Dream big and succeed — that’s the message Gabe Salazar will deliver when he gives the keynote address at The University of Toledo’s 34th Annual Conference for Aspiring Minority Youth Saturday, Jan. 27.
Sponsored by Toledo Excel and the UT Joint Committee, the conference for seventh- and eighth-graders, high school students and parents will start at 8:30 a.m. in the Thompson Student Union Auditorium. This year’s theme is “Focus on the Future: Anticipating and Overcoming Obstacles.”Salazar will share his story of enduring hardships and pursuing success. He was born to a teen mother and abandoned by his biological father. Living in poverty, he turned to gangs for a sense of belonging. But injuries from street fights left him looking for something else. Enter a high school principal who began to mentor Salazar.
“Life has incredible future when you stay away from drugs, when you stay away from alcohol, when you stay away from gang violence,” Salazar tells teens in an online video. “I want to tell you your dreams can come true if you surround yourself with mentors and pursue your education. Nothing else can stop you, and nothing can hold you back.”
The first member of his family to go to college, Salazar attended Southwestern Assemblies of God University in Waxahacie, Texas, from 1996 to 2001 to pursue a degree in professional development with a specialization in theology.
He began his career as an inclusion specialist for special education and at-risk students at a middle school in San Antonio and was a church youth pastor. He discovered his gift: inspiring teens.
“I want students to know that there’s hope, that they should never stop believing in themselves,” Salazar said.
“This year we gave our students greater input in what they would like to see in a speaker, and Gabe Salazar fit all the criteria,” said David Young, director of the Office of Excellence and the Toledo Excel Program. “As a motivational speaker, he has talked to millions of teens. His comedy and real-life stories encourage youth to make positive choices in their lives. He has been recognized as America’s No. 1 Latino youth speaker by Popular Hispanics Magazine.”
After Salazar’s talk, there will be a session to provide an interactive setting to learn about and discuss bullying in all its forms.
Toledo Excel was established in 1988 to help underrepresented students, including African, Asian, Hispanic and Native Americans, for success in college. Through summer institutes, academic retreat weekends, campus visits and guidance through the admission process, students increase their self-esteem, cultural awareness and civic involvement.
Toledo Excel is part of the Office of Multicultural Student Success, which is in the Division of Student Affairs. The UT Joint Committee includes representatives from the University, Toledo Public and Parochial schools, and civic and community leaders from the city of Toledo. The mission of the committee is to bring together people in the community interested in the education of underrepresented youth. The UT Joint Committee also serves as an advisory board and support system for Toledo Excel.
Advance reservations for the free, public conference are encouraged; visit utoledo.edu/success/excel or call 419.530.3820.