In this week Person of interest, Editor-in-chief Dawn Davis talk to Valerie Castile, the mother of Philando Castile– A school nutrition officer killed by police in Minnesota in 2016. Almost five years after his death, Valerie reflects on and talks about her son’s life Philando Castile Relief Foundationwhich aims to reduce school debt and help families affected by gun violence.
My son Philando always loved food and company. Collard greens, macaroni, dressing and steak. Steak! When he was little we had family potlucks and we all brought something. I always made sure Philando had a steak. My brother’s kids kept getting angry and saying, “Wait, why aren’t we getting steak? We have ribs and chicken. “I said,“ He’s a king, baby! He is a king. “
One year after graduating from high school..Philando began working as a nutritionist at St. Paul Public Schools. The ladies there liked him because he was a hard worker; They offered him the position of manager many times before he actually accepted it – he wanted to know how things were administered first. He was a nutritionist at JJ Hill Montessori School for two years before being killed by police in 2016.
Before his death..I had no idea about school debt. [Editor’s note: This occurs when students are unable to pay for school meals; in a 2019 study, 75 percent of U.S. school districts reported outstanding debt.] I didn’t know how far it was going, families owed hundreds of thousands of dollars. And I never knew my son would pay off that debt until he was gone. It was considered a no-no, but he did it anyway. He didn’t know if the children had nutritious meals at home, and what if those school meals were the only ones they got? He wanted to make sure they had a chance to eat.
My family and I...started the Philando Castile Relief Foundation in honor of my son to help reduce school lunch debts and help families who have lost loved ones to gun violence. We provide resources for grief counseling and housing. We donate to organizations like the Hallie Q. Brown Community Center in the St. Pauls Rondo neighborhood. Because of COVID, they are meeting the needs of more families than usual and with even fewer donations. I recently spoke to one of the directors about a food drive they did with Philando’s school when he was alive. She told me how he would pump up the kids to raise funds, clap with them, and sing songs. I had never heard this story before.
My son was ...an example. He was a mentor. Somehow he remembered all of the children’s names and all of their allergies. Once, when he was new to JJ Hill, he noticed a new student sitting alone in the school cafeteria. So Philando went to him, asked his name and explained that he was new there too. “Why don’t you come and sit with these guys?” he said. He took the student’s tray and took him to a table where several other boys were sitting. And so this young man made his first friend.