MOUNT STERLING, Ky. (FOX 56) — A former Kentucky teacher of the year still hopes to inspire students, more than a year after leaving the profession. He’s taken up the fight against banned books, working to give students access to titles they can’t find at their school or local libraries.
Willie Carver Jr. spent more than a decade working at Montgomery County High School, which earned him Kentucky Teacher of the Year in 2022. During his time, he advised Open Light, a student-run LGBTQ group that he said pushed for systemic change.
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“In this particular case, it didn’t matter how hard the students worked. The school took away their agency by not allowing them to have these books that they want in this grant, and I can’t let that be the ending,” Carver said.
Carver is working to set up a Rainbow Freedom Library in Mount Sterling at the Gateway Regional Arts Center. He said the books there will feature more minority and LGBTQ characters and authors. They are books he said other libraries won’t offer.
“Then we sent a selection of titles to Montgomery County High School, where the students work. So that they could look over them and give us any suggestions if they had any issues, and they rejected 100% of the books,” Carver Jr. said.
Carver quit teaching because he felt that, as a gay man, he wasn’t accepted in public schools. He wants the library to be an outlet for hope for young people who also feel unaccepted.
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“Over 70% state that they are consistently miserable above. Sixty percent of LGBTQ youth have considered suicide in the last 12 months. But when those students have a support network — a single adult who believes in them — that number is cut in half,” Carver said.
There is a GoFundMe drive underway to help buy books for students in rural eastern Kentucky, and are now raising money to buy more books.