|Savion Castro grew up in Madison and with the UW-Madison PEOPLE
Winter Graduation at UW-Madison
with sports — football, basketball and track — and dreams of playing in the NFL. But along came some representatives of the UW-Madison PEOPLE Program and it
changed the trajectory of Castro’s life.
“In sixth grade, these ambassadors from the PEOPLE Program came to Whitehorse and talked about what the program offered,” Castro said. “I definitely didn’t
realize it at the time, but my mom knew how important it was. She got me signed up right away and I started the PEOPLE Program in seventh grade. It’s been a little
over a decade-long experience with the PEOPLE Program. I was a 12-13-year-old kid and I didn’t know what the heck it was. I wasn’t thinking about college.”
It was during his career at La Follette High School that Castro began to realize what he wanted to do in life, seek justice through engagement in the political process.
It was President Barack Obama’s campaign that lit a fire in Castro’s life.
“I remember my mom when I was struggling and the significance of Barack Obama’s reelection campaign because of the Affordable Care Act and her healthcare
was at-risk,” Castro recalled.
“It was kind of a wake-up call and I think my getting more politically conscious definitely sparked something in me to take this more seriously. And even though I
didn’t like what I was learning right then, it was going to pay off for me. I just needed to jump through these hoops. Even though there was no direct impact,
indirectly it would help me reach my goal.”
Castro gave up the athletic life and focused on PEOPLE, politics and putting some money in his pocket.
“I was involved with PEOPLE four times per week,” Castro said. “I would do PEOPLE until like 5:30 p.m. I would then go down to the Obama campaign and get
there by 6 p.m. and help out until 9-10 p.m. or I would go to Best Buy and work from 6-10 p.m., the closing shift. I also volunteered with the Obama campaign or
worked at Best Buy on the weekends as well. I loved doing it. It made it so much more easier. I would get my homework done at PEOPLE. And I just loved the part
of registering people to vote and empowering communities even though it was the University of Wisconsin community. But I helped folks reach their level of political
consciousness because it was very important for me. And I was working for something bigger than myself too. That helped get my mind off of my personal life and
circumstances and the struggles that my mom and I were going through at the time.”
While Castro applied to Georgetown and DePaul, he eventually settled upon UW-Madison for his undergraduate career. And while Castro’s primary academic
experience in Madison had been as a minority in the Madison public schools, his experience at UW-Madison through PEOPLE had always been minority-majority.
Castro experienced a culture shock.
“I was not prepared for how many white people there would be in that environment,” Castro said. “In PEOPLE, you were surrounded by folks who look like you and
you didn’t really get the full weight that you would be less than 1,000 Black students on a 40,000 student campus and how isolating that can feel. But I felt like I knew
how to talk to professors and how to get around campus. I never got lost in Vilas or Humanities or any of those buildings. And I kind of knew the tricks of the trade
already to be successful and navigate. But socially, it got isolating at times.”
Socially, it was awkward at times because Castro felt like he just didn’t fit in.
“There were times when I was the only one in my classes,” Castro said. “But on the other hand, it was good because I already had an established friend group from
the PEOPLE Program that socially buffered that culture shock a lot of students of color face on the campus. Being the only student of color in the classroom and
having professors look at you weird or you realize that you slipped up talking with them — that you didn’t do the code switching correctly — because sometimes the
slang slips through and the mask falls off. Sometimes I went to some of these social functions where you just don’t relate to people or you feel like venting and they
are indifferent because they don’t know what you are talking about or are hostile to it and you offend them somehow because you are venting about issues related to
people of color on campus or in the world and they are kind of hostile to it. They feel there aren’t any issues or they deny their entire existence.”
In terms of his classes, Castro was on his own.
“Unless study groups were forced on us, I didn’t really get into study groups,” Castro said. “I did things solo. I still had friends whom I studied with. But rarely were
they in a class with me. There were a few classes where I think the majority of time, I experienced my own enforced isolation or because I was different, I wasn’t
really into the study group thing.”
Next issue: Delving into politics
Part 1 of 2
By Jonathan Gramling
It has been said that you need to know where you have come from in order to know where
you are going. When looked at in the long term, Savion Castro’s family has migrated for
opportunity. Castro, a PEOPLE Scholar who graduated in December, was born in Beloit.
And his people were part of the Great Migration.
“My family was recruited by Fairbanks Morris factories from Mississippi to go work in
Beloit,” Castro said. “They even housed them on the front near the river. It’s just been
really sad and depressing to see all of the industry just vanishing from the city and the
social ramifications of that. That’s how my family originally came to Beloit, to fill all of those
Northern jobs from the South. Some of my relatives were from Louisville, Kentucky as
well. They were two major waves of the Great Migration. One part came up during the first
wave and another part came up during the second wave during the Great Depression. I’ve
been learning more and more about that history from my grandfather. I learned recently that
some folks from the KKK came to burn a cross on our lawn and my great grandmother ran
out with her pistol and scared them off her lawn. This happened in Beloit during the early
20th Century. I’m just learning more and more history about my family, especially in Beloit,
and it’s a treat. Beloit is kind of a small, not-on-the-map city. But a lot of stuff has happened
there. The Underground Railroad stopped there. There is still a lot of cool history that I still
have to learn about.”
Castro’s immediate family moved to Madison from Beloit and Castro’s childhood was filled