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Dreams happen with mentors, planning and determination

Dreams happen with mentors, planning and determination

NORFOLK, Neb. -- Dream big and work hard.

That was the message Friday from the keynote speaker during the annual Latino Youth Summit hosted by Northeast Community College at the Lifelong Learning Center.

Gabe Salazar, who overcame poverty, gangs and homelessness in Texas to become a successful entrepreneur, told those attending that motivation is needed for someone to get started, but determination brings work and success.

“Invest in hard work. Hard work is good. Hard work allows you to know what you are made of,” Salazar told the more than 200 students who attended.

The students represented high schools in Battle Creek, Creighton, Columbus, Neligh-Oakdale, Norfolk, Madison, Schuyler, Wakefield, West Point-Beemer and Wisner-Pilger.

“We feel intimidated to share our dreams,” Salazar said. “Friends will make fun of us. People with the same last names will make fun of us. They put our dreams down, but should we listen to them?”

Salazar said he has always heard that people who criticize you are doing less than you. And in life, there will always be people who criticize.

Salazar has spoken to millions of teens throughout his career. He has been recognized as America’s No. 1 Latino youth speaker by Popular Hispanics Magazine.

If someone has a dream, hold onto that dream. Don’t make it a wish, he said. 

“We have a lot of people in America wishing about their futures, wishing they’d win the lottery, wishing they’d get discovered on Tik Tok or Youtube and be famous overnight. But can I tell you a secret? It’s probably not going to happen.”
When a person dreams, Salazar said they see the process and the next step. 

“Everything happens because of a dream inside your heart,” Salazar said. “I believe that. Dr. Martin Luther King didn’t say, ‘I have a wish.’ He said, ‘I have a dream.’”

Other parts of the summit included student tours of the Northeast campus, including Union 73 and residence halls. There were various activities, lunch and a students and professional panel discussion.
The panelists included Alex Coan, who moved to Nebraska in 2016 to be closer to family and is now a retail banking manager with Midwest Bank. Juan Sandoval also was featured. Sandoval has years of serving small business experience in rural markets in Northeast Nebraska.
Northeast student ambassadors were Alberto Cartela and Alexa Pulido.

Salazar said it is important for students to remember their parents, grandparents, guardians, older siblings, or others who are working hard now so they can follow their dreams. Sometimes they are working more than one job.
“They skipped over their dreams. Why? So, we can follow our dreams,” he said.

Salazar took time to ask the students their dreams. He rewarded them with giveaway items for speaking up in front of strangers. The dreams were as varied as a young woman who wanted to be a welder to several seeking to get married, own a home and raise children.

The San Antonio speaker, who has been inspiring others with a message of hope for 19 years, said to be successful requires making good choices. He told students that they should find a mentor to follow.

Their mentor could be a parent, grandparent, guardian, teacher, older sibling or even someone they don’t know who may or may not look like them. What is important is that the person sets an example for who they want to be.

Salazar said he was 4 years old when he was with his mother and met his biological father for the only time in his life.

He was walking down San Antonio with his mother about two blocks from the Alamo. They were getting on the bus when his biological father was exiting another part of the bus, and his mother saw him.
“They started arguing and they started yelling,” Salazar said. “What were they saying? I don’t know, I was only 4, but I remember this part. She turned back over to me and said, ‘Look at your son.’ And this man, who looks a lot like me, runs in the opposite direction. I never saw him again.”

About five months later, his biological father was driving his 1979 Z-28 Camaro, and he was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. 

It became weird, because people coped with his father’s death by giving him – a child – hugs.

“They would be these strangers. I didn’t even know these people. And they would be like, ‘You walk just like him.’ Or ‘You sound just like him.’ ”

Salazar said he ended up having self-destructive behavior. He had nightmares where his father was hugging him.

“Do you know what it is like to feel so close to someone that you really don’t know?” he asked.

Salazar said when he was young, he wished he was dead. If his father didn’t want him, then why should he want himself, he thought.

After finding lots of trouble, Salazar said he found a mentor in a high school principal, Dr. Williams, who asked him about his dreams. Initially, Salazar said he thought the principal was getting into his business, but then learned he was trying to encourage him.

Salazar became the first in his family to attend college, earned a Bachelor of Science degree and began working for a San Antonio school helping behavioral students. Soon, he discovered his talent to speak to teens and families and his career skyrocketed.

Ten students had their names drawn and are eligible for $1,000 tuition waivers to Northeast. 

Cutline Latino Summit 
Gabe Salazar, a motivational speaker from San Antonio, Texas, hops while on stage to make a point, drawing laughter during the Latino Youth Summit at Northeast. (Northeast Community College)