Catching up with Gabe Salazar, the #1 Latino Youth Speaker in the U.S.
Hispanics in Focus
Hispanic.com is really excited to have the chance to catch up with Gabe Salazar! Gabe is rated the #1 Latino youth speaker in the U.S. by “Popular Hispanics” magazine. He travels around the U.S. talking to students and young people about dreaming big and succeeding. During his 12-year career Gabe has spoken to over 2 million young people.
It was 2001 and Gabe Salazar was working with high risk and behavioral students at Oak Crest Intermediate School in San Antonio, Texas. Gabe recounts, “One day our principal asked me…hey Gabe we need a speaker last minute – would you mind speaking to the students for us about Red Ribbon Week?” Gabe said “Sure!” and soon thereafter Gabe’s ease of communication with young people, message, and perhaps most importantly the connection with an audience propelled him into a motivational speaking career.
Today, Gabe criss-crosses the country speaking to young people about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, education, positivity, and success on behalf of government agencies, Fortune 500 corporations, educational institutions, and non-profits. Gabe just wrapped up a “Graduate to Go” tour sponsored by the Taco Bell Foundation for Teens and the Boys and Girls Club of America.
Gabe says what keeps him going is the kids. “Nothing gives me that satisfaction from hearing a young person say – ‘you changed my life’. I had a teen mom tell me she had planned to commit suicide that day, but after hearing my speech, she changed her mind. Months later she messaged me on Facebook with a graduation picture of her and her child next to her. After another speaking event, I had four guys walk up and lay down their gang rags. Getting this kind of reception is just indescribable. I get thousands of Facebook messages from kids saying – ‘hey I was going to do these bad things…but I’ve changed my mind…thank you’.”
Research has shown it’s important to get messages to students and young people as they are going through their critical formative years. And Gabe sees it on the frontlines, he says, “Sometimes we think there’s going to be effects many years from now – on how young people absorb information. No. We are seeing positive results NOW.”
“During my speaking I become Tio Gabe for the kids… I identify with them and share stories from when I was growing up. I break down the fences, and I air out my life. I grew up really poor. We shopped at the pulga… the flea market, I got into a lot of fights etc. I - talk about how I had a old school mother. Me and my brothers called her a “chancla–ninja” because she would throw her flip flops at me with accuracy. I use humor to capture the teens’ attention.
The kids realize - if this guy - who was once homeless as a child living in a station wagon, abandoned by his biological father, dressed in second-hand clothing ‘cause that’s all his mom could afford – well if he can make it...I can make it.”
Gabe’s messages really hit home. He says with college really becoming important for a good job these days – it’s really important for kids to not think about college as a “definite path vs. an option”. “We teach kids the difference between a dream and a wish. A dream is achievable and we help them develop steps to their dreams.”
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One step to success is creating good connections with positive peer groups. Research has shown the number one impact on students in America is their peer group. If a peer group is talking about drinking and getting high, that’s what is most important to them, but if a teen has peer group that is motivated to go to college and making good grades, then that’s a positive peer group. Gabe says, “We know many of our Latino parents are working 2 to 3 jobs. They are cleaning offices all day long or working at a restaurant. And while they love their children, the kids are without their parents for much of the day.” As a result of making the rent or paying the mortgage, that parental influence takes a back seat in many cases to the peer group.
Gabe says: “So instead of the poverty, prostitutes, gangs, and drug dealers many of these kids are surrounded with when their parents aren’t around, we have partnered with youth groups and organizations to get these kids involved and saying ‘hey, we are going to graduate’…that’s the message we teach. We want to plug kids in and let them know ‘hey - getting ready for college is normal, getting ready for the SAT’s and ACT’s - this is normal’.”
Gabe loves watching the transformation in the young people he speaks with and looks forward to continuing his work with young people in more schools around the U.S. One of his main tours this year will be with New Futuro, an organization that helps Latinos prepare, apply, and pay for college.
In February, Gabe will speaking in Tustin, CA; Garden Grove, CA; Grand Rapids, MI; Camden, NJ; and Louisville, KY
To contact Gabe Salazar and or learn more about his speaking and upcoming calendar, visit his website at GabeSalazar.com or call 1-800-895-9818.