From the Podcast: Andre Roberts – A Special Bonus Episode on Recovering from Addiction and a Segregated Childhood
In this special bonus episode, Ashley interviews Andre Roberts, a personal trainer and tennis instructor currently living in Beverly Hills. Born and raised in Milwaukee, WI, Andre was raised in a single parent household with his two siblings. He experienced ongoing trauma as a child, including sexual assault, verbal and physical abuse and intense prejudice and racism. Take a listen here to hear how Andre beautifully conveys being a black man in today’s America.
Growing up on welfare and very poor, Andre’s mother had him when she was 18 years old. He and his siblings lived with their grandmother and her late husband. Andre didn’t grow up with his father, but met him at the age of five and half.
Segregation in Milwaukee
Andre grew up on the North side of Milwaukee which was a predominantly black community. As one of the most segregated cities in America, “by-docks” separated the North and South sides, the South side being primarily white.
“It’s very segregated, very segregated. As a matter of fact, even the white community is segregated. There’s an Italian sector, there’s Polish, there’s Irish,” said Andre describing what he remembered Milwaukee being like growing up.
With a history of police brutality in Milwaukee, the National Guard patrolled the by-docks. Andre was only five years old with an awareness of what was going on and remembers Ernest Lacy dying in the custody of police.
His mother was a part of the National Organization of Women (NOW) which shaped his understanding and awareness of the intense segregation in Milwaukee. Andre, his siblings, his grandmother and his mother attended walks and picketed police brutality with police holding shields and billy clubs, an intimidating sight for a six year old. He continued to march with his friends and family throughout his early years to protest the deaths of several black men who were killed by police.
Brown v. The Board of Education was passed in the 60s but not enacted in Wisconsin until the 70s, so as a second grader Andre was transferred to a “white” school. He was bused with 11 other kids. He excelled and became very competitive in all sports. He was, and still remains, an incredible tennis player. He got to play at country clubs in Milwaukee where he experienced a much different side of town than the “hood” he was familiar with. He played in tennis tournaments, had white tennis mentors and white friends that he’d play with.
Andre grew up knowing to stay away from police. “You need to not talk to police,” his mom would tell him. Growing up in the inner city of Milwaukee, there was a great fear of the police by people of color and he recalls routinely seeing people he knew in casts or with beaten faces from police officers – even numerous deaths.
Several of his friends were shot countless times by police officers who were unarmed and targeted as a person of color. These senseless, violent acts occurred throughout his life.
“I remember cops coming and slamming me on the hood of a car when I was like 12, 13 years old and chicken-winged me. I was screaming in terror, broad daylight. I felt so powerless and victimized, but it was something that was, I won’t say expected, but if it happened it wasn’t surprising or shocking,” said Andre describing his own experience with police brutality.
Andre took his first sip of alcohol at the age of five years old. A glass of scotch on ice, he chugged it, “got happy”, danced around and then passed out. From vomiting to his family laughing at him as he awoke, he was the center of attention in a positive way and the addiction cycle was fueled.
By 18 years old, he was addicted to freebase and cocaine. His grandmother was one person that never gave up on him throughout his addiction. He describes her as “one of the most courageous human beings that I know that ever walked God’s earth.”
He came home one night high on cocaine and sat down to speak with his grandmother about her relatives that were enslaved. Immediately sobering up, he realized that slavery was not as far off as he’d thought. His own great grandfather was enslaved and it made him realize that anybody else that is currently in their 80s might know someone who had been enslaved.
Rehab With A Nazi
At an old Japanese internment camp turned rehabilitation center in Acton, California, Andre shared a barrack with approximately six other people. He describes a couple of hispanic guys, other black guys and a few white guys. One in particular, Dustin, darted out of the room each time Andre would walk in. Andre noticed a poster by his bed of a woman dressed in leather but when he moved closer, he realized she had an armband on with a black swastika.
As Andre apprehensively confronted Dustin about his relationship with Nazis, Andre learned that Dustin’s grandfather indoctrinated Nazi culture into him – he was bred into it. Dustin was willing to talk to him and break down what he was born into, but only if it was just the two of them. Any time someone would walk through the door, Dustin would ignore Andre. As family day rolled around, Dustin invited Andre to meet his grandfather. As Dustin introduced Andre, the family all looked down, became mute and ignored Andre.
Angry by his family’s actions, Dustin darted out of the building, his mother chasing him. As his mother drew closer to Andre, she looked at Andre and said, “Excuse me, can I shake your hand? I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
From there, Dustin and Andre schemed to get out of rehab but as Andre was on his way out after getting money wired, Dustin asked him to stay, crying out, “Don’t leave. Please, you’re my friend.” What Andre learned from that experience is that people can change, one heart at a time, one soul at a time. He wasn’t ready to get sober then, but he was ready to talk to Dustin. Anytime he encounters a “Dustin”, he is ready to talk.
Where To Go From Here
In the episode, Andre does an incredible job laying out the history of slavery within his own family, years of police brutality and his own experiences with racism. With devastating deaths of black people still happening by the hands of police, he offers an insightful perspective.
Andre says, “Our job, as human beings, is to search out and find our lanes, no gas, all gas, no brakes. Find your lane, all gas, no brakes. Get in your lane and push whatever it is. It can be as simple as saying hi to somebody that does not look like you, each and every day.” He believes in the power of connection and coming together to provide the resources necessary to work to break the cycle in underserved communities.
Coming up on eight years sober, Andre is engaged to a beautiful woman, Patty, who keeps him focused on his sobriety. She owns her own business, Connections in Recovery, that’s given Andre a sober community and family. He has many role models in his own fiance and the people she’s introduced him to.
We hope you learn as much as we did during Andre’s special episode!
*Quotes may be edited for clarity.