BY JURRY TAALIB-DEEN
Journal Staff Writer
The University of Toledo’s, Toledo EXCEL program, hosted their 34th Annual Conference for Aspiring Minority Youth, on Saturday, January 27 in the Lancelot Thompson Student Union, on the campus of the University of Toledo. With the theme, “Focus on the future: Anticipating and Overcoming Obstacles,” the event had over 400 students, and some parents.
David Young, director of Toledo EXCEL said the program would consist of brief words from University officials, as well as local leaders. The meat of the conference would first, be the keynote address by Gabe Salazar, an internationally recognized youth speaker. After his address, he would facilitate a breakout session dealing with various types of bullying, including cyber bullying.
Mr. Salazar used real life experiences, with humor to not only keep the students acutely focused on his words, but to have them laughing throughout his hour long talk.
The first thing he shared with his audience was the fact he was, not only born from a teen mother, but at one time, they were homeless, and living out of a car.
Mr. Salazar then said how he joined a gang, not because he wanted to, but he had to, if he wanted to survive. But he added that, one of the main things you have to know how to do, if you’re in a gang is “You have to know how to fight; which I wasn’t good at,” Mr. Salazar conveyed. Adding humor, he said, “After I got beat up pretty bad, I realized this gang stuff wasn’t for me.” His confession brought laughter from his audience.
He went on to say that his grades and behavior in school wasn’t good. Mr. Salazar said his mom had to come up to the school on a regular basis.
“My mom was an old school mom. She would throw shoes at me, grab me by my ear, whatever it took to straighten me out,” he said.
Mr. Salazar went on to say that, his behavior was so bad, and the fact that he was still associated with gangs, that there was a hit on his life, and he had to spend his time at school, in the principal office for his safety. It was at that point that his life began to change, he told his audience. Ultimately, his principal would mentor him, and encourage Mr. Salazar to go to college; being the first in his family to attend, and graduate.
“I told you all that because I want you to see it doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done; you can still succeed in life,” he said.
As his talk came to a close, he went around the audience asking each student what they wanted to be when they grow up. Robotic engineer, lawyer, judge, doctor, were several of the occupations mentioned. Then Mr. Salazar told them, “Remember, that your career doesn’t make you successful; you make the career successful.”
Following the address, Mr. Young pointed out that Mr. Salazar being there wouldn’t have been possible without Natleli Balderas, a senior at Waite High School and Toledo EXCEL’s first student chair.
Ms. Balderas told The Toledo Journal that she had been attending the Conference for Aspiring Minority Youth for four years, and thought I would be good to have a Hispanic speaker address the youth.
An emotional Ms. Balderas said, on being the organization’s first student chair, “I’m so much honored.”