The Other Side of LA
The city of Los Angeles is held up as the world’s entertainment capital and is known for its tropical weather. Most days are warm, sunny, and perfect for a walk down to the beach. As for LA native Robert Renteria, a motivational speaker now residing in Chicago, life wasn’t always perfect while growing up on the east side of Los Angeles.
A Family’s Life on the Edge
Growing up poor in what he considers ‘The Barrio’ of Los Angeles, Robert experienced violence, poverty, and drug abuse at a young age. Unfortunately, as a toddler he witnessed his father on drugs very frequently. Then, finally and tragically, one day Robert had to face the reality that he no longer had a father.
“He would do heroin and would sell everything we owned just to feed his addiction. At the age of three, he left our family.” Robert explains how his mother didn’t realize that she had married a man who was addicted to drugs and who soon would abandon their family. “The only thing he left us was a pile of bill
s and a bunch of empty bottles of booze in the trash can.”
Death Knocks the First Time
Robert’s father left his mother trying to provide for her kids alone while working three jobs. Things seemed to turn for Robert after being exposed to a near death experience at the age of six.
“I was at a carnival, had a freak accident,” Robert said. “I was getting off one of the rides and it swung around, hit me and busted my head open. It threw me 50 feet, leaving me on the ground breathing profusely with a bone sticking out. I had a compound fracture.”
Doctors told his family to prepare for the worst because they couldn’t promise that he was going to live. Robert made it out of surgery alive, but the struggle definitely wasn’t over.
Fighting Against the Odds
“I was in a coma for a week after the surgery and I woke up tangled…with tubes and lights over my head. My mother was sitting there with me, but I couldn’t move because I had lost all my motor skills,” he said. “So, I ended up going into a school for the physically disabled and mentally challenged because I couldn’t walk, talk, read or write for three years.”
A Family’s Life on the Edge Again
After three years Robert was released from the school as a healthy and strong young man. But life was Deja vu after meeting his new stepfather. Here he was, dealing with some of the same painful situations that he had experienced in the past.
“He was a bad drunk. He used to beat the hell out of me bad,” he said. “I was a little guy so what was I going to do
right? He used to beat me until I was black and blue.”
Surviving Another Dysfunctional Family
When Robert was old enough to move out and live on his own, he took the opportunity and ran with it. Instead of making good choices and improving his education, he decided to become involved in other things.
“I ran away, I quit school, and I started getting involved with another dysfunctional family called gangs,” he said. “So, I was living on the street robbing houses and cars…selling drugs and doing drugs. [I was] Hanging out with these guys that were my friends and family, but they were bad people.”
Finally, Escape from Hell
Robert learned that his biological father had died and almost lost his own life as a result of gang affiliations. Robert realized when these events happened that his life was headed for destruction.
“I made a drug deal that went bad,” said Robert. “I was delivering cocaine and the guy goes to get the money from
his briefcase and he pulls out a gun, and says ‘Goodnight’, pulls the trigger and [the gun] misfired, jammed.”
Robert was able to escape his immediate environment and settle at his grandfather’s house for a while. However, his life was still in danger. Robert had no other choice but to totally escape the hell that he was in and never return.
“I got my GED and I joined the army. Joining the military was the best decision of my life,” he said. “It changed my life, it saved my life, it made me a man and a better man.”
The Leader and the Man Emerges
After serving his country for seven years, Robert was a changed man. He was equipped and ready to be the leader he was intended to be. With $200 dollars to his name, he moved from LA to Chicago and found a job in the commercial laundromat business. After five years of making laundry equipment for investors, a dramatic shift happened in Robert’s life.
“I got recruited by a company in Boston who wanted to take their company and create mass distribution all over the country,” he said. “They did an IPO and I became vice president of a publicly traded company on the New York Stock Exchange.”
Abundant Material Success
After working for corporate America for six years, Robert took the risk of starting his own company. Within three years he had the number one distribution company in the country. He had three fancy cars, vacations available when needed, a house by the pond and CEO o
f one of top companies in the country. But, he wasn’t satisfied. Robert still felt like there were other ways of being effective in the world.
The Two Greatest Days in Your Life
“I realized that the two greatest days in your life are the day you’re born and the day you realized why you were born,” he said. “We have children walking around lost in a culture of darkness and I said, ‘I want do something about it, I want to write a book.’ That book will be my way to give back to my culture…to help kids and adults make better life choices.”
“From the Barrio” to Real Success
In 2001, Robert published his first book, “From the Barrio”. The book was launched and by 2009 was embraced and used by a variety of schools all across the US.
“They wanted to teach the book,” he said. “They put together a curriculum which addresses socio-emotional learning, social intelligence, [and] life skills.”
Robert has donated the curriculum to hundreds of schools all over the world. He also released a book to help the blind and dyslexic, which has now benefited 236,000 disabled kids all over the U.S. Later he began telling his story to people all over the world.
Taking the Book to the Next Level
In 2011, Robert wanted to take his book to the next level, he recalls, “I had the idea to create a tool to reach the younger generation in the form of a graphic novel.” Robert published his next book, ‘Mi Barrio.’ “It was voted the best graphic novel in Latin America, Spain and the United States for addressing youth issues.”
In 2012 ‘Mi Barrio’ won two best graphic novel awards. He then created an activity coloring book called “Little Barrio” for kids in preschool, kindergarten and first grade.
Gloria Estefan and the “From the Barrio Project”
“These books teach our kids that gang banging and violence is not a lifestyle, but a death style, and that the ultimate weapon is not a loaded gun but an educated mind,” he said. “This interview today comes at a time period where it’s very critical because of violence. We have to give the kids something.”
Through these books Robert has created his own 501© (3) foundation called ‘From the Barrio’ and is also the author of “From The Barrio To The Board Room”, published in 2014. With the help of Latino icon, Gloria Estefan, Robert will be spreading this movement in Chicago through presentation of the play
“From The Barrio Project.” The play will be live at the Miracle Center, 2311 North Pulaski in Chicago. Meanwhile, He is in the midst of creating other tools to help evolve schools’ teaching curriculum. http://www.fromthebarrio.com/