Robert Renteria: Who Stands Out in the Barrio

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On June 2, 2018, Rotary’s International President, Ian Riseley, hosted the Rotary International Peacebuilding Conference. At the conference, speakers such as John Williams, Scott Land, and many more spoke to youth from all over the U.S. at the South Shore Country Club. Chicago was the only site for the U.S.-based Peacebuilding Conference and focused on Peace Through Education and Literacy.

The speakers were intellectually inspiring and they interacted with the audience while giving brief presentations that left people feeling more encouraged.

Rotary’s first speaker for the conference was an international award-winning Latino author named Robert Renteria. Renteria’s speech was very real, to the point, and descriptive of his real life experiences growing up in the violent barrio of East L.A.  Every student and administrator attending received a copy of Robert’s Barrio book!

In 2016, Renteria’s book “From the Barrio to the Board Room” was turned into a Chicago-based play performed and produced by inner-city youth and funded by After School Matters (ASM).

Renteria was also voted as one of the 50 Most Influential Latinos in Chicago in 2017 and 2013. Renteria was the first and only Latino in the world to receive two national Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Awards for his work as a civil rights leader and a Latino voice in educational reform.

Renteria spoke about his books and about his life considering the hardships he faced. His story was compelling and both inspired and resonated with everyone.

Renteria grew up poor in the “barrio” of East Los Angeles and was born on October 13, 1960.

He did not always live a perfect life. Such an inspirational and motivational  speaker, he was vulnerable and opened up his heart to the audience about his childhood and the things he witnessed and struggled with as a little boy and through his teenage years.

Growing up, his mother had to work three jobs to provide for the needs of herself, Renteria, and his little sister. He never really knew his father. He was in and out of jail frequently and was a heroin addict and a drop-dead alcoholic.

When Renteria was only three years old, his father abandoned the family and left them with nothing more than a pile of bills and a bunch of empty bottles of booze in the trash can.

After this, things went downhill and out of control fast for Renteria.

At the age of 6, he and his family went to a carnival to have some fun. Coming off the octopus ride, Renteria was hit directly on the right side of his head. He plummeted through the air some 50 feet, falling into the crowds of people with his head busted wide open and blood gushing everywhere.

When he was rushed to Beverly Hospital emergency room, the doctors told his family that there was a huge chance Renteria would not survive, or at best, be left mentally challenged. He beat the odds of one-in-a-million, and to this day, he believes that it was his mother’s great faith in God that is the reason he is still alive today and was chosen to serve a higher purpose.

Later, in his teenage years, Renteria began hanging out with a dysfunctional family called gangs. He started doing things that would get him into trouble and almost literally lost his life.

In his book, “From the Barrio to the Board Room” he says, “I have been knifed, shot at and beat up more times than I care to discuss…”

Renteria robbed houses, stole cars, sold drugs, and was heavily involved in gang violence. He began to shamefully and regretfully doing things that he would never have imagined doing.

At the age of 17, his father ended up dying on skid row, where the hobos lived. Walking into “a crack-house or halfway house,” Renteria witnessed all types of outcast groups full of pimps, prostitutes, drug addicts, and alcoholics there asking him for money.

The clerk gave him the key to his father’s room, number 66. He walked down the hallway of the flickering lights and the place smelled like urine, he unlocked the door, and quietly observed the scene, while collecting his thoughts. It was at this moment, when he knew that he did not want to end up like his father and be just another sad statistic. He did not want to end up behind cold metal bars, spending his lifetime in a 6×9 prison cell, wearing an orange jumpsuit while being told how to walk, how to talk, when to eat, and when to sleep.

After having numerous conversations with his grandfather, he realized it was time for him to make a real decision about the direction of his own life. In July 1983, Renteria joined the U.S Army and both proudly and honorably served his country for over seven years as a paratrooper and non-commissioned officer. Going through this change in his life made him appreciate the fact he is a Mexican, born and raised in the USA.

Despite all of the struggles and obstacles he faced, Renteria is a strong human being who has had many accomplishments that make him the man he is today. He is a walking image of strength and fortitude. He has learned that character is not just doing what is right when someone is watching you, but character is doing the right thing when nobody is watching.

Today, Renteria travels around the world sharing his culturally relevant and powerful book series and story, reassuring people that no matter what age or race they are, they can make a difference and accomplish any goal they set their mind to. He always says “if you can see it, you can be it and that the two greatest days in your life is the day you were born and the day you realize why you were born.”

He teaches youth, “the greater the struggle the greater the victory and that your pain, my pain, our pain is not in vain.” Renteria wants people everywhere to dream really big because if the dream is big enough, then the odds do not even matter.

A real Latino change agent has emerged to help save the youth across America and around the world. Renteria is revolutionizing the way this country and all countries must work together to solve the deadly drug, gang, and crime problems. Renteria was quoted, “that the ultimate weapon is not a loaded gun but an educated mind.”

To learn more about Robert Renteria please visit his website by clicking the following link: From The Barrio

If you would like to book Robert to come speak to your schools or at conferences, he can be reached at:  312-933-5619 or email him at [email protected]  

Written by Iesha Brown


Author Robert Renteria

Image Courtesy of TEDxNaperville’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License


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