For Anthony Roberson, his job as a detective in Providence, Rhode Island doesn’t end when he clocks out of his shift, nor do his duties lie solely in police investigations and arrests. He believes his job is also to help build and maintain a positive relationship between his city’s law enforcement officers and community members.
This mentality toward his work has led to Roberson, who is a 17-year veteran in law enforcement, creating and implementing community initiatives focused on providing support for Providence’s youth. Several times a year, Roberson organizes events to provide deserving youth with everything from school supplies to bicycles and helmets, from mentorship to career advice. For over five years, Roberson has positively impacted the lives of hundreds of children, as well as their families, law enforcement and those living in the communities he serves.
For his dedication to going above and beyond his role in making his community a better and safer place to live, Anthony is today’s Daily Point of Light recipient. Points of Light spoke with him to learn more about how his initiatives help kids in his community.
Can you describe the initiatives you are involved in?
I have several initiatives that I do from all throughout the year, for the last five or six years now. One of my initiatives is the Handshake Initiative. I get all male role models and they come from all walks of life — college professors, police officers, detectives, correctional officers, educators, business owners, member of the community, you name it, and they make up my Handshake Initiative. A lot of times these young people, they see on the news a lot of negative media as it relates to people and on social media, and a lot of times they don’t have a positive male role model in their lives to look up to. So I came up with the idea to call upon who I think are role models and ask them if they can come to the school, with a suit and tie or in their uniform that they work in, to greet the kids in the morning. It sounds like a simple exercise but it comes off so great. We line the front of the doors before the kids go in. Two weeks prior to that the principal lets the student body know who all these men are. They get off the buses, their parents drop them off. They funnel in between us, so we’re talking anywhere between 500 to 1,500 students, and we give them high fives, applause, encouragement at the beginning of their school day. It goes off so well. Some of the guys are fathers, some aren’t, but they all turn into fathers that day. It’s really a sight to see. Even the parents who are dropping off their kids, they’re beaming from ear to ear, smiling to see such an image go on. As a follow up, one of those male role models, they get with the principal and the principal selects a group of students who the male role model continues to network with, build with, throughout the school year. I started out with 44 men and it’s grown to just about over 200. It goes off so well. When I think about it, first of all I tip my hat off to all the volunteers, because everybody is busy but I call them and they take the time. Some of the men come with their kids. When you see it, it is a sight to see.
From that one school I did that, so far I’ve done it 17 times in three different cities and I get calls all the time to bring the male role models there.
What inspired you to start the Handshake Initiative?
I’m a detective for my profession, and I often encounter households whether there are either no male role models for the young boys to look up to, or they gravitate toward maybe some local male who happens to not be doing the right thing. Sometimes they feel they have no alternative to turn to, and this is not an isolated incident. In my community, I see it a lot and I know it’s all throughout the country. I wanted these young boys to see there are positive role models, that you’re able to come into law enforcement, education, the criminal justice system, own your own business, to get into governmental affairs. You’re able to become all these things. So once they saw us and interacted with us on a number of levels, I think it really gave them a new perspective. I know if I would have seen that at that age, I would have have been like, woah, what is this? I just never knew.
Can you talk to me about your other initiatives?
My next one is my Shop with a Cop Initiative. I think in order to reach short-term objectives and long-term goals for the community at large, they have to be done together. So in addressing community relations, I wanted to strengthen the relationship between law enforcement and the communities they serve. So I had an idea. I went to a small business, because small businesses are a part of the community. I told them I wanted to pair up police officers with kids from all around the city and engage in a shopping spree, and if they were willing to offer a dinner for two for me to raffle off. They said absolutely yes, so that way I got the small business involved. Then I went to a large business because they’re also a stakeholder. I’ve done this at Walmart and Old Navy, but the first time was at Walmart. So I went to Walmart, I sat down with the people in charger over there, and I told them exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to have that shopping spree at Walmart. They were like woah, we’re in, absolutely. They even threw in a little grant money. So my next steps were to raffle off the dinner. I went everywhere and raised enough funds in order to give approximately 25 kids — this is the first time — 150 dollars each to go on a shopping spree. When it came to the police officers, I called them one by one, ‘Hey, what are you doing Saturday? Do you mind pairing up with a kid, take him shopping, talk to him, give him some advice?’ They said absolutely. My next step was to go to every school within the city of Providence. When I went to every school I asked the principal or the guidance counselor to elect kids, not necessarily with the highest grades, but kids really doing their thing. They’re coming to school everyday and they’re putting in the work. I taxed them with selecting those children. So that way I got another stakeholder involved, and that was the schools. Of course when they selected the kids, they have the legal guardian or parent come with the kid.
My thought process was — the shopping spree, absolutely great, it was needed, because Providence is a poor community. It was needed. My mission and goal was to have all these stakeholders in the same place and at the same time interacting with each other. The day of, at Walmart we had almost 200 people. The teachers came, the small business owners came, we had 30 police officers, dozens of kids, and I paired them all up. The shopping spree was great but it was that interaction. I wanted the kid to humanize the police officer as much as I wanted the police officer to meet that kid, and meet him when something is not happening, he’s not responding to some call for service or type of emergency. It went off great, it went excellent. My first one was about six years ago. I’ve done it every year since, twice a year, over at Walmart and Old Navy. Those relationships with those police officers, to this day, they say ‘Oh, I keep in touch with this kid, I keep in touch with that kid.’ I think the takeaways are beneficial for everyone.
I have my Leading Ladies Initiative. I thought attention is needed everywhere, and I thought, man, not that it’s not needed, but a lot of the attention goes to the boys. I thought, you know what, I want to do something for the young ladies out there. So with my Leading Ladies Initiative, I selected women from several professions, 12 all in all. Real estate, banking, education. I partnered these women up with the nonprofit world. Then I in turn partnered those women up with young ladies roughly around 16 years of age. I called New York & Company and I told them I wanted to pair up professional women with young ladies to take them shopping in order to know what to wear in a job setting versus maybe going out to have fun. How to conduct yourself, how to speak, how to address people when you’re on a job interview. New York & Company said that’s great, so I got 12 gift certificates from New York & Company and they in part gave somewhat of discount. The day came, I partnered up these women with the young ladies, and they gave them tips on interviewing skills, how to conduct yourself in the work setting, how to speak properly, eye contact, and then they proceeded to both go shopping for professional clothing for the young ladies. That was fun. That was the only one I stepped out because I don’t know anything about the shopping. I said ‘I’ll step back here in the corner.’ But that was fun.
And my last initiative that I do is my Summer Safety Initiative. So with my Summer Safety Initiative, I was able to get some grant money where I selected kids who might not necessarily be able to afford a bike and helmet. I was able to get enough grant money where I got 25 kids from around the city, and we went to a department store where they were able to pick out their own bikes and helmets. In addition to that, I had each child go with a police officer again, because I thought it was a great opportunity to build and mend and strengthen those bridges in law enforcement and the community they serve.
What inspires you to create all these initiatives related to younger kids?
I’ve got to say, when I see these younger kids, teenagers and so forth, inside the community I serve, I see myself. I see myself and I think what could have benefited me during those years of growing up. Not just me, but other people who I grew up with inside those neighborhoods. As I entered law enforcement, I felt I wanted to strengthen those relationships. I’m back in the community, but I’m back in a law official capacity. Of course arrests and investigations are a part of my job, that goes hand in hand. But in the bigger picture, I envision my role as improving the quality of life for others. That’s my role. Those are the tools on my belt. I work for the communities I serve. When the clock ends and I get out of work, I engage in my service. I almost feel like it’s selfish because of the gratification I get out of it. When you help someone and [you see] the joy on their face, it’s invaluable.
Have you seen a longterm impact on the kids who have been a part of these initiatives?
Absolutely. It’s so great. At least every couple weeks I’m bumping into both the kids and their parents who are 10 year olds who are now 15, 15 year olds now in their 20s. They’re coming up to me and, to be honest, I may not necessarily remember them all because you’re dealing with a lot of people and it’s me doing all the organizing of getting everyone together, it kind of goes by quick. But it feels really good when they’re saying thank you for doing that, and just randomly. On another front, these are long term, so we’re talking about months and years later, the families and the mothers and fathers are thanking me as well. I think it lends itself to improving the relationship between law enforcement and the communities they serve as well.
The police officers tell me months and years later that they’re still in contact with these young people and they’re doing good. It’s really amazing.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?
The relationships that are built between law enforcement and the community. It’s an intangible result that you can’t quantify, but you see it. It feels like it slightly changes the world’s view in this sense of even some of the officers and definitely the kids and, fortunately enough, their parents as well.
What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?
I’ve learned that interaction breaks down barriers. Proximity, although a simple exercise, is not done often enough. When it is facilitated, all those preconceived notions people have of each other fall to the wayside.
What do you want people to learn from your story?
I would want people to learn from my story that helping others is truly a treasure. We all want to do different things in our different professions but at the end of the day, I think during that journey or perhaps toward the end, we want to circle back around and help others. Once you do that, I think you become richer for it.
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