Spring Valley resident and motivational speaker Roy Juarez Jr. had about as bad a childhood as one can and uses that experience to inspire schoolchildren.
At 14, Juarez was homeless and taking care of his two younger siblings in San Antonio. Extended family would eventually take in his 9-year-old brother and 2-year-old sister. Juarez had only a plastic sack to keep all of his possessions — clothes, a family photo, a notepad and some ketchup packets for food.
His parents divorced years earlier following a violent marriage, and his mom eventually abandoned him. He dropped out of high school and spent the next three years wandering Texas.
Juarez is scheduled to finish a four-month speaking tour this month in Minnesota. He has been on three previous tours beginning last year.
Juarez chose to be “homeless” again for this tour, sleeping on a different couch from night to night. Juarez posts his location on his Facebook page and asks if anyone in the area has a place for him to sleep. He has been to nearly 300 cities, from Los Angeles to Bangor, Maine, in the past two years.
The kids respond better when they know he is living that way, Juarez said in a phone interview from Grand Rapids, Mich. He decided to tour homeless after students at a school in Los Angeles asked how much he was getting paid to be there.
“When I was able to say I have $16 in my pocket and I don’t know where I’m going to sleep tonight,” Juarez said, “it completely changed their attitudes.”
Juarez has a goal of speaking to more than 100,000 kids during this tour. He does not charge to speak at schools or shelters, but he does accept donations and occasionally will take paid gigs from businesses to pay for gas and food. He estimated the past two years have cost about $160,000.
He said he might still be homeless had he not snuck into a conference in 1997 in Dallas to get free food.
Juarez saw a speaker that day who changed his life, retired Lt. Col. Consuelo Kickbusch. Her own inspirational message made Juarez re-enroll in high school and eventually college.
Kickbusch became his mentor and hired Juarez as an intern for her Las Vegas-based leadership training company, Educational Achievement Services, before firing him twice.
The first time was to get him to go to college. The second time was to force him to find himself, Kickbusch said in a phone interview from Texas.
“I love Roy for so many things,” Kickbusch said. “His authenticity and his transparency really speak to me. One of his sayings is, ‘You can’t stay bitter; you’ve got to get better.’ ”
Juarez said he plans to do one more tour to reach twice as many kids and then settle back in Las Vegas for good. He is close with his family and does not begrudge his mom for leaving him.
“My mom was so broken emotionally and mentally that she didn’t even love herself at that time,” Juarez said. “How did I expect her to love me? Her first 40 years were pretty bad. If I can help make the next 40 years better, that’s what I want to do.”
Contact View education reporter Jeff Mosier at firstname.lastname@example.org or 224-5524.