SACRAMENTO – Vans bearing the logo of the Roberts Family Development Center (RFDC) typically transport area youth to different activities throughout town. One recently took North area residents to San Francisco to see how the city integrated a homeless shelter into a community there — as Sacramento was proposing to do in their neighborhood. Their tour guide was RFDC co-founder Derrell Roberts.
“Nobody asked him to do that,” said his wife and fellow co-founder, Tina Roberts.
“Just the mere fact that he cared enough on his day off to use one of our vans, that impressed the heck out of me,” she continued.
Derrell Roberts says he was simply helping the community he calls home.
“You’ve got to be willing to step out as leaders and talk about the things that others don’t want to talk about,” he said.
For their continued willingness to champion causes for the community, their achievements throughout the year and their continued commitment to providing services for children and families in North Sacramento and beyond, Derrell and Tina Roberts have been chosen by THE OBSERVER as its 2017 Persons of the Year.
“For me, it’s not just looking at what we do for the center, but globally, what we do for the community where we live and our investment in how we want other people to have access to all the things they should have access to. For me, that puts a whole different take on investing in where we live,” Tina Roberts said.
The Robertses have been investing in North Sacramento for more than 15 years, running the RFDC and steadily building its after-school programs, summer camps and parent empowerment programs. They’ve also built a steady reputation as leaders and mentors. One can regularly find them both speaking at meetings of the City Council, the County Board of Supervisors and the Sacramento City Unified School District.
The past year has been a busy one for them. Among their highlights for 2017 are being the lead organization for the Black Child Legacy Campaign’s Del Paso Heights/North Sacramento focus area. It’s the first full year of working to reduce the number of African American child deaths in Sacramento County by 10 to 20 percent by 2020.
They’re also proud of College Bound Babies, a preschool program they operate at several local low-income housing complexes. They work to prepare children for kindergarten and beyond, while also helping parents to see the value of education in their own lives and its ability to help them provide for their families.
The Robertses divvy up roles and responsibilities at RFDC based on which one of them is best/most knowledgeable about a particular thing.
“There are times when I just have to move out of the way and shut up,” Derrell Roberts said jokingly.
Tina Roberts is the RFDC’s “point person” for both the Black Child Legacy and College Bound Babies projects.
“The Black Child Legacy is sort of coming full circle for me. My background is in maternal and child health. For 15 years, I oversaw the Birthing Project Clinic; our mission there was to help African American women have healthy babies,” Tina Roberts shared.
Similar to the Birthing Project’s Sisterfriend program that paired an expectant mother with a mentor, the Black Child Legacy Campaign will have what’s called cultural brokers. Families will be paired with an advocate to help them navigate their way through social services.
“It’s all focused on families,” Tina Roberts said. “For us having those two pieces this year has been really critical.”
In addition to those “babies,” Tina Roberts also serves with Valley Vision, a volunteer board made up of some of the region’s top leaders who seek to provide “community inspired solutions.”
“Her background in the past now allows her, not only in her role as our agency co-founder, but also our agency representative to the County, the County Board of Supervisors and to other agencies, to be a knowledgeable person to talk about what’s missing and how can we do this differently from a community perspective,” Derrell Roberts shared.
“That’s been our strength. Our ability and longevity now gives us the ability to represent our community and say ‘this is what’s needed for our community,’” he added.
Other 2017 highlights include participating in the Night Life Turned Right effort to reduce crime and violence. In its third year, it features entertainment, sports and enrichment classes at the Robertson Community Center during summer evenings.
“Stats from the police department (show) that crime and violence during the summer the last two years have gone down,” Derrell Roberts said of the event’s impact.
Roberts also shared how excited he is to see RFDC serve as a catalyst for other organizations to also serve the community.
“For us, the best part of this is seeing other organizations come to the table and participate in activities that are designed to benefit the community. Night Life Turned Right being one of those; the Martin Luther King March being one of those,” he said.
“That activity has allowed our community to develop other leaders and other organizations that are now stepping up and seeing where they fit. Maybe once upon a time we might have been that organization, but we have organizations — the Urban League, Mutual Assistant Network, lately it’s been Brother to Brother, Sisters To Sisters, Community Mothers of 95838. That’s the pride we have now. We have watched others over the last few years stepping up and leading,” Derrell Roberts added.
Among those they’ve mentored over the years are Rolanda Wilkins and Greg King — each now runs their own nonprofits. Ms. Wilkins’ Earth Mama Healing offers programs for girls at schools throughout Sacramento. It’s also a community partner agency with the Black Child Legacy Campaign.
“I’ve known Tina since I was 18 years old,” Ms. Wilkins shared.
“She has been a great mentor and example to me of leadership, healthy marriage and building institutions for future generations to live and thrive in better days. She and Derrell always have supported young adults like myself and continue to expose and lift me up with compassion, love and family support,” she continued.
King agrees, saying that the Robertses deserve a standing ovation for their efforts.
“The impact on my agency from the support that I have received from Derrell and Tina, you can’t measure it; it’s so deep, it’s so far,” King said.
“They have helped Always Knocking to understand and accept the fact that as a service provider, a lot of people will come to depend on you, so they always tell me to make sure I make good and wise decisions and to be very flexible. The entire community of Sacramento has received some type of support or service from the Roberts Family Development Center and that’s because of the warm heart that they have,” King added.
This year has also seen the continued success of Freedom Schools, RFDC’s summer literacy program. It is in several local school districts and will likely add another site, the Fruitridge Community Collaborative, in the near future.
Through a partnership with Sacramento State, the RFDC produced a book this year that highlighted the words and artwork of Freedom School students.
Freedom Schools has also been an opportunity for the Roberts to train young people who run the program at its various sites. Among these young people, seen as the next generation of leaders, may be the people who take over from the Robertses, when they decide to retire. It’s important, they say, to identify and train folks to take over eventually and take their vision to the next level.
“That might be in the next three to five years, that might be in five to 10 years, but whenever that is, it’s their turn and we’re out of the way,” Derrell Roberts said.
The Robertses have racked up a number of accolades over the years including the Community Partners award from the Sacramento Bar Association, the UC Davis Chancellor’s Achievement Award for Diversity in the Community, the Sacramento Black Chamber of Commerce Community Service Award and will likely earn more before they’re all said and done.
“For us getting recognized for things is nice, but the reality is, this is what we should be doing and we hope that our work allows others to see that this work can be done,” Derrell Roberts added.
THE OBSERVER proudly salutes Derrell and Tina Roberts as the 2017 “Persons of the Year.”
By Genoa Barrow
OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer