MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Many of you know possibly know the name Mauricio Calvo from heading the advocacy group Latino Memphis. He is using his experiences and unwavering determination to help improve Memphis-Shelby County Schools and change the city for the better.

The Memphis-Shelby County School Board has appointed longtime Memphian Mauricio Calvo, making him the first Latino to serve on the school board and possibly the first Latino to hold local public office.

“Being a first as the first Latinx person serving in this role comes with both a great sense of honor, but a great sense of responsibility. One of the things I think that matters is the issue of representation,” Calvo said.

Calvo is a Mexican American who became a US citizen in 2018 and is the CEO of the advocacy group, Latino Memphis.

He ran unsuccessfully for a City Council seat in 2019 and for school board in 2020 before endorsing Sheleah Harris. He was appointed as a school board member when Harris resigned and was sworn into office in August, bringing with him what he calls a passion to advocate for all students, especially Latinos.

“I remind people every single day that at the school board I represent all children black, white, Latinx, Asian, all children. Obviously, being Latino myself and having worked at Latino Memphis, it brings me more proximity to the issue,” he said.

One issue that’s a priority not only in the Latino community, but the Memphis community as a whole is literacy, especially the percentage of third graders not reading at grade level.

“The role of the school board member is not to teach literacy, but rather to hold the superintendent accountable to provide the resources through the budget to ensure that the school system has all the resources they need so that every child Latinx and otherwise can read,” Calvo said.

Mauricio Calvo with students

His presence on the school board comes at a time when Latino students make up 18 percent of MSCS enrollment. He says there are more than 12,000 English language learners in the district.

Calvo wants to make sure resources are being deployed to schools where these students are enrolled in large numbers.

“In the case of new Americans and Hispanic Americans we know that when immigrant children come to country they have a harder time reading and often times, if the children were not born here, sometimes their parents may not speak the language and we have to double up on ensuring that children that are learning English as second language or as the first language now, they can succeed in reading,” he said.

Aside from literacy, Calvo says his other priorities are workforce readiness and reforming juvenile justice.

“We are seeing many juveniles committing crimes, but that’s a symptom of a bigger problem,” he said. “Although it’s not the school system’s sole responsibility to fix that, we certainly play an important role in doing that.”

Mauricio Calvo is a voice for change in the Memphis community, but one who speaks a universal language when it comes to giving students the tools they need to succeed in the classroom and in life.

“I’ll say this in Spanish, ‘Si se necesita algo me avisas porque solamente si nos dice algo salein’ (If you need something, let us know because if you tell us something it will come out). In other words, you need to tell us what you need. I’m Latino myself. I can have a pretty good idea of what you need, but we need to hear directly from the people about what is important need for them have their kids succeed,” Calvo said.