Community Heroes: Ricardo Robertson

Nine years ago, Ricardo Robertson put a plan into motion with the education consultancy ‘Achieve2Receive’.

What would follow would be the invention of an ingenious and personalised education programme which converted forty two weeks of state curriculum into ten weeks and some children on the brink of leaving school with little or no prospects, into GCSE graduates.

I spoke to its creator, Ricardo Robertson during one of the weekly Saturday schools run by his company, Achieve2RecieveCIC.

“We’re not usually here actually.” He explains to me as we enter an empty classroom in the back of Wanstead High School. It’s quiet today as there is only one class due to the Summer Holidays, as some students are away.

This temporary drop in student numbers does not mean Mr Robertson is any less productive as he quickly schedules a meeting with a parent whilst simultaneously ushering another member of his staff to update the company website. However, my impression of Ricardo’s productive nature does not come from the act that he is doing his job during the weekend, it’s due to the fact he has started the interview before I have even managed to take out my notepad or press record on my recorder.

“Name me a way we, as Black people are able to improve ourselves- get to live a successful lifestyle… if it isn’t for education?” Ricardo asks me with his right leg crossed over his left with the backs of his fingers supporting his chin. I’m taken aback for a moment, as usually it is the interviewers role to ask the questions, not the interviewee.

“Through entrepreneurial skills.” I answer, desperately steering as far away from the more popular answer of ‘sports’ as I can.

The answer is deemed satisfactory and Ricardo nods his head for a brief moment before asking one last question. “And how many successful Black role models do you know?”

The truth is that I have more fingers on one hand than I know successful, Black role models personally, whilst only half have access to a Mortgage Free home.

“And are they successful? Are they what we perceive, in society, as successful?”

I stutter for a moment. Of course, success is a subjective term, nor can we truly measure success. It’s the use of the word ‘perceive’ is what throws me, but also what helps me realise that another or Ricardo’s traits is that he has an inquisitive mind, a trait that could be what defines him as someone that stereotypes do not define.

Ricardo explains to me that Achieve2Recieve – Saturday school is designed to help children who have not been given the opportunity to excel in school. Now sadly, a lot of these students have one thing in common; they have answers that are not answered, so they become frustrated and even bored and disruptive.

Now teetering on the edge of education and expulsion, Achieve2Recieve is often the last safety barrier these children have between achieving their potential at university and becoming another stereotype.

It also means that Mr Robertson’s role is more than a tutor or a businessman running a Saturday school. For the children, his presence is one of a relatable, knowledgeable mentee who can coach them through difficult social interactions too. It is through listening to him have a conversation with one of his students that it becomes clear that Ricardo’s influence in their life is more like an uncle than a stuffy adult who makes them work during the weekend.

It means that in trying to understand this man as a community hero is difficult because like I have previously stated, this is a man who enjoys bending the rules when it comes to a stereotype.

For example, your average history teacher or documentary narrative who wants to trace the influence of Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X, also happens to paint their followers and even supporters as violent radicals with a taste for the white mans blood. However, in meeting Ricardo, a self-proclaimed ‘Garveyite’ and a student of the both Malcolm X and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr’s work, Ricardo Robertson’s version of justice is not through vengeance, but through knowledge – self-empowerment, and self-awareness

However, the reason I wanted to include Mr Robertson in our Community Heroes segment is because he is living proof that labels and expectations being placed on you do not define who you are, nor do they dictate how your life should be.

What labels are placed on a Black man who grows up in Hackney? For me, the words I hear and see are: criminal, a disappearing parent and unfaithful partner, an uneducated nobody.

Yet none of these labels apply. As a father of two children, fathered by one woman who he has married and been with for almost thirty five years, his children have also gone into education as a way to improve themselves; with one having graduated and another currently about to enrol. Now in his late forties, running an honest business is something many of us aspire to, let alone never put in plans to achieve.

If anything, my meeting with Ricardo Robertson taught me a few things. The first lesson I learned is that a role model can quite often become a hero, simply because their influence in your life changes how you behave. In fact, it is a lesson that I learn through the words of another of his pupils who declares “and then I remembered what you said to me…” It’s a very simple sentence that hides the gravity of the situation he was in, as the several lines of storytelling before indicating the boy could have been attacked, or killed.

My second lesson comes from a point of reflection, that a hero needs not be a saviour, but simply a positive influence to the people around them.