C&S Fellow Fights Book Bans with LeVar Burton

December 8, 2023

Da'Taeveyon Daniels (Civic Spring '23) in conversation with renowned actor, director and literacy advocate LeVar Burton during Banned Books Week. (Photo credit: GLAAD)

Da’Taeveyon Daniels, a 2023 Civic Spring Fellow, was named Youth Honorary Chair for Banned Books Week 2023 alongside co-chair LeVar Burton. The annual event, hosted by the American Library Association and coalition partners, was themed “Let Freedom Read.” Through his work with Students Engaged in Advancing Texas (SEAT), Da’Taeveyon is a passionate advocate of student rights and intellectual freedom.

We had the opportunity to interview Da’Taeveyon to learn more about his Banned Books Week experience and how it connects to his Civic Spring Fellowship.

C&S: What were your responsibilities as Youth Honorary Chair?

Da’Taeveyon: I had events every single day after school. A lot of the work was speaking on panels and getting more young people speaking at workshops; hosting seminars to teach them lasting advocacy efforts, and strategizing efforts against book bans. LeVar Burton and I did a couple of live events together and I have more events planned in 2024. I recorded an episode of Audie Cornish’s podcast The Assignment with another amazing youth advocate from Florida. Amazing experiences all around. So many of them.

C&S: What was it like working with LeVar Burton?

Da’Taeveyon: Now, that was very fun. When I found out I was just like, the LeVar Burton from Star Trek? Because that’s where I know him from. There was so much communication and preparation with his media team, and I’m like, “Oh my God, this is so important.” I feel like there was a lot more attention on Banned Books Week this year because of him. Getting to interact and talk about our methods of advocacy—especially since we’re from different generations—in our work between those generations. It was really cool.

C&S: Why is Banned Book Weeks important and what is it trying to achieve?

Da’Taeveyon: Ultimately, we’re trying to achieve not just Banned Books Week, but a Banned Books Year, to make sure that intellectual freedom and children’s rights are upheld and preserved. But I will say it’s so important because it brings a large issue into a condensed limelight for one week. The data from PEN America and the American Library Association shows that 60% of the book bans in this country came from 11 people in the 2021-2022 school year. It’s a powerful reminder that diverse opinions, ideas, and perspectives do matter, and they are valued in this nation.

C&S: What are the harms of book bans?

Da’Taeveyon: It takes away from that ability to create and foster a sense of empathy with one another. Just being aware of others makes well-rounded students and well-rounded citizens. Literary rates are [declining], and by taking away more diverse books that represent their identities, children aren’t going to read. It’s just really sad to see that we’ve been talking about this for so long, that censorship comes in waves, book banning comes in waves. Generation after generation. Literacy is freedom, in my opinion.

C&S: What’s it like to be a Civic Spring Fellow, and how has the fellowship advanced SEAT’s work?

Da’Taeveyon: It was such an empowering experience for everyone involved. We felt like we had been given a platform and the means to make meaningful change. The experience of getting the CSF grant, the mentorship, working with all the other teams, and the big meetings when teams would present…

The fellowship helped fund the transportation for our executive director, Cameron Samuels, to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. That was such a powerful moment in our advocacy. It’s organizations like Citizens & Scholars that enable us to do this.

C&S: How can adults do a better job of uplifting the voices of young people?

Da’Taeveyon: Be the bridge of intergenerational communication. SEAT’s name is kind of founded on this principle – having young people at the seat of the table. I think if we’re including young people in these spaces and including them in these conversations, then we’ll really get to the promised land of this work.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Learn more about the Civic Spring Fellowship.

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