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Robert Rentería Jr: Giving kids hope

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Robert Renteria, Jr., wants to inspire worldwide change. At 54, he already is reaching kids throughout Latin America, Europe and Asia. Renteria travels the country, speaking to students of all ages. Those he can’t reach in person learn about him and his story through a series of books, collectively referred to as the Barrio. In the last eight years, since he decided to publish his story, Renteria’s life has been turned into a curriculum free for use by schools, churches, community centers, prisons and jails. His lessons give kids hope, convincing them they, too, have a bright future.

“The two greatest days in your life are the day you’re born and the day you realize why you’re born,” Renteria said. Once he realized why, Renteria began working full speed ahead for the world’s youth.

Renteria grew up in poverty in East Los Angeles. His father was a drug addict and spent the first few years of Renteria’s life in and out of jail before leaving the family altogether. As a teenager, Renteria’s chose his father’s path. He both used and sold drugs, joined a gang and dropped out of high school. When he learned his father’s lifestyle brought him a premature death, and at the urging of his grandfather, Renteria decided to make a change. He got his GED and joined the military.

“It saved my life,” Renteria said. “It changed my life.”

After leaving the service, Renteria moved to Chicago, where he began his rise through the corporate ranks. He started at a friend’s laundry business, got recruited to another company and, in 2001, started his own laundry business, where he found great success.

By 2006, he decided he wanted to share his story. Renteria partnered with writer/publisher Corey Michael Blake to create From the Barrio to the Board Room, a book for young adults about how hard work can pay off. He has followed that up with a comic book for elementary and early middle schoolers as well as a coloring book for the youngest students. Bringing his story to young people growing up like he did has become his life’s mission. The book is available in CD version for students who are blind or dyslexic. There are copies in Spanish. And soon, there will be a new installment in the Barrio series.

A superhero comic book will teach young people how to solve problems and make decisions using communication skills, not violence.

“It’s about conflict resolution and character and confidence,” Renteria said. “But it’s not violent.”

Renteria’s efforts have earned him a number of awards — Chicago’s Latino Professional of the Year in 2010, the Outstanding International Humanitarian Award in 2011, Best Graphic Novel in Latin America, Spain and the United States in 2012. The awards that makes him proudest, though, came in 2013. Renteria earned two awards named for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in the same year. One from Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Push Excel coalition and the other from Chicago’s Illinois Commission on Diversity and Human Relations.

“That proves to me that the Barrio represents all ages, races, religions and economic backgrounds,” Renteria said. “It represents the human race.” (By Tara García Mathewson)

Renteria offers the secular and bible-based curricula for free. Interested parties need only contact him at robert@fromthebarrio.com. More information about the book series can be found at www.fromthebarrio.com.

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