Written by Staff Reports
Roy Juarez Jr. learned difficult lessons early in life. And he told a group of General Synod delegates and visitors, "If you grow up with a tough life, you have learned lessons that cannot be taught in a book."
Juarez, who lived much of his teen years moving from family to family as one of the more than 1.5 million homeless teens in the United States, now spends his time speaking to and encouraging youth to hold fast to their dreams. "A dream is a gift we give ourselves."
And now, he claims to be "homeless by choice."
As part of his "My Bag, My Home: Homeless by Choice" speaking tour, Juarez visited General Synod during Suncoast Saturday, a day-long series of workshops and presentations to help delegates "imagine what’s possible." His tour accommodations are random thanks to the hospitality of strangers, much like those who gave him and his siblings shelter in his teen years.
"Remember," he said, "There are people who love you, and people who believe in you."
There were moments in Juarez’s life when he thought differently. At age 7, he learned how to hate when his father took a fishing trip after long promising a father and son trip. He learned to hold a grudge when his mother, separated from Juarez’s father, chose to live with a boyfriend who did not want her children, leaving Juarez and his siblings to fend for themselves. He learned how to leave his younger brother with families who could only take one.
Then he speaks of the night in Dallas when he snuck into a dinner just to have something to eat and heard a talk by Consuelo Castillo Kickbush. Kickbush, he remembers, recalled the times in her life when people told her all the things she could not do because she was a woman and a Hispanic. After a successful career in the U.S. Army, retiring as a lieutenant colonel, Kickbush was encouraging her audience to not give up and not stop dreaming.
"The only reason I am not happy," Juarez remembers thinking that night, "is that I stopped dreaming. A dream is a gift we give ourselves."
After a church pastor offered a home to himself and his younger brother, Juarez was able to finish high school, but even graduation turned bittersweet as Juarez’s mother attended her boyfriend’s son’s graduation events, not her own son’s dinner.
"I felt so alone, but I never gave up."
When attending community college, had the opportunity to reconnect with Kickbush who provided an internship, then a job and the motivation for Juarez to return to college. The many acts of kindness he received throughout his life showed that "we need to care more."
"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," he said. "But you are not alone.
"Never allow what you’ve seen, been through or going through to take your future."