Do good, be good – was the message delivered Wednesday to around 100 attendees of a youth conference in Roswell by its keynote speaker, actor Danny Trejo.
Cheers and cries of “I love you” and “Thank you for coming” greeted Trejo as he took the stage at the Roswell Convention Center during the Unearthing Future Opportunities conference.
The first-ever UFO conference for youth ages 16-24 hosted by the Eastern Area Workforce Development Board and New Mexico Workforce Connection kicked off Wednesday and ends Friday, featuring a series of speakers from across the country to talk about employment in a variety of fields, Krystine Zuest, senior career coach for New Mexico Workforce Connections, said.
Roswell was chosen as the location because it is central to the 12-county region served by the Eastern Region Workforce Development Council, executive director Beth Elias said.
Speakers included entrepreneurs and people from the fields of entertainment, cybersecurity, law enforcement and the military. “These are just different career paths that a lot of our students or attendees don’t really know about, so it’s just to give them the experience,” Zuest said.
Sessions also featured information on communication, finance and health with nationally acclaimed speakers such as Jessamyn Stanley, founder of wellness website The Underbelly, yoga instructor and podcast host; and Joey Jay, a social media influencer who appeared on the reality show “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”
Speakers from New Mexico were also featured, including Ryan Trosper, president of Eastern New Mexico University-Ruidoso, a US Air Force officer from Cannon Air Force Base, ethical hackers and the former mayor of Roswell Dennis Kintigh and Chaves County Commissioner Will Cavin.
Juan Hernandez of Hobbs said he found the sessions inspiring, especially that of entrepreneur Rick Keefer, owner of four radio stations in Clovis.
“Rick Keefer was telling me how to find your path, find out what route you want to take to find your career,” he said.
Hernandez said he was considering a career in astronomy, meteorology or architecture.
The conference moved quickly, with organizers beginning in February, said Luis de la Cruz, director of workforce development at New Mexico Workforce.
“We wanted to make sure that we were creating something for the participants so that they could be inspired and achieve different things in all areas possible,” he said.
Much of the conference was actually designed by young people on the planning committee, Zuest said.
“They gave a lot of information. They named it, they designed our T-shirts. They gave their opinion on what they wanted to hear, what they wanted to know,” she said, adding that some of the topic ideas suggested by older staff members had in fact been rejected.
One of the session topics that came directly from the young people on the planning team was about communicating with different generations – Baby Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y and Gen Z.
“Each generation communicates differently. This formation brings everyone together,” de la Cruz said.
Trejo adapted to the conference because of his history and how he made himself a success, Zuest said.
“We think that resonates with our attendees,” she said.
Trejo, known for his roles in the films ‘Machete’, ‘Spy Kids’, ‘Desperado’ and ‘Con Air’, opened up about his life, from his prison sentence to starting a yard maintenance business prosperous and becoming an addiction counselor before making his debut in the film industry.
He said an uncle gave him marijuana when he was 8 and he took heroin when he was 12.
“From there it was downhill. I had no control over my life. People don’t understand, someone is giving you drugs, they just took over your life,” he said.
While serving time at Soledad Prison in California in 1968, a riot broke out. Trejo was placed in solitary confinement and faced capital charges after hitting a guard with a stone. Trejo entered a 12-step program then and hasn’t taken drugs since, he said, to applause.
Once out of prison, he says he found the path to success.
“Anything good that happened to me was a direct result of helping someone else,” he said.
He said that after his release he was at his mother’s house in the neighborhood where he grew up – and where he robbed many of his neighbors as a youth – trying to figure out how to be a nice person. He started taking out the garbage for elderly neighbors and one of them bought him a nice jacket.
He said that after he and a friend cleaned up an elderly neighbor’s overgrown yard, another neighbor hired them and gave them his gardening tools. They used them to start a business, which they sold years later.
He said that as an addiction counselor, one of his clients called him one night in 1985 for help with a job where there were a lot of drugs. Trejo said he went there, not knowing what the job was. It turned out to be filming the movie “Runaway Train,” and Trejo was finally offered a job as an extra playing a convict. In prison, Trejo had been a champion boxer, and he also ended up training actor Eric Roberts on set in boxing.
Now, at the age of 78, Trejo has starred in movies and TV shows, done voice work for cartoons and video games, survived liver cancer and owns several restaurants.
“It doesn’t matter where you started, it doesn’t matter where you end up. Remember that,” he said.
Louis Silva, who just graduated from university high school, said Trejo’s speech was inspirational. While seeing that Trejo was a big draw for him, he said the other speakers also gave him direction for his future. He said he would like to be a chef.
“One of the most important things they taught me is that I have to be persistent. If I want something, try and try to keep going and if they say no, do it again,” he said. -he declares.