Christopher Roberts did not enjoy a wholesome childhood.
Physically-abused as a young boy and having never experienced a father’s love, Roberts ran away from his home at an early age, sleeping on the streets of Port of Spain and committing petty crimes to survive. He also sought acceptance from gang leaders whom he believed would have substituted for the parental love he lacked.
Now, Roberts, 31, wants young men to know that crime and delinquency would never guarantee their survival, let alone happiness.
On August 1–Emancipation Day–Roberts is expected to host the second instalment of his Mighty Men’s March, in Bagatelle, Diego Martin, to encourage men to walk the straight and narrow by taking their rightful place in homes and communities as husbands, fathers, providers and role models.
Roberts said based on reports he has received “the people are crying out for something like this because there is a lot of crime in the area.”
He is hoping to not just share the experiences of how Jesus Christ transformed his life but also influence the lives of young men involved in crime.
The inaugural march, held on Wednesday (Indian Arrival Day), took participants through several Laventille districts, including Picton, John John and Duncan Street.
Roberts said the event was a success.
“It was really powerful,” he told Sunday Newsday.
“A lot of people told us that we should continue to do this because it is real. So, we are encouraged.
The ground-breaking march was billed as a strictly men’s-only forum at which various speakers, including those who collaborated with Roberts on the project, shared testimonies of how they overcame a life of crime and led productive lives.
“Given the state that our country is in with crime, we just want to use our life to go out and show that people’s lives could change,” Roberts said.
He said the event’s mens-only emphasis was deliberate.
“Men have walked out of their homes. I never knew my father. So I used to look up to a gang leader.
“But a father’s presence is very needed and a lot of these guys in gangs never had a father figure in their lives.
“They never had a man hug them and say, ‘Son, I love you.’”
He added: “This men’s march is to show these guys there are men (those who helped organised the march) who were in the same position they were in and the Lord has opened doors for us, blessed us and taken care of us because we made up our minds that we don’t want to live that life no more.”
Roberts said as a delinquent youth on the streets, he was never exposed to male role models. “I never really see nobody who have done what they were supposed to as men and reach out to me.
“I never see men come out and talk to the youths, never heard the older heads come out and say, ‘Christopher, you could be great and become something in life. You don’t have to do crime and live that life you living. You don’t have to look up to a gang leader because there is a better way.’”
Roberts said the feedback before Wednesday’s march was phenomenal.
“It has been out of this world. People donated their trucks, flyers, jerseys, a lot of people are on board. It is also being announced in churches so it is big.”
Married and gainfully employed at the North West Regional Health Authority, Roberts still marvels at how tremendously his life has been transformed since accepting Jesus Christ as his Lord and saviour, seven years ago.
But he is not taking his blessings for granted.
The father of one recently bought his first home in Tacarigua and is contemplating purchasing a second car. Roberts also established a side business to earn extra cash.
He has been to several communities and schools, in and around Port of Spain, sharing his life story and motivating students and troubled young men in the process.
The interactions, he said, were humbling.
“The Lord just opening doors for me to do this thing and we are going to be consistent because I have been to Sea Lots and different places talking to these guys and giving them my testimony, telling them what the Lord has done for me.”
Roberts said his sessions with the young men, in particular, revealed many of them desperately wanted to change their lives but were influenced heavily by the gang leaders.
“The gang leader is in their face. But, I want to be in their face more and keep showing them that you don’t have to have a big diploma and degree and because you didn’t finish school, you think that the only life to live is picking up a gun.”
Years of physical abuse caused Roberts to run away from his Picton home at the age of seven.
“From the age of four, I could remember my hand getting burn up and when I reached around seven, I could not take the abuse no more and ended up on the streets. I slept on the streets, sell bottles, begged, did anything to survive.”
Roberts was later placed in the care of the St Michael’s Home for Boys in Diego Martin, where he thought he would have found some solace.
However, the abuse continued.
“Thinking I would have gotten a better life there, I ended up getting more abused. So, I ran away from there and back into the streets.”
There, at the age of 13, Roberts started to steal from business places, snatch chains from around people’s necks and pick pockets.
Roberts made it clear, though, he had never committed murder or any violent crime..
“I was never a gunman or killer, to say shoot somebody. It never happened.”
Roberts said as a young man, he was involved in several unfulfilled relationships and again ended up on the streets.
“By the time I was 24, I was fed up of going from pillar to post and decided to change his life. I did not know what was the change. All I knew is that I just wanted to be different.”
Roberts recalled he had spoken to someone he knew about his trials.
“The person told me about Jesus Christ and from that day, I accepted him as my Lord and Saviour and my life was not the same.”
“I have been walking the straight and narrow road from that time to now, living the best life I have lived in my whole entire life.”
Roberts said he has now dedicated his life to helping others.
“From somebody who just came from the dirt, who left school in Standard One with no academic education and living a destitute life, my life now is to go out and talk to young people.
“The world has passed their mouth on me, people had given up on me and I could not get vexed with them for how I was living. But God did not give up on me but saved me and blessed me. He took me to another level in life.
“So, I realised that what God has done for me, he could do for others. I want to go and share that.”
Acknowledging the view that some people may regard the Mighty Men’s March as simply another walk against crime, Roberts said: “This country has tried all different kinds of things in the fight against crime. But a lot of us never tried Jesus.”
Roberts said marches would be held every three months in different areas in Trinidad and Tobago.
“We are going to be consistent all over because the crime is all over right now.”