Hey Everyone, meet Bo. It is always a pleasure when he visits the shop. Bo is a change maker here on the westside of Grand Rapids. He has a wealth of knowledge to pass on to everyone he meets and no matter who you are he meets you with a smile and a willingness to engage. We sat down and asked him a few questions.

Describe yourself in two sentences

I am a passionate Latino leader. I am engaged in Latino male development.

What is one of your life’s biggest accomplishments?

Being a first generation latino man to graduate college would be my biggest accomplishment. My dad went to William and Mary, but he left school to serve in the Vietnam war. He never went back to finish his degree, but instead met my mom and started a family. My mom received a two year degree but not a bachelor’s degree. I went to Michigan State and on to Wayne State where I finished my degree and moved on to my Masters. It was a long but fruitful journey that gave me a lot of life experience that as a teacher I have been able  to pass on.

If you could go back to any age or time in your life, what would it be and why?

The summer after my senior year of high school, right before I went to MSU. Michigan State is big; it’s a monster and you can get lost. There’s so much opportunity for growth but there’s also pitfalls. The social aspect, the parties; there’s all kinds of stuff to get caught up in and you can lose your focus. I spent a good five years doing a lot of things that developed who I was; in undergrad I worked for the College of Agricultural Natural Resources and I worked for the office of minority student transitions, and so on. I was able to take advantage of many opportunities and gain a lot of knowledge, but I messed up in classes. My priorities were skewed because I was more focused on enjoying college life than my classes. If I was to go back I would tell myself, “Come on man, what’s your focus? You’ve got to get out of here in a few years. You can’t be racking up debt and so on.”  

Who or what inspires you?

My father, he’s been my greatest inspiration. He has cancer right now and it’s been a journey to watch him go through all the stages of life. He has been able to show me how to express emotion, what good work ethic is, just how to always be there. He has given me an example of how to be a good father for my children, if and when I have them. We have a good relationship but it hasn’t always been easy. It gives me a wealth of knowledge to pass on to the fathers that I work with now as well.

What is your profession and why did you choose it?

First things first, I’m an educator. Education has always been my passion because of the various mentors I’ve had in my life. My current position opened up a while ago when I was still living on the east side of the state. Strong Beginnings was looking for someone bilingual, someone culturally humble, who understood Latino-ness and I fit that. My position is the fatherhood coordinator with the initiative called the “Padres Fuertes”, the Strong Fathers Initiative. We walk alongside the fathers in the program to help them become more aware and more engaged in the lives of their children. We help to make sure they are taking that active role from conception to birth and through the first few years of life. Along with this comes social aspects of health – having a job, having an education, having a support network, having a place to live, having food to eat – all of those things combined help to make a great father and those are the things we focus on. We have a network of support that allows us to do all that. We also work in tandem with those who work with the mothers. This allows both parents to work as a team and in tandem as well.

Is there a documentary or book that really changed the way you thought about something?

Jihad vs McWorld by Benjamin Barber. This is actually a book and it’s pre 9/11. Barber talked about the clash of western culture and that of the middle east. The dynamic of western consumerism is contrary to traditional culture and society. Barber used the muslim world, middle eastern societies, northern African societies as examples to explain the conflict that was waiting to happen. Sure enough 2001 happens. He came out with another version of the book the speaks directly to the events of September 11. A lot of this can be avoided and conflicts can be resolved if we take the time to look at the other. This is why we have many of the issues and movements that we have going on nationally and here in Grand Rapids. If we take the time to understand the other and know that they may not be like us, they may not be western and that’s okay, then we can find some resolutions.

If you could travel anywhere, where would you go and why?

Puerto Rico, I’m headed there. It hard to see everything that’s going on and not be able to be there right now. When you have family there who needs your help. Puerto Rico isn’t the same place it was when I was growing up either. It’s starting to lose a bit of it’s culture as it becomes more western. But there’s no other place I want to be, home is home.

What is your strongest personal quality?

The ability to interact with people and connect with people. One of my mentors, an educator out of Detroit, came to my classroom two years back and one of the things she told me was that I connect people. I am able to approach people and interact with people well. A smile and humility will go a long way.

What is something that makes you smile?

Music. (That’s another reason why I love this place. [Roots] The music choice here is always great.) I remember my sister went on a trip to New York to visit family and she came back with this bootleg tape. It was the Wu Tang album, 36 Chambers and we still have it at home. The season and periods of your life are punctuated with music, the soundtrack of your life. It sounds corny but it’s true. It expands your mind and allows you to travel back in time, both for the good and the bad.

What is your favorite thing about Roots?

I was introduced to Roots by a co-worker and it has become a place of rest for me. A place where I can come to think, to talk, to get ideas and use ideas, and things like that. It’s places like this that have helped make this city feel more like home. This is where I brought my girlfriend on our first date. It’s a place I’m starting to make memories and it’s become a really important place. And of course my favorite drink: a large chai latte with two shots of espresso.