This week, TheLatinoAuthor.com is featuring author Robert J. Renteria. Mr. Renteria is a writer of “Barrio” Books and currently resides in Illinois. In April of 2006 he partnered with Corey Michael Blake and the phenomenon “From the Barrio to the Board Room” was born. Read our interview and see what compelled him to use his writing and business skills to combat violence, drugs, and gangs throughout the United States and other countries.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself; where you grew up, where you currently reside, or what you would like our readers to know about you?
I grew up in the Barrio of East L.A., my mother and father where factory laborers and made a measly $1.25 per hour. My father was a heroin addict and abandoned the family when I was only three years old and the only legacy he left us was a pile of bills and a bunch of empty bottles of booze in the trash can. I want the world to know that I have created a comprehensive bilingual non-generic program that resonates with the youth and promotes student achievement.
Do you consider yourself to be a writer first or a businessman first?
I see myself as a civic leader and humanitarian first and a writer second.
Did you always have the idea to write, or was this something that you decided to do later on in life?
I was inspired to write the book about six years ago when a young Latino asked me what was my secret to getting my new Mercedes? I sat with the young man and asked him to write down two words ‘hard work.’ He shook his head in disbelief and shook my hand and ran out the door like I had given him gold. I realized then that we had money for wars and we cannot feed the poor and that we have children, teenagers, and adults alike walking around lost in a culture of darkness. I was going to do something about it and that’s why I have written my books.
As a business endeavor you started the non-profit foundation “From the Barrio Foundation a 501 (c) (3).” Why did you chose this particular arena to focus on?
I wanted to help inspire and motivate teens and at-risk youths to make better life choices and to use my books “From the Barrio to the Board Room, Mi Barrio and Little Barrio” with our (FREE) School-based and or faith-based curriculum as a road map to avoid the detours I took in my life.
To get your FREE curricula visit the Barrio website: www.fromthebarrio.com
What is the one sole thing that drives you in the direction to eliminate conditions that develop violence and gangs?
The two greatest days in your life are the day you are born and the day you realize why you are born. Actually when my first book was released and I looked into the eyes of the kids who had read my book it scared me because I saw myself. It was then that I needed to create tools that could address the now issues and to help change the landscape for our youth across America.
What inspires you to continue working with kids and/or young adults that may be disadvantaged by economics or environment?
To teach our kids that they can be anybody they want to be if they just believe. To see that my books aren’t just books with pictures and words, but a burning message of hope and dreams. To see in real time that after kids read “Barrio” they want to change, they want to do better, and they want more! I have seen kids go back to school and then onto college. I have seen kids leave gangs and make better life choices.
As you tap into the many audiences around the nation, how are your books integrated within this environment? Can you tell us about this process?
Schools want the books. We have a K-12 program but the schools are underfunded, social services and mental health also have no money. We have some serious issues that are of epidemic proportion so the need is obviously there. We have kids killing kids, our drop-out rates are simply terrible, and gangs are out of control. So, I have been developing partnerships with Corporations who are helping (and we need more) us with money to reach as many kids as possible and to exchange the “Barrio” books for all the guns, knives, drugs, needles, booze and even the cigarettes.
On the literary side and as a writer, what was the most difficult thing you encountered as you started your writing career? Was it more of an internal or external challenge? Please elaborate.
As a Latino, you know we don’t air our laundry in public, right? But in order to make an impact, I needed to tell my story so that others could be healed. So with no need to be validated, I laid myself naked for the world to see so that “Barrio” could serve a higher purpose. Being willing to let go and to share the deep, dark, and sometimes dirty and embarrassing moments of my life so that others would know they were not alone.
You have achieved great success in your business and writing career. What do you mostly attribute this to?
I believe that it’s because my true intention is to help people and to address the now issues of gangs, drugs, violence, bullying, education, and hope. My goal was never about the money because the kids would know that I really did not care, but because we developed a program which strongly promotes social and emotional learning so that everything else would fall into place.
Do you perceive the accolades of writing to be as rewarding as those you’ve achieved in your non-profit organization? Or would you say they are on equal ground?
Believe it or not, I would rather not be on TV, the news papers, magazines, radio, or make appearances, but that’s part of doing what you need to do in order to get to where you want to go. Putting yourself out there is critical to gain the exposure to be successful, but as Chairman for The Barrio Foundation, this gives me great satisfaction knowing that I am changing lives.
Who inspires you?
The children, of course, inspire me. But the person who is my true inspiration in all that I am and in all that I ever will be is not only the love of my life, but the woman who gave me life, my mother.
What do you foresee as a viable goal for your organization or your writing schedule in the upcoming year? Will you be releasing any new books? If so, will these books be along the same line as those you’ve already published?
My goal for 2013 is to be a national spokesperson on education and anti-violence and to continue to put books into classrooms across America and around the world. We are currently in 14 countries and with plenty of room to grow. We are planning to release an audio version of “Barrio” this year and are currently raising money to release a pilot for a reality TV show called “Second Chances.”
When it’s all said and done, what do you want your legacy to be? Would you like to be known as a great writer, a great business man, or a person who made a difference?
My goal is that when it’s all said and done and I look back one last time, that I will know that for generations to come and for decades to follow until the end of time, kids and adults will be reading the “Barrio” books!
If you had to define success, what would that be for you?
To be the guy who helped to change the landscape for our youth around the world, to have built a bridge and made the world a better place by promoting global peace and education.
NOTE: Please visit the Barrio website at: www.fromthebarrio.com
Google Robert Renteria to learn more about the Barrio Movement.
Contact Robert Renteria directly to become a partner or simply to get involved: 312-933-5619