Alumni Spotlight: Sal Castro ’61
A tribute to a Los Angeles legend in educational leadership, activism
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)
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 activists.
“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.”