Ex-gang leader writes award-winning motivational speech to help others break the cycle of violence

Vivar joined Toastmasters, an international public speaking organization, to re-direct his life path.

“My name is Jose Alejandro Vivar. I am no longer a drug dealer or a gangster. I am a writer, an active father, personal trainer, a Toastmaster. I am a free man.”  - Vivar’s Toastmasters speech

Jose Vivar was just 13 when he began carrying a gun and dealing drugs in his local neighbourhood park, Christie Pits. Over the next decade, he rose through the ranks becoming leader of the gang LA (Latino Americano) Boys in Toronto’s west end. He was tried and acquitted of the 2002 murder of Gary Malo, the reputed leader of the rival Christie Boys Gang in 2004.

His life of crime came to a halt in 2007 when Toronto police arrested Vivar, along with six others, and seized 10 kilograms of cocaine, $130,000 in cash and six handguns, including a rare .50 calibre Desert Eagle similar to the gun owned by ex-Iraq leader Saddam Hussein.

“As soon as I got put in the cop car, a part of me felt relief because I don't have to live that life anymore, and I knew it was done. I knew it was done,” recalls Vivar.

While he served eight years of his ten-year sentence, Vivar used fitness to turn his life around. He became a certified fitness instructor and developed an innovative new program he named 25/7 Fitness, which is featured in the CBC Docs POV film, Prison Pump. He also started an inmate writing group and joined Toastmasters, an international public speaking and leadership organization to redirect his life path. 

With his speech — called “The Most Valuable Gift”  — Vivar beat 30,000 participants from 142 countries to compete with 100 others at the 2017 World Championship event in Vancouver. “I hope my journey will inspire those in prison to work, work, work and achieve their destiny,” said Vivar. )

His powerful speech touches on the themes of resilience, perseverance and the power to change. Listen to it above.