Mark Saint Juste

By Ashley Benkarski 

NASHVILLE, TN — Mark Saint Juste is a man of many skills and interests, but his passion lies in teaching the next generation.

Assuming roles in record deals and TV production, he definitely didn’t plan on teaching. But that’s where he found himself, working with students at Deerfield Park Elementary.

Though it was an unexpected turn, the two-year stint is a point of pride and significance to Saint Juste. For him, it was important to give students the confidence in themselves they need to go through life successfully. “Love is natural, hate is taught,” he remarked. Saint Juste was teaching dropout prevention, performing the dual roles of teacher and mentor. He also played an important part as a Black male role model in the classroom.

He knew that representation was crucial—If his students could see him as a teacher, they could see that future for themselves, too.

“They can fix how they look at themselves, instill having love for themselves,” he said.

Children need to have a healthy concept of self, and that led to Saint Juste creating the “Get Me Me” pledge, which his students recited every day for 180 days. “It’s impossible for them to recite it and it not have a positive effect,” Saint Juste explained. “Of course you have pushback, but within three, four weeks they were excited to do so and they saw the benefit of this.”

While he acknowledges that kids need good role models and structure, what really needs to be cultivated is self-love.

Saint Juste recalled a quote by Oprah Winfrey that the money you make in life runs in direct correlation with the value you create for other people. He began to wonder what the most valuable thing he’d created was.

It was the pledge and what it did for the kids he taught, he said. “’Get Me Me’ is my most valuable property; it can bring the most value to the most people.”

Saint Juste expanded the idea into animated form, with a multicultural cast of characters inspired by his Deerfield Park students.

Entertainment is his business, and he began to shift the paradigm of what entertainment had become.

“We have such seemingly racist content in our mainstream media targeted to kids,” he explained. “It’s not about representation usually, it’s about generating consumers.

It should go deeper, it should be a kaleidoscope that broadens the concept of humanity . . . Hate won’t resonate if you generate love.”

He pointed to the media’s representation of hip hop, with narratives often focused on negative stereotypical ideas of Black culture.

“A false narrative becomes a truth for some people,” he said. 

“The message is simple. Contrary to most news reports, our neighborhood isn’t that bad. There are always more good people than bad.” To share this truth with children and engage young readers Saint Juste created a literary property with “My Neighborhood.”

“We must envision a better future for our neighborhoods,” Saint Juste said. That begins in taking pride in them. “We need to stop thinking of our neighborhoods as bad places, as they are represented on television . . . Start visualizing your success, what you want in life, what you want your neighborhood to be . . . On a mass scale, this perception is transformative.”

The books first edition of “My Neighborhood” went into print in 2014, and Saint Juste dedicated it to his mother; who poured love into him and gave him the capacity to love himself and, therefore, love others, he said.

“If you have love coming from an external force, then you’re ahead of the curve. But you must also have it within,” Saint Juste remarked.

“’Get Me, Me’ has been re-branded as LOVE 101, because love is the core there. You can’t give love if you don’t have it. We must love who is in the mirror before we can love thy neighbor,” he said.

Saint Juste is a big advocate of what he calls the Equal Equation of Love, and has launched an online platform dedicated to the promotion of love at where My Neighborhood is now available. 

“Love is what we need in the world, it is the only thing that mitigates hate. Love can end racism. We simply need more people to be aware of this fact so it can spread throughout the world as we believe and achieve racial harmony for ourselves and all future generations.”