TheGrio’s 100: Terrance Roberts, keeping Denver students out of gangs

TheGrio's 100 - Terrance Roberts tells high school students they'll have 700 days after joining a gang until they're in a cemetery or a wheelchair. For Roberts, it was the latter...

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Terrance Roberts tells high school students they’ll have 700 days after joining a gang until they’re in a cemetery or a wheelchair. For Roberts, it was the latter. In 1993, the then-member of Denver’s Bloods gang was shot in the back. After 11 years behind bars, he launched Prodigal Son Initiative, an after-school program for at-risk youth, where he keeps kids off the streets and from following in his footsteps.

Terrance Roberts is making history … by trying to interrupt history repeating. Like the kids Roberts works with, he grew up in a tough Denver neighborhood, where school participation was low and gang involvement was high. At 14 years old, Roberts ran away from his Park Hill home, where he lived with a mother who was struggling with a drug addiction, to join the Bloods gang, one of the predominant, more violent gangs in Denver. He was 23-years-old when he was shot by a rival gang while he walked out of a crack house, and soon found himself prison, where he spent more than a decade.

After realizing that he could spend the rest of his life in prison for his affiliation, Roberts resolved to change his own life, and do his best to help others from following in his dangerous teenage decisions. Prodigal Son Initiative offers 50 to 70 young people from troubled neighborhoods an after-school refuge, Mondays through Thursdays, where the kids are kept active and learning — basketball, martial arts, cooking, and more. Roberts also speaks to thousands of young people each year to tell them his story, and remind them that, if they join a gang, they only have 700 days.

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What’s next for Terrance …

Roberts plans to grow The Prodigal Son Initiative to other cities, including Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The nonprofit is also redeveloping inner city communities with small projects, like two recently-installed basketball courts at a gang retaliation arson site, for which Roberts partnered with the Denver Nuggets and Denver Parks and Recreation. In the same arson site, they will add chess tables and a gazebo, a playground and the biggest Peace Mural in the U.S.

“I am working on a committee with the land owners to insure that the future redevelopment is what is needed in the community,” Roberts told theGrio. “We want to turn blighted community areas into community gathering locations and large outdoor art projects for the kids. Our eventual plans are to do this nationally and in cities in the Caribbean like Jamaica and Haiti.””

In his own words …

“I am doing my best to never let my community be ignored, overlooked or forgotten,” Roberts told theGrio. “I am from Park Hill, which is the epicenter and lifeblood of African-American culture and lifestyle in Denver. I strive for excellence as our forefathers had to in order to garner attention and respect for our people and culture. Running my business with professionalism and progress is an example of celebrating black history to me. Making sure I put an intelligent face on African-Americans wherever I go is another way I celebrate our history and accomplishments every single day, and in every situation I find myself in.”

A little-known fact …

According to a 2007 report by the Council on Crime and Delinquency, African-American youth represent 38 percent of the nearly 100,000 adolescents in local detention and state correctional systems. They represent 16 percent of the adolescent population in the United States. In each category of offense, African-American youth are over-represented.

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