Richard Reyes is the founder and executive director of PLUS ME Project. He is a social justice advocate who believes every story matters and enjoys facilitating content that uplifts both youth and adults. He has shared his personal journey of becoming the first person in his family to earn a college degree with over 100,000 students throughout the United States. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Critical Theory and Social Justice from Occidental College and his master’s degree in Educational Foundations from California State University, Los Angeles.
PLUS ME Project is a community partner in Los Angeles that empowers middle and high school youth to build their confidence for college, career, and community advancement by teaching the art of storytelling. We provide personal narrative presentations, workshops, and training sessions for students, parents, and educators. Our goal is to ensure everyone realizes their story matters.
Richard grew up about a mile away from Occidental. A lot of his family members attended a high school where their graduation was at Occidental. Something about constantly walking through the environment, he felt like he was missing out on being there. The second element, when he was looking for colleges, the major Critical Theory and Social Justice stood out to him. There were no other colleges that offered this course so he knew Occidental was the place for him.
After Richard’s lung collapsed a few times, he applied to Occidental for the first time. He remembers on his 20th birthday, he got rejected. Something in him said he had to apply again. The second time he applied, he got in! He was the first one in his family to attend a 4 year university. He transferred in the Spring time so there weren’t very many new students. He felt kind of like an outcast.
A moment happened a few weeks into the semester. He was there his normal 15 minutes early and two girls sat down. Since Occy is a very small school, they were curious who he was since they knew everyone. He shared his story and the girls responded “that’s such a cool story”
That moment was the first time that Richard thought, “Wow, maybe I do have a story. My story might be different and might be able to inspire someone.”
It sparked something in Richard that his story matters. He sat down and put something together. He asked if he could go back to his high school and share his story. This was back in 2010, and where it all started.
Start Writing Your Story
Creating stories became the second evolution of the Plus Me project. Students don’t necessarily know they have a story. They can’t just hear from someone and know what their story is. The Storytellers Plus me Program provides all of the tools to help individuals discover their story. It breaks down the elements of story using the process of journaling and self-reflection.
“When you start sharing pieces of your story, even if you think it’s not special at all, when you share it with others and others are able to hear it and respond, you start to realize that little piece you thought didn’t make a difference at all can make a big impact on someone else.”
Impact on Students
When Plus Me first launched 7 years ago, Richard always had a goal to be able to provide some form of financial assistance to students. This past year, Plus Me was able to have their first scholarship opportunity where students submitted their story and shared them on stage live in front of an audience. They had so many applications and were able to select 5 of them. Many of the audience members were in tears hearing the stories of resilience.
At the end, two of the students brought their families to meet Richard. The parents just wanted to thank him for providing some small financial resources for the students. Not only was it amazing to see the impact it had on the parents, but also for the student to own his narrative in front of an audience.
Did you think starting this project would have this kind of impact on kids?
Not at all. He just thought, they’ll hear my story hopefully they’ll be inspired by it and maybe change their lifestyle. It’s done so much more!
A myth with being courageous in pursuing your dreams
A myth is that you know when it’s time to be courageous or make that leap. Sometimes you might not know if you’re ready to take that leap. Communicate with other people and talk to them. They can see something in us that we might not see in ourselves.
Do you feel like you’ve inspired your close family and friends to go for their dreams now that they’ve seen you do it?
Every person after him in his family has attended a 4 year college. Also, his sister has been able to watch him take a leap as an entrepreneur. She shared with him that she wanted to open a community pottery studio in L.A. The studio has been open for the last 3 years. It happened because they believed in each other and took that step together.
Elevating Latino voices
What he can do is make sure the team he puts together represents the communities they serve. The Plus Me project really has a diverse Board of Directors and facilitators that looks like individuals they’re serving. He’s building a community of connection.
Whenever you are battling those voices in your head, the positive voice vs. the negative voice, it’s so important to take a deep breath then take the risk of what the positive voice is encouraging you to do no matter how scared you are. Every time Richard took the risk, he grew the most and found the most success because of those risks he took.
Genuinely find the resources that are out there. Don’t feel like you’re alone on the journey. You don’t have to conquer it on your own. There are so many resources out there like nonprofit for dummies which Richard used when starting Plus Me!
What are you doing right now to Courage Up?
In a pandemic, we’re doing things we’ve never done before, taking huge risks without knowing what the results will be.
Concept of reframing. Reframing thought patterns. When negative thought patterns come in, shift that immediately.
I was Here by Beyonce
Truth by Iyanla Vanzant
Connect With Richard:
Facebook: The Plus Me Project
Twitter: The Plus Me Project
LinkedIn: The Plus Me Project
Youtube: The Plus Me Project
Connect With Ming:
Facebook: Ming Shelby
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