Speech by Robert on “From the Barrio to the Board Room” engages students
by Laureen Diephof, Reporting for BenitoLink
Robert gives a motivational talk to boys at San Benito High School.
Robert Renteria, an award-winning author and former businessman from Chicago, powered a motivational speech to a select group of San Benito High School boys on Sept. 7.
Renteria wrote the memoir, “From the Barrio to the Board Room” in 2008, and that spirited the efforts to change the downward spiral of at-risk youth.
Former San Benito County Superintendent Mike Sanchez introduced Renteria to the student assembly on campus. “The Barrio to the Board Room, is now in 24 countries,’” Sanchez said, and then prepared the students for what they were about to hear.
Renteria took the stage and asked, “Are you ready?” When a bit of grumbling came from the high-energy audience, he put a stop to it. “If you do not want to stay here and listen to what I have to say, then you can leave.” The audience went quiet.
“Has anyone ever told you you can’t do something?” he asked, adding“ Someone ever tell you that you can’t have that girl because you’re too ugly, but got her anyway, huh?” The audience laughed.
“What do you call those people?” he queried.
“Haters” the audience replied.
“You tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are,” Renteria said, and the boys paid close attention to his words, some that told of his early life, which began with a drug-addicted father, who left the family. Renteria didn’t meet him again until years later. His father has since died.
He credits his mother, who took on three jobs to take care of the family. More challenges came about when Renteria was 6 years old. He was severely injured in an accident that happened on an amusement park ride. Because of a compound fracture, he was in a coma for eight days, and then had to learn to walk and talk again.
Renteria's mother taught him to be strong, and through the subsequent years he had many opportunities to put that lesson into practice. But the strength was misplaced in the wrong lifestyle for many years, he admitted.
“All that I am, I owe to my mother,” he told the crowd.
Renteria's repeated advice to the young men in the audience was to always do the right thing and to ask for help. “It’s a hand up, not a hand out,” he said. “Do not become a statistic."
The author grew up in an East Los Angeles barrio and was involved with a tough street crowd. He used and dealt drugs, dropped out of high school, and was shot and stabbed.
He turned his own life around, earned a GED, joined the military and traveled the world, including Germany, Italy and Panama. After serving in the Army, Renteria opened up a laundromat business. He eventually became a Corporate Vice President of a publicly traded company on the New York Stock Exchange.
When he became successful, he realized that his good fortune should be brought to others and he has been doing that through books, curriculum and speaking engagements.
“Remember,” he told the young audience, “there is no honor to be handcuffed, put in a police car, and then to have your photo put into a newspaper.”
Renteria was selected as one of Chicago’s Who’s Who Hispanic Leaders, was featured as "Chicago’s Very Own" on television station WGN 9, as well as the first Latino to receive two national Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. awards.
The success with his first memoir prompted other books -- including Mi Barrio and Little Barrio Coloring Book -- and curriculum to support youths of all ages. He was involved in the Broadway stage play, “The Barrio Project," and he is working with the Latino Grammys on “Kid Barrio,” a superhero, anti-bullying conflict resolution program.
Renteria stressed that his writings are for students. “This is your life,” he said as he held up the book. He answered questions from the audience and several students spoke with him privately after the talk.
George Munoz, vice president of MACE (Mexican American Committee on Education) presented a certificate of appreciation to Renteria for his talk to the high school students.