Robert Roberson

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Robert Roberson

Youth Adviser
Violence-Free Zone
Milwaukee, Wis.
(414) 294-2490

Age: 30

Salary: Between $30,000 and $35,000.

My Organization: The Violence-Free Zone is an initiative of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, which assists community organizations around the country. The project recruits youth advisers to work at public high schools in the neighborhoods where they grew up as a way to help reduce school violence and raise attendance. Roberson’s branch of the Violence-Free Zone in Milwaukee is one of six sites the project serves nationwide.

“Our goal is to assist schools targeted with behavior problems, which include both violent and nonviolent concerns,” said Roberson. “Overall, we just try to make the school a safe place for the children to learn and receive instructions.”

My Job: Roberson and six other advisers at Bay View High School monitor 150 specific students, checking their grades, attendance and incident referrals. What makes the project unique, according to Roberson, is that it requires him to take on a variety of roles, in a process he calls “kind of social work, kind of mentoring.”

“We assist with anything that represents a barrier for the students, really, from receiving their education,” he said. That includes working with teachers, providing security and administration to ensure safety whenever there is a large gathering of students, taking part in mediations to prevent fights, doing hall sweeps, tutoring and running an after-school program. And if a fight does occur, Roberson is called in to break it up – physically, if necessary.

How I Got Here: After graduating from Bay View High School in 1997, Roberson earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he studied social work and minored in youth development. While in college, he worked at Math and Science Upward Bound as a senior academic adviser, counseling high school students who lived on a college campus during the summer. Roberson has worked at his alma mater for nearly three years.

Best Part of My Job: “It has to be the end result. Being able to see someone go from when you first met them – they were so angry … and didn’t really understand about life and what they wanted to do – to all of a sudden they’re thinking about college and thinking about having fun in better ways than seeing someone fight or to go out and do a crime.”

Worst Part of My Job: “The really difficult thing for me is when I first meet someone who has anger issues. They are so raw. They will curse you out. They might try to attack you,” Roberson said. “It’s really difficult to see that … from someone who might be so young and so talented and really smart.”

Most Memorable Moment: Roberson was once attempting to stop a fight and the student, whom he did not know, attacked him. When the student returned from suspension, Roberson asked to work with him. Although he initially rejected Roberson’s efforts, the two eventually bonded over their interest in football. Roberson said the student went from having a 0.0 GPA to graduating last year with a 2.7 GPA and attending a college in Minnesota.

Benefits of Working at His Alma Mater: “What makes this program so effective is the fact that we are from this area, and from a lot of the neighborhoods that the kids grew up in,” Roberson said. “Sometimes, when you walk into a school, there are 50 or 75 kids that you already know from the city. We have that background. We know what they’re going through; they know we know what they’re going through. And we can help them from that point.”