“Everybody has something great within them. It’s just up to them to figure out what their own unique potential is.”- Mel Roberson
Learning from the Streets and the Classroom
Mel Roberson is a Chicago actor, writer, poet and inspirational speaker who grew up on the southeast side of Chicago. Navigating his way through his childhood proved to be a struggle. The biggest obstacle he faced was the peer pressures of street life. Roberson, however, discovered his unique potential. He combined the lessons he learned on the streets with what he learned through education. The result is a multi-talented success story in the performing arts and literary community.
Education as Key to Self Expression
Roberson credits his life’s works to many things. He sees education as an important vessel that is the key differentiator in how far a person flourishes in life. However, he believes that education is about more that success in any given career field. He thinks, for example, that education is an important factor in how a person expresses themselves. He insists that in order to succeed, one must be able to effectively express what they want and how they feel.
“Not that education teaches you how to be successful; but, let’s take vocabulary. If a person can’t adequately express how they feel through their vocabulary, the only way for them to express it is through their actions,” said Roberson. “So if I’m angry and I can’t communicate that through my words, then I express that physically.”
Unfortunately, many children in the nineties were not granted the same education Roberson received. While growing up, crack-cocaine was prevalent. Consequently, many youths steered away from education and spent more time immersed in gang life. During this time, many youth believed that gang life was a necessity in order to survive.
Navigating through and out of Gang Life
“Gangs aren’t forcing people necessarily,” said Roberson. “But when you are forced in different neighborhoods and territories for something as simple as [buying] a gallon of milk; you need allies [to go] into those neighborhoods.”
Consequently, gangs flourished. Without glorifying street life, Roberson believes that he had to take the cards he was dealt and make it work. For him the cards included good education coupled with street life.
“My parents instilled in me the importance of education and my friends instilled in me the importance of knowing how to survive,” said Roberson.
Success Wins Out
Remarkably, street life did not prevail and Roberson managed to grab education by the bootstraps. He attended Quincy University for Sociology and Roosevelt University for Integrated Marketing Communications. However, the future performing arts thespian had no inkling that performing would become his passion.
Passion for Music Minus the Lifestyle
It all started with a Yamaha beats machine. As a child, Roberson had a rap group with his younger brother called EMA (Earning Money Always).
“We would make our own beats, and looking back they were so whack,” he laughed. “But we started off rapping, so my foundation for poetry was in hip-hop.”
Fast forward some years and one record deal later. Roberson realized how he’d conformed to the social norms in the music industry.
“Sex drugs, money and murder,” he said. “Even though I witnessed it and was around it, it was not something that I wanted to glorify. So all of my music was about stuff I experienced…but it just wasn’t the message I wanted to put out there.”
Liberation by Spoken Word
From there Roberson joined a group called Verbal Balance and he started making himself heard on the spoken word scene.
“It was so freeing,” he said passionately. “I could do and have the same creativity I had in rap music but I didn’t have to ride a rhythm. To not have to ride that rhythm and still be able to be creative…I just started writing and created a new persona.”
Evolution to Acting
Making waves in the spoken word community was only the beginning of his artistic career. He soon discovered his niche was in acting. As a favor to a friend, Roberson auditioned for a film called “Love Shorts.” The film won several awards at the African American Black Film Festival. Yet, the budding actor still had no clue how his talent was perceived. With no initial curiosity with acting, the budding actor didn’t even bother seeing the film at the festival.
“I had no interest in being an actor, I didn’t go to the festival, I didn’t know how big the festival was, I didn’t do any of that stuff,” he asserted.
Realizing the success of the film, Roberson still didn’t quite immerse himself into acting. Nonetheless, one year later, another friend approached Roberson. He asked him to audition for a part as a spoken word poet in a stage play. The burgeoning star was ecstatic. He realized this was a way to combine acting with what he loved—poetry.
Finally Embracing Acting as His Niche
From there his acting career continued to blossom and eventually he met producer Mark Harris.
“I started out on stage and did a ton of stage,” he said. “Then I met Mark Harris who gave me my first lead role in a feature film.”
Continuing his work in the arts, his passion ignited as he discovered acting and how rewarding it became for him.
“I love it; oh I love it!” the actor exclaimed. “It’s one of the most gratifying feelings to me to be able to grab a character and shape that character and have that character be believable to the audience.”
Roberson insists that he finds acting pleasurable. However, he wants everyone to know that he’s never cared about being celebrated. For him, it’s more about cultivating his artistry.
“I never wanted to be famous,” he said. “I wanted to be an actor,” he emphatically says, “I don’t do it for the fame, I do it for the craft.”
Roberson Lives to Inspire
His success led him to inspirational speaking. Roberson’s desire to inspire exceeds his need to motivate and for the actor, there’s a huge difference between the two.
“I wouldn’t call myself a motivational speaker,” he insisted. “I don’t go by the term motivational speaker because I don’t want people to get motivated. I’d rather them be inspired because motivation can leave you.”
Roberson truly believes that “If you’re inspired to do something, you want to take action after the motivation leaves you.”
Roberson insists that it’s imperative for people to understand their unique abilities. He believes that individuals do this by becoming greater than what their current circumstances say they are.
“Everybody has something great within them,” he said. “It’s just up to them to figure out what their own unique potential is.”
And then He Becomes an Author
Inspirational speaking lead the actor into the literary community. Aside from acting and poetry, he is also the author of the “31 Life Lessons of Joshua Stokes.”
The book is a personal development novel that details the life of a fictional character named Joshua Stokes. The story form book teaches you principles needed to “live a powerful well-rounded life.”
Roberson attributes his success to not only his education via school but also through self-education. He spends time collecting and reading books to further expand his knowledge of all things. Roberson believes that all successful people have common threads that tie them to their prosperity. This philosophy is based off well-known motivational speaker Jim Rohn’s motto.
Clues to Finding Success
“They say success leaves clues,” he said. “If all these people have what you want and are saying the same thing in one way or another there’s probably something valid in what they’re saying.”
“Jim Rohn who is probably one of the best motivational, inspirational philosophers that I’ve ever listened to,” Roberson said. “He said (Jim Rohn) ‘if you go into any multi-million-dollar home, there’s probably a book shelf or a library.’”
Roberson advises everyone to do what successful people do. Get an education. Read. Shape your philosophies to get where you need to be.
“Every millionaire that I’ve ever met and the few billionaires that I’ve ever met,” he said. “One of the things I ask them is what are some of your favorite books? I’ve never met a millionaire that said ‘oh I don’t read,’ I’ve never met a billionaire that said ‘ehh I don’t read.’”
He Gives Back
Aside from being an esteemed author, actor and poet and inspirational speaker, Roberson mentors youth. He gives children an outlet through poetry by teaching them better ways to express themselves. Mel Roberson is also the founder of Mel Roberson Company a consulting firm that teaches leadership, team building and how to recognize people’s differences. Additionally, he works for Legal Shield, a company that assists people in all legal matters from lawsuits to parking tickets. Roberson is currently writing his second novel.