Death of youth in juvenile lock-up inspires motivational speaker

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Roy Juarez Jr. lived out of his car to deliver a message of hope.

By Felicia Mora

Roy Juarez Jr. never planned to be a motivational speaker.

“I kind of fell into it through a series of events that ended up becoming a career, ” Juarez said Sept. 28 in a telephone interview.

Juarez has been hired by this college to conduct a leadership training program called “Impact” at Southwest, Lanier and Edison high schools to give at-risk students the social and emotional skills and cultural awareness to bridge the gap between high school and college.

He will work with the outreach and recruitment department at this college.

Juarez is a motivational speaker who has shared his experiences as a homeless teenager in school districts, universities and corporations. He performed a dramatic presentation at this college’s convocation Aug. 16.

He said he wants to give back to honor everyone who fed him, housed him or clothed him as a youth.

“My concern was the estimated 1.6 million homeless teenagers throughout this country, and I was wondering who was reaching out to them,” Juarez said.

He decided in 2010 to create a tour called the “Homeless by Choice Tour.”

“I decided to live homeless for the second time in my life, in the back of my car and traveled across the country sharing my story with kids,” Juarez said.

He paid for this tour himself by selling wristbands and “Chicken Soup for the Soul” books during lunch at the schools he visited in Los Angeles.

Originally, he planned to cross the country and live out of his car for six months. He was going to drive from L.A. to Jacksonville, Fla., to speak for free at any high school, middle school or organization.

“I was trying to reach as many kids as possible, and there was such a huge need that I wound up speaking to over 100,000 kids as I traveled across the country. And ever since that tour, it kind of became a career.

“The phone never stopped ringing, and people just kept asking me to come back and come to different schools and organizations and different campuses,” Juarez said.

In about three months into his journey, the tour had him $20,000 in debt.

He had sold everything he owned to keep the tour alive and have gas for his car.

Midway through the tour, he stopped at a juvenile facility. “And that’s what truly changed it from just becoming a six-month journey to know now? What it’s become,” Juarez said.

At the juvenile facility, he met a young man who was there for murder.

The young man was locked up because during his freshman year of high school, his father had picked him up and told his son to kill a man for him.

The boys’ father was heavily involved with drug trafficking and gang violence, and so seeing no other choice, the boy compiled.

When he was sentenced, he was tried as an adult. The director told Juarez later what happened to the young man.

“The director was telling me that within two months they had to move him into an adult facility. But they didn’t give this kid two weeks until the rival gangs killed him in jail. And he said, ‘Roy, he’s only 16 years old and he’s dead. He’s 16 and he’s dead,’” Juarez said.

Juarez’s said the story broke his heart because he wondered why no one showed him that he had a voice and a future.

“I thought that maybe if somebody had caught him and told him that, that he might have been strong enough to tell his Dad, ‘You know, I’m not going to kill anyone,’” Juarez said.

That was when he decided to turn his tour from a six-month journey into circling the entire country for 2 1/2 years.

“I’ve been able to now take my message and build a youth leadership program from it, and that is the leadership program that we are taking out into the communities for this Find Your Future tour,” he said. “The program is called Impact.”


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