St. James parishioner encourages teens, young adults
Such are the criteria to be on William Estremera’s “Stop the Madness Latino Show” radio broadcast in the greater Richmond area each Sunday evening. Estremera, a parishioner at St. James the Greater in Hopewell, hosts the program that can be evangelical without preaching.
During the show, Estremera plays Latin genre music and interviews renowned and up-and-coming Hispanic musicians, singers and actors, and occasionally a local politician. Some topics broached in the interviews have been their struggles to be successful, how their faith has played a role in their lives and how having a positive mindset has helped them.
A youth mentor component brings in two to three different high-school students or young adults each month to participate in the program. They are primarily from the cluster parishes, which also include St. John Nepomucene, Dinwiddie, and Church of the Sacred Heart, Prince George, but participation may open to youth and young adults from other Catholic parishes in the Richmond area.
The teens and young adults learn about the nuts and bolts of the studio, help interview the show’s guests and talk off-mic with Estremera about themselves, their goals and the steps they need to take to achieve those dreams. Estremera assures them that they are just as capable and worthy of attaining their aspirations as anyone else.
That’s a message he didn’t hear often growing up.
Born in New Jersey in 1971, Estremera is the second oldest of four children. The family moved so frequently between New Jersey and Puerto Rico when he was growing up that he went to six elementary and two high schools, most of them Catholic. He has been Catholic since childhood, going regularly to Sunday Masses from childhood through adulthood. As a child, he was an altar boy and in youth group.
Estremera said he “grew up on the streets of New Jersey” in minority neighborhoods where after-school and social programs were scarce. Because there was no park nearby, he and his friends played games in the street, sometimes being quite creative when they fashioned a basketball court out of a milk carton on a pole.
Attending a summer program as a child at the YMCA where his sister was frequently “hit on” sparked a childhood of fighting. He stood up to bullies and fought so frequently that he jested if his mother had enrolled him in boxing classes, he would have become a world champion. He was expelled from his Catholic high school for fighting and had to attend public school for his junior and senior years.
Normally the only Hispanic student in his classes, he said nuns at Catholic schools made him think he couldn’t do anything right, that he was always in the wrong.
Opportunity to mentor
Estremera’s first mentoring experience came when he joined the military in 1991. Through the years, his superiors took him under their wing, doling out responsibilities so he could progress to the next position. He adopted Army values — loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and courage.
As he advanced in rank, he mentored other soldiers. Now, after 27 years in the military, he wants to mentor youth. He said his radio show provides a path to do so.
Karen Ardez, a freshman at John Tyler Community College who attends Sacred Heart Parish, said Estremera told her not to let anybody tell her “what to do and what not to do.”
Heidi Martinez, a 10th grader at Dinwiddie High School who also attends Sacred Heart, said her favorite part of working with Estremera was talking with him because he was relatable, energetic and genuinely interested in her life. The evening was full of laughs, smiles and touching music that was “really bumping you up the whole time.”
Laden with Christian values
Estremera draws on years of experience in the music industry to make “Stop the Madness Latino Show” a success.
From 1989 – 1991, he was a background dancer and then road manager for singer Jaidie Torres. When he was in the military, he was stationed in 11 countries and seven states where the installations had few opportunities for Latino entertainment.
He became a DJ in the Latin genre for functions and on base locales such as clubs and bowling alleys. He also got involved in music promotion and management as he coordinated Latino events and helped with activities such as Hispanic Heritage Month.
Estremera, who funds “Stop the Madness Latino Show” himself, said he thoroughly researches performers before inviting them on the show to ensure they will share positive messages. During the interviews, the guests often talk about their Christian values and the importance of prayer and faith.
“That’s the kind of message I am trying to put out there,” he said.
Father Joseph Goldsmith, administrator of the cluster parishes, said that in one interview, the teens asked a salsa singer about his faith. He told them that whenever he is on tour, he and his wife find a Catholic church to attend for Mass. He also shared the importance of staying strong in faith and keeping God first.
“That kind of testimony is priceless,” Father Goldsmith said. “This is evangelization. This is where faith becomes real.”
Reaching Church’s ‘endangered species’
Although the show isn’t a direct extension of the parish, programs like “Stop the Madness Latino Show” may make the Church more attractive to “our endangered species of young people who are walking away from the Church in droves because they don’t think that it’s relevant,” Father Goldsmith said.
That could prove true for Nelson Reyes from St. Augustine, Chesterfield. He described his experience with the show as “beautiful” and life-changing. The timid 18-year-old from Guatemala was inspired when actor Joel Roman, describing his path to success, said he didn’t think he would “amount to much.” Impressed, Reyes is coming out of his shell. He said he’s “already seeing changes” in himself as he is more confident talking to people.
“Does that help him convert his entire life to become a more obedient Catholic and love Jesus in the sacraments?” Father Goldsmith rhetorically asked. “Right now, no, but in the long run, yes.”
He said the evangelization on the program is not forced.
“What [Estremera is] doing just flows from who he is. He is very comfortable with his Catholic identity,” the priest said.
Emily Portillo Beltran, a freshman at John Tyler Community College and Sacred Heart parishioner, said the evening was “an eye-opener” as they talked about greed. She realized that the impetus of her pursuit of a degree in neuroscience should be her desire to cure disease rather than attain wealth.
“We always have to seek to be Christ-like, and Christ was not greedy. He did not look for the money in things. His biggest motivation was saving his people,” she said. “It brought me back a little bit to how it is to be like Christ and who he is. It was a nice reminder.”
Beltran said Estremera is a mentor in that he “spent a lot of a lot of his time in the military and is now spending the rest of his life working for other people.” She praised him for “having the courage to do what he wants, what makes him happy and to believe in himself.”
Father Goldsmith explained that getting youth involved with the Church takes “hard work and focus.” He continued,“ Real evangelization should be attractive. It should draw people. It should touch them in their imagination and their instincts. It should connect with them at a deeper level.”
Beltran said her meeting with Estremera did connect on that deeper level. His attitude and success made her believe in herself and gave her the confidence to “take a leap to do what I believe in.” It convinced her she is capable of success.
Editor’s note: “Stop the Madness Latino Show” is broadcast Sundays from 6 – 8 p.m. on Ultra Radio Richmond, 94.1 FM, 1540 AM and 1480 AM.