Homeless by Choice speaker talks to area students
by Mark Andrews
Oct 13, 2011 | 4176 views | 0 0 comments | 29 29 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Roy Juarez Jr. tells a gymnasium filled with Cartersville Middle School students how he became homeless at age 14, then later overcame a whirlwind of problems to graduate from college and start his own company. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
Roy Juarez Jr. tells a gymnasium filled with Cartersville Middle School students how he became homeless at age 14, then later overcame a whirlwind of problems to graduate from college and start his own company. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
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Roy Juarez Jr., 31, is living his dream by being homeless. On Wednesday, voices of students in the Cartersville Middle School gym fell silent as Juarez, now a college graduate of Hardin-Simmons University and founder of America's Business Leaders human development company, shared his story with the school as part of his MyBag, MyHome Homeless by Choice 300 city tour.

"I first became homeless at the age of 14 with a 9-year-old sister and a 2-year-old brother due to domestic violence," Juarez said.

He began his story by recounting a dream he had a few years ago.

"It was crazy because in this dream -- I know it's going to sound crazy but it's true -- I saw myself walking into this large arena, surrounded by young people ...

"I decided I was going to live homeless out of my car and drive from Los Angeles, Calif., to Jacksonville, Fla., and I was going to speak for free at any high school, any middle school, any shelter or for any organization that would open their doors with the goal to reach as many young people as possible."

He said within a few months of traveling from state to state and "couch surfing" with whomever would offer a place to rest, he knew he had to continue his message to reach a goal of 100,000 young people after meeting a teen in a juvenile detention center facing prison for a murder ordered by his father -- a man involved in the illegal drug trade across the Mexican border.

"I was [couch surfing] the country and every young person I met their story reminded me of my own because I remember what it was like growing up," Juarez said.

Juarez said as a child in San Antonio he would hear through the walls his father beating his mother while she called out, "mi hijo, help me" -- Spanish for "my son, help me" -- hiding his pain and suffering in front of his classmates who were struggling with divorce while lying about his parents having a perfect marriage.

"I was so scared of this man at that time that I wouldn't do anything," Juarez said. "I would lay there the entire night and I tried to muffle the sound of her voice with my pillow until, next thing I knew, I woke up."

He said the problems at home led to difficulty maintaining a positive attitude and balanced emotions when trying to make it through school.

"These teachers ... expected me to think about my future, but I couldn't think about a future because all I could think was, 'How bad did he beat her last night?'" he said.

Glossy eyes remained glued on Juarez as he made jokes to break the tension throughout his life's story, talking about how his mother would embarrass him in middle school in front of his girlfriend after years of vying for her attention as a child. He said although having a dream seemed impossible at that time in his life, and that it might be a difficult concept for those in the audience dealing with hardships, it was a necessary part of life to keep hope.

"Guys, we need you to dream. Dreaming is the gift you give yourself that nobody can take away from you," Juarez said. "You can give it away, but nobody can take it from you."

He said all young people face difficulties in home or at school, but those do not have to be a precursor for a destructive life.

"... What I do know is we all have a story, and whatever story that is, never allow it to take your future," Juarez said.

After running from his father with his mother and siblings, Juarez said his mother eventually became romantically involved with a police officer, bringing some short-term stability to his life. When the man asked her to move in, however, there was a catch -- he didn't want kids.

Eventually finding friends and family to care for his siblings except himself and his brother "Baby Ray," at age 14 Juarez survived the next two-and-a-half years living on the streets of San Antonio via a bag of personal belongings and open couches, dropping out of school. He said through the care of a minister and her husband, which Juarez refers to as his "adoptive parents," he was able to find a home for himself and "Baby Ray" and to enroll in high school as a third-year freshman.

"In life we get bitter or we get better," Juarez said. "... You have learned lessons that will never be taught in a book, but if you can use your education to define those lessons, you'll be extremely successful because education not only changes your life, but it changes the entire fabric of your family."

Juarez graduated high school, and while struggling with his grades through community college, he saw a familiar face from his time on the streets -- retired Lt. Col. Consuelo Kickbusch.

He told the story of being a hungry teen years before and sneaking into a hotel banquet so he could have something to eat, inadvertently hearing a motivational speech and story by Kickbusch. Juarez said he was asked by his school to introduce Kickbusch as a guest speaker and later the two formed a close bond, with her offering Juarez an internship and encouraging him to continue higher education at a university.

"In May of 2009, I went from eating ketchup packages on the streets of San Antonio as a homeless teenager to becoming a college graduate to today choosing to be homeless for two more years of my life to circle this entire country just to say this again," Juarez said. "Look, I don't know you, I don't know what you've seen, I don't know what you've been through, and I don't know what you're going through, but whatever it is, please ... never give your future away because that is yours and nobody else's."

Juarez said the most important lesson he has learned in his life is forgiveness, maintaining a relationship with his mother and building one with his father.

"My mother and I today are extremely, extremely close because my education has taught me this -- I can separate the illness from the person. I love the person, I can help them with the illness. My mother was so broken ... if she didn't even love herself, how did I expect her to love me?" He said. "I can't, but what I can do is become the change I want to see in her and in life we must become the change we want to see."

Seventh-grader Jacob Gambill said he learned from Juarez's story. He said he appreciated "how [Juarez] was talking about being a good person, not only to the people who are good to you, but also to the people who aren't so you create a better life for yourself and others."

Juarez said he has now visited about 70,000 young people after his trip to Cartersville and will continue his tour in West Virginia. For donation information and to learn more about Juarez, visit http://homelessbychoice.com/ or search for him on Facebook.

He has been featured on CNN on a segment leading to "Latinos in America" and in "Chicken Soup for the Soul: Extraordinary Teens."