He overcame homelessness, addiction and incarceration and today, Victor Rivera runs the Bronx Parent Housing Network and recently launched a soup kitchen.
In January, Rivera opened Manhattan’s Loving Arms Soup Kitchen on First Avenue between East 85th and 86th streets. He hopes to open one in the Bronx soon.
Rivera, 59, who lives in Rockland, was born and raised in the south Bronx by his single mom Gloria, along with his four siblings.
While today he is happy and healthy, he endured many hardships when younger.
“I grew up in times when there were no good role models,” Rivera told the Bronx Times.
At 138th and Brook Avenue, drug dealers were everywhere. In fact, the first time he smoked marijuana was at age 5.
He recalled how one night for dinner things were so bad that they there was one plate of rice and two eggs for everyone.
At 7 he began bagging groceries and using that money to support his mom, who had chronic asthma.
“I didn’t want to be on welfare,” he said.
But, a couple years later they moved to Castle Hill and his life took a turn for the worse. It was there that he joined the drug scene.
At 10-years-old he started selling weed and cocaine and eventually dropped out of school at 14.
A year later he had his own apartment and by 17, two children.
“That began the life of drug dealing,” he explained. “Those days it (drug dealing) was normal, that’s what you knew.”
In 1979 he met crack cocaine. He sold it, but soon began using.
“It became the love and ending of my life,” he explained.
Eventually, his addiction led to him being homeless from age 22 to 28. He was incarcerated twice during that time.
He recalled seeing his daughter, Thania, visit him in jail crying and it broke his heart.
Everything changed September 15, 1990 at his son Victor’s 14th birthday. Rivera was doing crack when Victor asked him for a quarter.
”He said ‘dad’ again and my son looked at me with disgust in his face,” Rivera recalled.
Since that day, 29 years ago, he has been clean and turned his life around.
But, Rivera told the Bronx Times he never saw himself as more than a drug dealer. He was illiterate.
Fortunately, he met Yolanda Rivera, the CEO of Banana Kelly Community Improvement Association, who believed in him.
She got him a job as an outreach coordinator for drug addicts and helped him take night classes, where he learned how to read and write.
He kept pushing himself and got his GED and bachelor’s and master’s degrees in public administration and policy. In two more years he expects to have a PhD.
He worked for Banana Kelly from 1990 to 2002 and in 2001, launched the Bronx Parent Housing Network.
Rivera is grateful to everyone that helped him.
“It makes me have faith in God. It makes me very humble,” he said.