We’re eagerly anticipating this year’s Changemakers luncheon, not least because this year’s keynote speaker is author, social activist, and actor Victor Rivas Rivers! Learn a little more about Victor below, then be sure to join us September 12 to hear his whole story.
Nebraska Children: Why is a strong community so important to a child?
Victor Rivas Rivers: I grew up in a home where violence took place on the level of torture by my father, at a time where there were no shelters or hotlines that my mother could turn to for help. Domestic violence and child abuse training for law enforcement was almost non-existent. Educators and school administrations didn’t get involved in personal family issues. But there were exceptions in my personal journey: a teacher who secretly paid for a school cafeteria meal ticket when my father was starving me; a Little League coach who gave me the confidence to excel in athletics; a vice principal who chose a tough-love approach instead of expelling me; the numerous families who opened their homes to a troubled, violent kid. I’m the end result of a coordinated response by a loving, protective, and humane community, [and] there are a lot of children like me in all of our communities – even the most affluent – who need to be rescued, redirected, and given the chance to reclaim their lives.
NC: Do you think people still view abuse as “a private family matter”? How can communities change that perception?
VRR: Yes and no. We have come a long way to further the conversation on domestic violence/abuse so that it’s not seen as “a private family matter.” There’s training for law enforcement and healthcare providers [as well as] public awareness campaigns. That’s the good news! The bad news is that domestic violence/abuse continues to be the most underreported crime. It’s often called “the quiet crime” because it thrives in an atmosphere of silence, denial, and shame. I also think there’s still a reluctance to get involved in somebody’s business, especially family issues. [But] abuse, on any level, is not “a private family matter” because it will impact the whole community. So we all have to get involved in creating a more humane and peaceful world.
NC: What lessons did you learn during your time on the football field that you’ve applied to your advocacy?
VRR: [In] college football history, Nebraska is [recognized] for its National Championships, coaches, and players. Over the past 40 years, Florida State University has [joined Nebraska in] the conversation of storied teams, legendary coaches, and exceptional players. I was fortunate to be a starting offensive guard on Bobby Bowden’s first team at FSU. I learned so much from Coach Bowden about team unity, preparation, dedication, and what it takes to be a winner – but it was my first three seasons where I learned about life. You see, Coach Bowden was my third head coach – [because] we stunk! My freshman year, we went 0-11. By my senior year, only a handful of us had stuck it out. I learned that sports, like life, doesn’t always go your way and you learn as much, if not more, from adversity. In my advocate/activist journey, I’ve learned the odds are usually stacked against the victims and survivors – [and that] the domestic violence and child abuse advocates that work in the trenches approach their work with same dedication, preparation, and unity that I learned on the gridiron. They are the true heroes in the movement to end all abuse.
NC: What do you hope Changemakers attendees take away from your talk?
VRR: My ultimate goal whenever I speak is that I will have inspired one person to look at the issues of family violence differently, to help someone break their own silence, to encourage someone to get involved locally, or if they’re able, to write a generous check. I hope that I represent the “end result” of the life-changing and life-saving work that organizations like Nebraska Children and Families Foundation are doing all across America. My high school community saved and rescued a homicidal, suicidal gang member: ME. Your community needs to know that they can and will make a difference.
NC: What’s been your favorite role as an actor?
VRR: I’ve been in a lot of fun and memorable films, but the film that changed me in so many ways was “Blood In/Blood Out.” It’s a Taylor Hackford film that follows the lives of three Chicano boys from East L.A. One of the boys takes the wrong path and ends up in San Quentin, the maximum security prison in Northern California. The prison scenes were shot in San Quentin in the prison population. We were not protected or guarded. The men in the scenes with us are the real convicts serving their time. As I walked around San Quentin, I realized “there but for the grace of God.” That could have and should have been me! The overwhelming majority of the men incarcerated in our prison systems started out as witnesses and victims of family violence. The other common denominator is literacy; 7 out of 10 inmates have trouble reading and writing. That’s why we need to reach these men and women before they get there, like my community did with me.
Register now to save your seat at Changemakers on Sept. 12.