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Be the Legacy: An Interview with Cameron Samuels

Cameron Samuels is on a mission to end the attack on truth that’s limiting students’ access to information in Katy, TX (and beyond).

After recognizing the harm that banning books and internet censorship was having on their own personal journey, they led a movement of students demanding an end to their schools blocking knowledge. We had the opportunity to sit down with Cameron and learn more regarding what inspired them to take action during this critical time. Learn more about Cameron and Students Engaged in Advancing Texas by following them @cameronjsamuels on Instagram and Twitter, or @studentsengagedtx on Instagram.

Lush: Hi Cameron, let’s get started!

Cameron Samuels: Sure thing. Where do we start? Okay, let’s start with my time in high school. My school district of Katy, Texas had been blocking students' access to internet resources and started banning books, but especially during my senior year. I knew that this internet filter had been around for quite a while, and I wanted to do something about it. I had attempted to before but didn't really have any success.

But now, this was my last year of high school, I would be graduating soon and our motto is “Be the legacy”. And what legacy did I want to leave? If I knew that an internet filter was blocking students from accessing vital resources, like suicide prevention lifelines, and I didn’t do anything … I did not want to let it happen and I knew that there had to be something done. So I spoke at a school board meeting in November 2021 and called out the district for blocking these websites with this internet filter.

And at that same time, at that same meeting actually, parents in the community had been calling for book bans to books that exemplified diversity in the library, and they were seeking to ban additional books that featured or were written by LGBTQ+ authors and LGBTQ+ voices. They had already had a visit canceled by Jerry Craft, a graphic novelist who has written New Kid and Class Act. I knew more stories were going to be silenced if they were removed from the shelves. As a queer student myself, I know that books have shaped who I am, that representation in media has inspired and kept me going for so long and become so powerful.

Lush: What was it like, going up against the school board?

CS: In this meeting, I was alone. And three months later, I was back again. But with a room full of supporters and fellow students who were joining the fight with me, after three months of organizing. We transformed the community and fought back against book bans. We spoke at meeting after meeting, outnumbering the opposition. We distributed hundreds of banned books, we worked with the ACLU to file a complaint on my behalf and we dismantled the internet filter in high schools. So now students have access to these websites, students now have some of these banned books back on shelves and, while this fight is not over, we are still continuing in a coalition of Students Engaged in Advancing Texas, abbreviated as SEAT—demanding a seat at the table for decisions that affect us as students, because we are the primary stakeholders in our education.

We want to make decisions about our education and this so-called “parental rights movement” is depriving students of our right to read, of our agency and of our dignity. We have been organizing in the state legislature and in school districts across Texas to pursue justice where it is due, and not let certain people censor and silence our voices.

Lush: It’s remarkable how you have been able to recognize how harmful banning books is and take action to galvanize your fellow students. When you were experiencing queer stories being taken off the shelves, what did this mean for you?

CS: So, I was an eighth grade when I first came out and I was, I am still, navigating my journey as a non-binary person. In freshman year, when I was just one year into really coming to terms with my queer identity, I was faced with the censorship of internet resources and these hostile attacks on LGBTQ+ rights in policy making.

And, as a student—so young, so vulnerable and still navigating these struggles, navigating and discovering who I am—I didn't have that affirmation in my school or in my community, and I was left to discover who I am alone. I was left to speak up for my rights alone. This was a journey that I have traveled myself because I did not have the resources in any school environment, any classroom, any community. There are so many lifelines and resources to queer youth that I did not have here.

The sky is not going to fall if queer youth have a voice. If we have the dignity and respect we deserve. As Generation Z, the queerest generation to date, we are making history by putting books back on shelves and defending our intellectual freedom, and we need more of these stories amplified. We need more students organizing on the frontlines for our rights because we are the answer to liberation. We are the ones who are going to dismantle oppression in our schools, because we are the ones affected by this policy each and every day.

Lush: So, how do you encourage others to speak up?

CS: Politics happens, whether or not we are at the table. School boards are likely one of the closest bodies of government to you. They meet typically at least once a month, as they do in Texas in our community in Katy, and that is where decision makers make decisions. And if we are silent then, silence is subjugation and we suffer the consequences.

We were speaking directly to who would make a vote on whether books would be removed from libraries. Those who decide whether we restructure book review committees to allow students into the committees. Those who will not allow one parent’s complaint to remove a book until it is reviewed. We are demonstrating the true representation of our community by showing up to school board meetings, because if we were not going to be there, then it was just going to be the same narrative of these certain people who wanted to ban books, a few of the fringe minority in our community.

Lush: And, lastly, being someone who is watching these book bans and attack on teaching truth, what do you see next?

CS: Yeah, book bans are not going away, they have been happening at unprecedented rates in the past couple years and they're only growing nationwide. The data will show in a year from now, but it's continuing. And while these book bans are happening across the country, we are organizing nationwide, and our model is replicable. Our organizing is the solution by not being silent amid censorship. We need committed organizers in communities across the country where this censorship is taking place. Because, like we have already discussed, if just one person shows up then you can start a movement. There's a lot of fearmongering and disinformation about this issue. So many people have shut their eyes to this because they don't want to get involved. They don't know what this issue is all about. They don't know that these books are not “pornography”, as censors have called it. These books are stories that are lifelines for young people and by denying our right to read, we lose our perception of reality. We cannot let that happen.

One step forward is organizing in a way to best engage us. I've worked with GLAAD on a community response and a guide to organize community action on book bans.

The answer is you. You are your own platform to organize. And maybe this community guide is what it takes to actualize your power and learn that you can build a movement, as so many others have in their communities. Maybe there's more left for you to discover about yourself and your role in defending intellectual freedom.

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