BY CAROL ROEHM
A group of Danville High School students who heard Carlos Ojeda Jr. speak last spring at a conference at the University of Illinois were so inspired by his message, they wanted to bring Ojeda Jr. to Danville.
The students of the Hispanic Leadership Council at DHS will get their chance on Feb. 7.
Ojeda Jr. is a community advocate who has worked extensively with high school and college-aged youths, spreading his message of education, leadership, community activism and entrepreneurship.
As an innovative communicator, Ojeda Jr. has inspired youth, educators and leaders.
Ojeda Jr. will give three motivational and leadership presentations — at 8:45 a.m. at South View Middle School and at 10:15 a.m. at North Ridge Middle School, with a final assembly at 1:30 p.m. at Danville High School.
The Hispanic Leadership Council at DHS will be Ojeda Jr.’s host, with the sponsors being the Danville Public School Foundation, Danville Area Community College, HALO Project of Provena United Samaritans Medical Center Foundation, Danville School District 118 and the Hispanic/Latino Advisory Committee of the City of Danville.
For the last few years, the Hispanic Leadership Council at DHS has been invited to attend the annual Latino Youth Conference at the U of I.
Last April, Ojeda Jr. was the keynote speaker and gave a talk about his life, including his upbringing in Newark, N.J., until gang violence prompted his immigrant parents to move the family to a small town in Pennsylvania. But that’s when the real trouble began for Ojeda Jr.
Suzanne Berkes, an English as a Second Language and art instructor at DHS, who heard Ojeda Jr. speak last year, said, “I thought (his message) would be powerful here because he grew up in a culturally homogeneous neighborhood in Newark … but when he moved to a small town in Pennsylvania, his message is about fitting in and not being from the same culture.
“He went on to become very successful as a businessman and an entrepreneur,” she said.
When Berkes and the DHS students left Ojeda Jr.’s talk last year, she said, “the students and I were like ‘Wow.’ He had us crying at times and laughing at other times. He was really compelling.
“His story is applicable to many people, but particularly to students in different (cultural) communities,” Berkes said. “He provided a solid, tangible message of overcoming obstacles and pursuing lifelong learning.”
Berkes said Ojeda Jr. would be relevant to Danville students because “he is young, cool and has experiences similar to many students who struggle with the motivation to stay in school, get a high school diploma and create lives full of success and community involvement.”
Al Bello, director of radiology at Danville Area Community College and a volunteer adviser of the Hispanic Leadership Council, helped form the council at DHS about five years ago.
“I meet with the kids during homeroom and talk to them about the importance of attendance and grades,” he said.
Bello said his 15-year-old daughter, Sara, who is an officer in the leadership council, heard Ojeda Jr. speak at the Latino Youth Council last spring and wanted him to come to Danville.
“The high school is always looking for minority motivational speakers, particularly Hispanic, because the Hispanic community is growing,” he said.
Bello said bringing Ojeda Jr. to Danville was “a push from the students. It’s a grass roots effort.”
Like Berkes, Bello said Ojeda Jr.’s message is “fairly universal.”
“His message hits a chord,” he said. “It’s a great message for parents and adults, too.”
Motivational speaker Carlos Ojeda Jr. will give three presentations on Feb. 7 — 8:45 a.m. at South View Middle School, 10:15 a.m. at North Ridge Middle School and a final assembly at 1:30 p.m. at Danville High School.