I could be on the path to make millions. I choose to be here with you.

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To: The community that raised me

From: Alex Robertson (written with Lauren Brill and Audra Frimpong)

Charity: Recess Cleveland

Sponsor: The Unsealed

To the community that raised me,

I often interchange the words community and family. Communities should watch out for each other. Families should watch out for each other. Communities should help each other out. Families should help each other out.

I remember during a kickball game in our community on August 9, 2016, a 65-year-old grandma was up to bat. We had these high schoolers that played on the basketball and football teams in the outfield because they had the best hands. When grandma was up to bat all of them took 10-20 steps forward and grandma kicked it over their heads.

They were running to get the ball and we were like, “Ahh! Granny got legs.”

She walked to first base like, “I still got it.”

It was that moment I knew we were onto something special.

But it took me years to not only get to that moment but to help create it.

Alex Robertson grew up in Glenville, Ohio.

I grew up in the Glenville neighborhood near the first of 99th and St. Clair. It is the east side of Cleveland. Glenville has a bad rep right now. It is highly segregated. But I want people to know our community isn’t how it’s often portrayed in the media. I brag that Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, one of Cleveland’s most famous hip hop groups  attended my second birthday party.

In fifth grade I got straight A’s at St. Aloysius. When school finished that year my mom told me I had to go to summer school. I qualified for The Reach Program, which is for gifted African-American students in the Cleveland area.  University School, a private school on 250 acres with a 50-million-dollar building, hosted the program. I did very well in the program and University School offered me a scholarship to attend as a full-time student.

University School was very different from our community. St. Aloysius was 98 percent African-American. University School was six percent black.

I remember my first day at University School.  While we were in The Reach Program my mom got into three car accidents. My aunt let her borrow a car that had been stolen.  It had some dents and scratches, but it drove fine.

When we pulled up to the circle I saw Lexuses, Beemers, Audis that were all brand new.  The cars cost more than 50-60 thousand dollars.

I was like, “Oh my goodness. What is going on?”

I asked my mom to park around the corner and she did.

Once I walked up to the school,  I was super intimidated. Nobody looked like me. It took me about three to four months to really get comfortable. Eventually, I realized it’s not where you come from, it is what you can do. I could still open up a book, memorize material, calculate and problem solve.

I did well at University School and applied early decision to Columbia University’s engineering school.

Alex celebrates graduating from Columbia University.

One day in December, after basketball practice, I called my grandma. She said you got a letter from Columbia.

I was like, “ Is it a big letter or little letter?”

She said, “I do not  know.”

I told her to open it and it said I was accepted.

It was one of the happiest days of my life.

 Eventually, I realized it’s not where you come from, it is what you can do.

I made 80k right out of college at UBS investment bank. By night I was just a party animal, making up for the partying I missed in college because I worked so hard.  I had zero cares in the world. I had no sense of community or what it meant to donate to a charity.

I ended up leaving UBS when the housing market crashed and I started my own marketing company and did various startups.

Randomly one day, while I happened to be visiting Cleveland, someone from our community development corporation knocked on my door.

They said, “Hey! We are starting this youth landscaping program. Would you like to be a part of it?”

At the time, I had this big boot on because I tore my achilles playing basketball at Euclid Creek Park. I couldn’t even walk.

He said, “It will pay 12 bucks an hour and you can ride your bike. You don’t have to do much but be a mentor to the kids.”

I took that offer. I wasn’t doing anything else.  And I got to meet some of the youth that grew up in our neighborhood, the neighborhood I grew up in ten years prior. One particular kid changed my outlook on life. I forgot his real name but his nickname is Bricks. He wanted to be an interior designer. He said he didn’t want me to tell any of his peers because he was afraid of how they would treat him. They wanted to be musicians, rappers or professional athletes.

I am like,  “Dude, that’s awesome. You can do anything you want from this neighborhood. Hey! look at me.”

And then something happened. I felt like I could make an impact.  I felt like I had a moral obligation to support this community because I do have the power to create change.

I took over Cleveland’s Youth Landscaping. We provided free landscaping services while helping at-risk youth acquire job skills, financial literacy and entrepreneurship. In the three years I was there, I interviewed over 400 kids. We ended up hiring 25-50 kids each year, so 100-150 kids got paid nine bucks an hour, which is pretty good for a 14-year-old kid.

Alex Robertson at a Recess event.

Recess Cleveland, my own non-profit organization, actually started during that program.

See, at University School we had a field day that we called Founder’s Day. We played large scale games of dodge ball, soccer, tug of war and sports like that. I was really really good at dodge ball in high school, so  I wanted to relive those days. I asked five of my employees when was the last time they played dodgeball and four of them said they never played.

I said, “Woah, you haven’t played dodge ball? Woah, this is an injustice.”

That’s the moment I decided to start Recess Cleveland. We provide safe places to play in multiple communities throughout the summers and then we move into schools during the school year.

We call it recess because it is unstructured. The people who attend decide what games we play. It is a way to get together.

I threw our first event on my birthday August 9, 2016. That was the day the grandma showed everyone that “she’s got legs.” But it was so much more than just that moment.

We played  30-on-30 dodge ball. We played soccer. There was a hula-hoop contest. We gave away prizes. We ate together. It was a big kickback. We chilled and got to know our neighbors.

We ended up throwing ten events that first year and averaged about 65 attendees. Recess events include food, music, dancing and concerts.

Recently, one woman said at an event,  “I lived in this neighborhood for ten years and I met one of my neighbors who also has lived in this neighborhood for ten years for the first time today.”

The number one outcome we want is relationship building and community engagement.  Hopefully, that leads to other benefits, such as crime reduction.

Also, we recently just started adding wraparound services to some of our events. If you come to a recess event you might see The Greater Cleveland Food Bank giving away food. You might see a caravan making healthy smoothies. You might see a non-profit organization giving away free books for the children. It’s all about enjoying the people in the neighborhood and taking advantage of the resources available to us.

Back in the day Glenville was known as the gold coast. There are a ton of young and old black entrepreneurs that own businesses up and down 105th steet. There are a bunch of athletes and well-accomplished writers who have ties to Glenville.  Superman was created in Glenville.  Olympian Jesse Owens stayed in Glenville for a bit. These are names that are internationally known.

Alex Robertson is the founder of Recess Cleveland.

What I want people to know, which I didn’t necessarily realize when I pulled up to University School on my first day of school, is there are a lot of reasons to be proud of our community. I try to promote the fact that you can do anything you want to do from Glenville. Look at me!

I could have stayed in New York.  I see all these major donors with their names on buildings, who went off and made millions and decided to make a large donation.  I could have been on that same path and I still can,  but I choose to be here, on the front lines with you. It gives me a sense of purpose. It gives me a sense of accomplishment when I see a smile on a kid’s face.

I want to play kickball, give kids the experience of  playing new games and helping children build relationships with other children in their neighborhood. I want to help our youth practice the skills needed to get a job and retain a job.  I sleep a lot better at night not only being a part of this community but helping us all realize the greatness that lies within it.

It doesn’t matter what walk of life you are from or your socioeconomic status.  At recess, we are all playing kickball together. We are doing yoga, arts and crafts or bouncing in the bounce house. We are helping shape our community. We are bonding together as we create not just any family, but one big HAPPY family.

 

Your fellow Glenville native,

 

Alex Roberston, Founder of Recess Cleveland

 

Written with Lauren Brill

About the author:

I am the founder of Recess Cleveland, a non-profit organization that aims to help bring our community together through pop-up recess events. Previously, I worked at a bank in New York City but I feel strongly that giving back to my community is my true purpose in life.

About the sponsor and the charity:

The Unsealed, a media company that shares open personal letters, is empowering my voice. They will donate $25 dollars to Recess Cleveland in honor of the first 25 shares of my letter. Recess Cleveland aims to help bring our community together through pop-up recess events. So please share my story, donate to a great cause and let’s make a difference!

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Nothing like maintaining a positive outlook! When i need to fight off despair i set goals. It is a great way to fight off negative thoughts and feeling!

Very interesting! Opinion at a later date!

Crazy that this still goes on. I fear for my safety almost all the time. Black or brown males are subject to arrest and violent behavior. I just read a article where a former New York cops claims they had to arrest more people of color to get a promotion. This is sick and I'm tired of living in fear. People are going to start fighting back.

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I think me and your grandpa would have been friends. I been a type 1 diabetic since three years old. I would have said the same thing waking up and seeing two nurses. Do I get to choose. I'm pretty sure I've done that before.

I have learned over my Fifty-Eight years of life, and more specifically over the last 10 that FDR's words about fearing only fear itself ring true; to me, they do, anyway. And, at the same time, how the words of the 23rd Psalm comfort me and my abundant faith in G-d allows me to fear only fear, knowing full well that He is always with me. Growing up in a Non-Orthodox, yet Observant Jewish family nicely brings both together and not only makes me feel more protected but commands me to believe so. You see, I have lived a different kind of life, as we all have to some degree, but mine changes daily. Not that I am ANY BETTER than anyone else, in fact, probably less so... I stray from my stories often. I shouldn't, but since my Stroke in 2012, I have somehow developed some sort of ADD, so please bear with me, the end will justify the means and I will *try* to stick with my story; for you, my readers. I moved my family of the ex-wife and four children Cross-Country in 2002 to be closer to my dad who was turning 75 that year, and while I could not afford both financially as well as mentally to move back to Southern California (where he and my mother lived), I chose the Midbar (Hebrew for Desert) of Arizona. Within just a few short weeks of moving here, I woke up one day with some of the most severe abdominal pain I had ever experienced. I found a local doctor and made an appointment to see him that day. I arrived at the appointment and was ushered into an examination room by their PA (Physician's Assistant), who is supposed to be the same as a Doctor, but not really (?). I was examined and Prescriptions for a Pain Medication and an Antibiotic. They continued to treat me in a like manner for almost six months when I ended up in an Emergency Room, where a CT Scan was performed and Colonoscopy was scheduled. I was then diagnosed with a grapefruit-sized obstruction and abscess in my colon that would require surgical intervention. Surgery was scheduled for two days later, on a Friday in Mid-March 2003. I arrived at the hospital at the designated time, 5:45 am; was admitted to the hospital; told them about ALL my allergies (including a BIG ONE, an allergy to a particular anesthetic agent), and taken to a room where I was put into one of those awful gowns and told that they'd be "right back" to take me to surgery. They promptly came back at 10:30 in the morning and took me to yet another room... to wait some more. At 11:45 the Anesthesiologist came in to talk with me. He informed me that he was going to use Propofol for my induction and that he was planning on using the EXACT ANESTHESIA TO WHICH I AM ALLERGIC to maintain me through surgery! "NOT ON ME, YOU'RE NOT", I exclaimed! "I'M ALLERGIC!!!" On my wrist sat a red band that clearly said ALLERGIES: CEVOFLURAINE. I then proceeded to give him a list of anesthetic agents that I knew to be safe. He tapped me on the knee and said: Okay, Smart guy, put yourself to sleep and quickly left the room. I awoke from the anesthesia on the following Wednesday evening. In addition to the NINE small incisions from various attempts to perform the procedure of removing 18" of my diseased colon through a scope, I also had one 6" cut in my belly that began around my navel and continued to just above my groin. I also began experiencing severe shortness of breath. The staples were ripped out of my skin by the Butcher Surgeon two weeks later, but my breathing difficulties continued. After being examined by one doctor after another, I finally decided to be examined by The Mayo Clinic. Over a ten-day to 2 week period, I was examined by multiple physicians, underwent numerous tests and procedures and was finally ready for my Report Appointment. I would learn the results of all of the tests and procedures and hopefully have a clear diagnosis and prognosis. The verdict had come in. Diagnosis: Terminal COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Causation: Bacterial Pneumonia due to Malignant Hyperthermia caused by induction of Detrimental Anesthesia Prognosis: 5% chance of Five-Year Survival I then took my report to a highly regarded Pulmonologist for Follow-Up Care, but not before enrolling in Rabbinical School in New York City. I had, (since age ten) always wanted to be a Rabbi. It was now or never. On the advice of the Pulmonologist, I began taking Prednisone (a Steroid) that would open up my Bronchioles and make it easier to breathe. The normal dosage for a man who is 5'9" and weighs 150 pounds (before I got sick, I weighed 174 pounds, all muscle, by the way) is <100mg per day. My STARTING dose was 100mg THREE TIMES a DAY. the dosage was increased every few months for the following THREE YEARS, when, on Sunday, September 9, 2007, at the weight of 340 Pounds (the Steroids had been increased to 250mg Four Times a day), I collapsed and at Mayo Hospital, was intubated where my organs began failing. Two nights later, on the First Night of Rosh haShana, the Jewish New Year, and while being mechanically ventilated, I went into Full Blown Total System Failure, and suffered a Cardiac Arrest for 14 minutes, followed by a Coma of several weeks duration. During my Coma, I felt as if I was in a box. The box had four dirt walls and smelled like the Morning Dew. In the upper right corner of the box sat a red square with a white X inside of it. "If only I could click on that X, I might stop this program", I thought to myself, but I could not move; I could not stand; could not reach, and could not scream for help. I lay in this place crying out in fear for what seemed like days and weeks and months. Suddenly, my cries were replaced by Psalms. I was reciting Psalms, some of which I had never even read before! And the Psalms turned into Prayers; The Kol Nidre, chanted at the beginning of our Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur; every other prayer recited on this Holy of all Holy Days; the Prayers for the Sukkot Holidays that follow the next week and the Readings for every single Torah Portion of the year. I somehow knew them all. By heart. Without hesitation of memory and obviously without any text to look at. I kept reading and chanting day and night; night and day and resting in between. Really resting. Sleeping... until one day, I opened up my eyes to see my beautiful son Zac sitting at my side on my bed. Covering the holes in my throat and on the side of my neck, I managed to spit out "C'était le rêve de dix minutes le plus étrange que j'aie jamais eu"! I told my son that was the weirdest ten-minute dream that I have ever had in FRENCH, my first language and native tongue. He then told me that it had been over two months, and I was in a Hospice Facility. The night before, I had begun to breathe on my own a minute or so after being disconnected from the machines that had sustained my organs since September. A few days later I was wheeled to an ambulance outside to be transported to the truly amazing HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital in Scottsdale. The sun kissed my face as I felt like I was pulled up into a body of love. It spoke. In Hebrew: Don't worry, it said. "You and I are going to be okay". I spent the next six weeks learning to do things like eating and holding a pencil; how to shower and dress. I learned how to return to life. Six weeks after leaving HealthSouth, my dad died. In July 2018, my mom joined him. I have had many trials and tribulations over these last twelve years. A Stroke in 2012 took my ability to project my voice loudly; I've been hospitalized many times and know how very precious time is. I do not live for today, rather, I live for tomorrow. I do everything I can do today to help others, and pray that I am again awakened tomorrow to do more good. And if so, great! And if not; if G-d decides to take me tonight, I will hang out with my parents and loved ones forever. I win either way. President Roosevelt was right to believe in only fearing fear. Psalm 23 is even more so, as Faith follows all of us.

Funny my mom passed in 1991 as a 13 year old it was hard but she was much more then beauty. She was a fighter from the beginning and I will never be able to explain her impact. It shows you came from a strong famiy and I'm glad you had both a mom and dad because a lot of people don't. I pray your truth can make a difference

This is trying to scare us with more misinformation then actual information but thank you for giving us your reality. I like it a lot.and people just wash your hand like you should be doing anyway 😂

Great discussion, as well as some interesting numbers which I'm not sure are meant to calm us, or install even more fear. I have many of your same concerns. Just yesterday I scheduled a work trip to Miami for late next week, but am unsure if it will happen or not. And while i say or act like i'm not concerned, sub-consciously, i am quite sure it is weighing on my mind each time i cough, or sneeze, or feel "a little warm", or if someone around me does. One of the biggest fears i have is that with all of the media coverage and the additional testing becoming available, the numbers are sure to skyrocket, and this is going to really set some people off. Our country is going to go absolutely bonkers . We are all guilty of taking limited amounts of information and either talking about it like an expert, or completely overreacting. Here's hoping that the number stat to level out, and then drop. Lets hope that the American people can follow simple suggestions. Lets hope that countries from around the world can work together to come up with a viable plan to slow this train down. And last but not least, lets hope our politicians can come together to provide our country guidance as we all try to get through this. Lets hope they can forget about the presidential race for just a minute to remember what their job really is; to serve the American people. And now is their time to really step up and lead by example.

Lauren, like you I have to balance my fear and confusion. I work directly with the public and I have an immune system that is partially suppressed as a by product of treatment for Rheumatoid Arthritis. I fear for my Father the most as his body is much weaker than even mine. I visited the Cleveland Museum of Art on Sunday just to learn three people were positively diagnosed on Monday in Cuyahoga county. You aren't alone in that fear. I think that we must turn to hope to keep us in this trying time. We have to...

Terry, As a man who has lived and breathed baseball, your letter was an absolute joy for me to read. What young boy wouldn't want to be in the clubhouse with his Dad? During your time as manager I've been to quite a few games in Cleveland. None though were as special as July 12th 2014. That was the day I celebrated my 30th birthday. Though the day centered around my birthday it saw me doing something for someone else. It was the day I took my Father to the very first professional sports game in his 59 years of life at the time. It was so touching the certificate that he got from the wonderful folks at Guest Services. And although the home team lost to the White Sox that day, it will always remain one of the best days in my heart. Letters like yours only serve to renew my love for the game of baseball. Thanks for sharing it with the little boy still inside of me wanting to throw that 0-2 curveball to the best hitter in the league.

[…] enough, in the email was your letter to your late father, former NBA basketball star Anthony Mason, talking about your struggles after his death. You wrote […]

Sweet Lauren, I agree completely with the promise that Brian asked you to make. Frankly, it is the only way that I know to love; totally, completely, wholly and unconditionally. You deserve nothing less, nor does your future love.

Wow. What a truly moving and powerful story. We often take for granted the small gifts we give each other just by being present. I'm sad for the heartache. I'm glad you stayed and became. Who knows what little girl or boy will be attributing their life's purpose to some kindness you shared. Peace and Sunshine

You’re welcome Lauren looking forward to all the future stories :)

Thank you Tony. I appreciate all your support.

Thank you Tony. I appreciate all your support.

I’m sorry to hear about Brian but he was right you are too beautiful to not receive roses Lauren:)

[…] Here is why you need to stop being nice and start being loud […]

Thanks for this! So what movie set did you get on?

So nice Roger <3

Pat, Your letter touched me in a very profound way. It left me in tears in the middle of my work day. It made me want to share something with you. On a July morning in 2007 a police officer answered a 911 call I had made when my Mother went into cardiac arrest. Between that officer, my best friend and the fire fighters who showed up minutes later they were able to restart her heart, however at the hospital she passed away an hour later. At the end of his shift that officer stopped by my home to check on the situation and cried when I told him the unfortunate news I received only 4 hours prior. He tried to apologize to me. I looked at the anguish in his eyes and asked him directly what for? He described the ways he felt sorry. What I want to leave you with was my reply to him. I told him he had nothing to be sorry for because he answered the call in what was the darkest moment in my life. I told him that he was a hero regardless because it takes a special person to answer calls like that. You are a hero to people Pat. No one can ever take that away from you. I understand the process you're going through as I've been there myself and like you I still struggle with it when no one is looking. You aren't alone in this. I hope your healing process continues on and you can regain the happiness in this beautiful life. You'll always be a hero to those people, because you were there when the call came Best wishes Roger Chamberlain

Ruth, your letter moved me to tears. Once upon a time I was very closed off about the LGBT community but over a course of several years, I turned my fear into understanding and I actively stand with the community for their equal rights because it is the right thing to do.