“If I was going to share my story with others, I wanted to tell it from a place of power not pain.”
April Hernandez Castillo, mostly known for her roles in Freedom Writers, Law & Order and Dexter is the Hollywood star turned vocalist. Born in the Bronx, New York, April was raised in a strict but loving Puerto Rican household who always supported her aspirations. She began her career with a unique style and attitude as a stand-up comedian where her humour, vulnerability and charisma captivated her audiences.
Today, April now uses her platform to motivate and inspire audiences across the country from all walks of life to inspire hope, strength and bold faith. As a survivor of domestic violence, she has become spokeswoman for the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence and a nationally recognised activist and social entrepreneur. She has taken her knowledge and uses the stage to empower youth, encouraging them to always recognise their voice is their voice.
What was the most valuable lesson you were taught in your upbringing?
I was taught so many lessons in my home but there were a few my parents ingrained in my head. The first one was never judge a person because you never know their story. Second, was the way you treat yourself is how people will treat you. So I have always made sure that whoever I come across feels as if they have my full attention. Especially if it pertains to my fans. I meet so many people I really do try me best to be attentive to everyone.
The Freedom Writers was a movie that brought unity between different backgrounds and cultures, in the realms of a classroom, through the idea of pursuing education beyond high school. What did it mean to you to be a part of The Freedom Writers production? Did it impact you in any way?
Freedom Writers changed my life forever. That experience does not come around very often especially for an actor. We felt like we (the actors) were like family. We all had our own personal stories to share and Freedom Writers gave us the platform to express ourselves. I don’t believe I would have ever considered becoming a public speaker if it were not for the movie. Erin Gruwell was such an amazing speaker and her ability to communicate with the audience really captivated me in many ways.
In your new book, Your Voice Your Choice, you address your personal experiences with intimate partner violence and teen dating abuse. Your message can resonate with many women who are experiencing similar situations, but what would you like men to take away from it?
While writing my book Your Voice, Your Choice, I made sure that anyone would be able to read the book and walk away with something completely different. I have had several men reach out to me after reading the book and reveal they had been victims of domestic violence as children. For a grown man to be so moved by my book is just amazing and very humbling.
Often those who are victims of abuse feel ashamed to speak out. What gave you the courage to share your experiences?
I found the courage because of what God did in my life. He restored my soul in ways therapy never could. I also realised if I was going to share my story with others, I wanted to tell it from a place of power not pain. So began taking classes at Connect Institute in Manhattan and they really helped me understand what Intimate Partner Violence is. I needed to understand what I had experienced in my past relationship so I would be able to help others. I also understood the platform I had as far as an actor and having the ability to reach so many people. Freedom Writers was the tool to being able to reach the world!
You focus on listening to that inner voice that we all have. Some of us hear it, but don’t understand it and hence don’t really listen to it. How did you learn to trust yours and let it guide you?
I can say the inner voice definitely came from growing up in the Bronx. My parents made sure I was street smart and to always listen to that inner voice. No matter where I am in the world I always depend on that inner voice. You can say it is sort of my GPS in life!
Being a mother yourself and working closely with the youth in your community, what is the one change you would like to see among young people today?
One of the things I desire to see change amongst the youth is the yearning for knowledge. I come across so many youth that just don’t seem to care about anything but social media. I ask kids all the time “what are their dreams”? Some say they don’t have dreams at all which really breaks my heart. But I understand why they would say such a thing, because maybe they never had someone to teach them how to dream big. My parents taught me to dream big and never allow anyone to tell me no. So when I left my abusive relationship it was as if I had a deep fire inside me to pursue my dreams. Writing my book was my biggest dream. It took me over 15 years to finally write my book. But I have to say I wouldn’t have had it any other way.Dream Big. Be Bold. Take Risks..
Find out more about April by checking out her site www.voiceischoice.com