“It was a little crazy back then.”
We all had avoided a Y2K apocalypse, but near the corner of West Polk Street and St. Louis Avenue in North Lawndale, the turn of the century became an inflection point in Roberta Logwood’s life.
She was just a year or so out of Gregory Elementary School, the public school a couple blocks away from her house, when everything began to change and thrust Roberta into a world no child should have to experience.
“I remember this guy, my friend, we used to hang out with. He died. He was murdered,” Roberta said. “That was the first time I experienced trauma like that.”
Understandably, the middle school student lacked the tools to cope with the loss of her friend.
“It felt horrible. I had questions, but I was too afraid to ask,” she said about not being able to muster the courage to inquire about the details of the shooting.
Then it happened a second time. This time, she was in the crowd.
“I remember gunshots. When we heard the gunshots, everybody ran,” Roberta recalled. “When I turned around and realized everyone was gone, I saw a body on the ground. I started running. I started panicking.”
Dealing with loss, with death, is a challenge for the best of us. It’s nearly impossible to comprehend at 13-years-old.
“After that one, I started to become numb to death,” she said in a haunting retrospective. “I didn’t like feeling pain. I felt weak in those moments. I felt defenseless. I can’t bring them back. Why am I crying and feeling angry and frustrated and I can’t do anything?”
Expectedly, her emotions ran wild and her thoughts were racing, searching for answers amid a sea of options.
“Even if I wanted to go back and retaliate, then what?” She asked. “Now you’re running for your life, looking over your shoulder every chance you get. For me, I just decided that numbing myself from the pain was one of my defense mechanisms.”
Just as she began high school it happened again.
“When I was in high school, my freshman year, I was dating this guy who was older, so I thought I was cool,” Roberta remembered. “On my way to see him - gunshots - I knew it was him. When I got to the corner, my friend said, ‘He’s gone.’”
Another tragic death. Another person who meant something to Roberta was gone before they could live.
“All that numbing went out the window,” she said. “I fell to the ground. My knees buckled. My entire life changed right in front of me.”
Story after story of loss. Trauma. Life-changing incident after life-changing incident. It became such an expected occurrence that during a funeral for a close family friend, her own brother comforted her and then told her to get ready for him to be next in the same breath.
A startling, harrowing admission of their reality that buckled Roberta’s knees and sent her to the ground, sobbing.
The words stuck with her and almost felt like an inevitability. In many ways her brother was trying to protect her, both physically and emotionally.
“He started training me, in a way,” Roberta recalled. “He wanted me to protect myself. He would call me to meet him and I would drive to the location and he would have me waiting for like an hour, an hour and a half. I remember sitting there for hours and he was there the whole time, but I didn’t know he was there until I felt the pop upside my head.”
The street-wise lessons were designed to keep her aware of her surroundings.
“He taught me a lot,” she said. “ but he didn’t want me to be out there.”
Roberta heard her brother’s advice, but she was young and emotionally on edge. She found herself hanging around people who were deeply involved in what she calls “street activity.”
“I witnessed a lot of things. I was part of a lot of things. It changed me.”
To her, it was a necessary experience at that moment.
“I felt like I needed to learn how to protect him and I didn’t know how to protect him,” Roberta said. “I couldn’t protect the boy that I called cousin, I couldn’t protect the boy that I was dating. I couldn’t protect any of them.”
She had nearly given up hope of a different life, something other than the violence, drugs and chaos that surrounded her, when she found herself in frequent talks with young girls who had experienced trauma of their own.
She was someone they could relate to, a person to open up with.
“I love mentoring young girls,” Roberta said, admitting that initially she didn’t have all the answers the young women needed. “I decided that I was going to start having answers for them. I sought out a mentor for myself.”
It was a significant moment for Roberta, not only for the realization that her words can make a difference in the lives of young people, but for reclaiming her own voice.
“I started gaining my voice back, because over time doing all of this stuff and not trusting people, you lose your voice because you’re not quick to tell people what’s going on with you,” she said. “You want to hide it, you want to push it down and keep it away so the world doesn’t get in and break you again.”
Roberta continued to work on herself and her new-found calling as a mentor.
“I made a vow to myself. The next time I speak to a young girl I will have an answer for her, even if it’s not the full answer,” Roberta said. “I’m going to give her something to help her go on throughout her day feeling confident about it. Then we’ll try again tomorrow with something else.”
“I was getting responses from their parents,” she recalled. “I thought they were calling to get me, but they were calling and saying that they wanted to thank me for talking to their daughter. They were grateful.”
It was that positive feedback from neighborhood parents that led her into professional roles in mentorship programs, now as the director of programs for YourPassion1st, a nonprofit designed to empower under-resourced young adults to find, define and follow their passions through mentorships, collaborative events and innovative workshops.
The path to where she is now is nothing short of remarkable. From a young girl unsure of everything happening around her to a business owner, spoken word artist and mentor, Roberta has flipped the script.
“I felt like I had done so much wrong that there was no way of rectifying it,” she said.
The Blossom Room is Roberta’s new nonprofit, a safe space for young girls to learn their true identity and learn how to express themselves through different forms of art, giving them skills they need to navigate the world.
“I allow them to tap into their true identity and once they do that, they’re able to navigate the world, not the way society says they should, but the way they believe and feel that they should,” she said. “My job is to come in and say, ‘I see you. I know who you are.’ Let me help you become that.”
Roberta has spent years coming to terms with her own identity. In finding out who she is, she’s helped countless Westside women become their own person.
“Sometimes I still feel like I’m searching. But that’s ok.”
During her Community Leaders Podcast recording, the multi-talented Roberta Logwood shared a spoken word poem:
We love to hate and the only time we come together is when catastrophic events take place, when tragedies like rape and murder become a case.
Children on the back of milk cartons portrayed as just a face and this hurts my heart because we love so much just to hate.
Acting like the love of money is inevitable, sending shockwaves through your brain and the pain feels electrical.
Cold-hearted thoughts with mindless hearts pumping blood that’s artificial, you mad because your enemy called you out and dissed you.
Disrespect their thoughts flying like missiles, handguns and pistols bullets piercing your physical.
Can’t you see? Your past missing you, your present ain’t enough and the future trying to get you so they dismiss you.
Put you in a jail cell and script you.
Write you off as some statistic while you call the local news and state how you sick of this.
But from generation to generation, these effects keep trickling, leaving loved ones to hate the system, screaming f-you to the police and now instead of serving and protecting they’re swerving and collecting.
More than dead bodies, though.
Witnesses with no protection, yo.
They’re leaving us defenseless so we buy guns, which we get arrested for.
Don’t get me wrong cause some of us deserve it.
We killing each other for blocks that the city own.
Put your face on a t-shirt, have a funeral just to watch another mother shed tears cause her shorty’s gone.
Yo, Chicago. This the type of stuff we be on.
Roberta Logwood is one of 18 up-and-coming Westside leaders selected to be a part of the inaugural cohort of Community Leadership Fellows. Community Leadership Fellows (CLF) is a leadership development experience that involves educational workshops, tactical training, collaborative learning, coaching, mentoring and networking. We believe that the investment in homegrown talent will lead to sustainable, vibrant communities.
Roberta Logwood, CLF ’23 Fellow and Director of Programs at Your Passion 1st. Hear more about how show fought through trauma to bring hope to girls.