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Inspiring Conversations with Czarina Salido of Taking Up Space

Today we’d like to introduce you to Czarina Salido.

Hi Czarina, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
I’m the survivor of the deepest kind of betrayal: a sexual assault by a family member when I was a little girl. I also survived a suicide attempt in high school because of the deep shame I felt. But I found moments of solace and peace as a child looking up at the stars, watching the sky change from bright blue to deep indigo. Stars would appear as if they had been waiting all day to be seen.

I don’t want other girls to ever feel the shame or to have suicidal ideations. I want them to feel confident, brave, and smart. I remember my first day of kindergarten, when I was skipping and dancing with joy to be starting school. I want the young women I work with to feel those positive things I have now attained again after overcoming many obstacles, and spending many peaceful nights looking up at the stars.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Starting your own non-profit organization requires paperwork, a well-thought-out mission, support for your mission, and funding. I have found the paperwork straightforward. Applying for and receiving an Employer Identification Number (EIN) took only a few clicks on the IRS site and is free.

Our mission and support took a couple more years to gain traction. But, as it turns out, people like the idea of helping Native American girls to learn and excel in STEAM (science, technology, engineers, the arts, and math).

Funding has been, and still is, our biggest challenge. We are an all-volunteer nonprofit organization, but one day I would like to pay our helpers. Our greatest challenge is our core activity – sending girls to Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama. For next year, our goal is to send ten girls. When you add travel and other expenses, that costs twenty thousand dollars. It’s no small change.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your business?
Taking Up Space (TUS) is an astronaut-supported, non-profit organization which serves Native American girls ages 9 – 13. We are currently working with six tribes across the US from Alaska to Minnesota teaching STE(A)M, indigenous art, storytelling, body positivity, and the future of space exploration. We have more than tripled enrollment for girls who attend our 36-week program, culminating in the flagship portion of TUS – an all-expense paid trip to attend a week of Space Camp training like an astronaut in Huntsville, Alabama.

I am known for being a space educator, specializing in supporting Native American girls during their adolescence. It’s an especially tough time for girls who during these years have a high possibility of losing their interest in STEM.

I specialize as a mentor for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) youth. I am inspired in turn by the mentors who’ve supported me my entire life. They have been life-changing, incredible people, and part of my support system. I love them dearly, and also love our Taking Up Space mentees.

What sets me apart from others is that I found a way to incorporate my talents into a job and curriculum that can help others. In particular, a STEAM program for Indigenous girls.

Navigating different tribes means acknowledging and respecting each Nation’s customs. It is vital to have respect, appreciation, and honor when approaching a tribe, and it has taken me years to even begin to understand the intricacies. That is why I am back in school pursuing a Ph. D. in Philosophy and American Indian Studies.

Every week the girls check in with us about how they are feeling, what challenges they have had, and what they would like to achieve for the week. We also tell stories, dance, play instruments and write songs, discuss how to fix the environment, and create experiments that can be flown to the International Space Station. How can you not love children who are kind, curious, brave, and smart?

We view each girl as a sprout. A sprout needs water, sunlight, and good soil. Too often, we believe, students only receive instruction during their education, and that is simply not enough to build a foundation of knowledge. It is empty of relation to time and space – for example, why important moments in history matter, not just recalling the date of an event.

I believe we have to educate our children in developing their self-esteem, and self-confidence. The ability to stand up for what is right, to be a helper, and embracing your heritage requires “grit.” Our dance break and storytelling is a part of our endeavor to uplift our girls and help them be proud of their heritage, and learn it is okay to proudly be a “nerd.”

I would like readers to know that my heart and mind drive me to do the right thing. Our world changes and our bodies get old, but as Alana, one of our girls, likes to say, practice makes progress. I practice being kind, because sometimes it’s not so easy.

So, before we go, how can our readers or others connect or collaborate with you? How can they support you?
I encourage you to show your support by sharing our story, and learning about other Indigenous issues. Native American people aren’t extinct, have the highest childhood suicide rate, school dropout rate, and Native American women have the highest murder rate. There is so much to overcome and change, but also much to celebrate, and I am very grateful to anyone who can help us make future generations even more successful.

Additionally, if you are an Indigenous female who would like to share your story with our girls, please contact us at sastpc@gmail.com.

Pricing:

  • $15 donation for a Taking Up Space Patch.

Contact Info:


Image Credits:

Rosie Johnson
Czarina Salido

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