source: historical archive photo)

He had a history-making role in the walkouts, a series of
protests—also referred to as the “Chicano blowouts”—led by high school and
college students focusing on the quality of education for Mexican-American
students in the
Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). At the time, Castro was a
social studies teacher at Lincoln High School, one of five East Los Angeles high
schools leading the protests, and he offered support and guidance to the student

“I was just doing my job,” he said, adding that he never
imagined he would become well-known for his work.

In June, the Los Angeles Unified School District honored
Castro’s legacy of educational leadership through the
naming of the new Sal
Castro Middle School
, located on the existing Belmont High School campus—where
Castro first taught and retired from teaching at in 2003. He taught social
studies in LAUSD schools for 43 years.

“It’s been extremely humbling,” Castro said of the
recognition. “This is actually an honor to the bravery of all the students who
walked out 42 years ago, protesting the conditions of the schools and wanting to
improve education. It was unselfish on their part to make schools better for
future generations. It was a historic moment—the largest address of grievances
by high school students in the history of the United States—and a remarkable
part of the American civil rights movement.”

For his efforts in changing the course of public education,
Castro was also honored by former President Bill Clinton at a White House
ceremony in 1996. A decade later, the events of 1968 were recalled in the 2006
HBO film, Walkout, directed by CSULA alumnus Edward James Olmos. He was also recently recognized by Union
Bank and KCET as one of the city's Latino Local Heroes.

“I personally benefited from Mr. Castro’s advocacy and
support,” said CSULA
Social Work Professor Rita Ledesma. “I attended the CYLC in spring 1968 and UCLA Upward Bound in summer
1968, when Mr. Castro served as the administrator in the program. Over the last
several years, I had the great honor to be invited to CYLC to speak to high
school students about the importance of higher education and community service.”