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Interview with David Roberts

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  • Transcript: David E. Roberts II Interviewee: David E. Robetts II Interviewer: Kuttis Rogers Interview Date: November 14th, 2018 Location: Over the Phone Length: 31:38 START OF THE INTERVIEW: KURTIS ROGERS: Are you aware that you are being taped and this will be used for the Mountain Heritage and Special Collections here at Western? DAVID E. ROBERTS: Yes. KR: OK, yes. Can you first stmt off with your name and tell me a little bit about your family and childhood and what kind of education you received? 1 DR: My name is David E. Roberts, the second. I am the second oftlu·ee children to the Rev. James Ernest Robetts, Senior and Rosa lee Beck Roberts. I was born and raised in Asheville, North Carolina and I went to the public school system there in Asheville. Upon graduating from Asheville, I attended Western Carolina University in 1982, where I started my undergraduate career. I was on a partial scholarship for theater, on a theater scholarship, to go to Western. Then I walked on the football team while I was there at Western. Upon my four-year degree ... I graduated and obtained a Bachelor's degree in Fine Arts. I was the first African American male to graduate from Western with a Bachelor's of Fine Arts, which is a Bachelor's degree on a Master's level because of the thesis component. After graduating from there, I did some professional acting. I did my debut at the Montgomery County Play House in Crossville, Tennessee. After a year doing some professional acting I went into the United States Navy. I did thirteen 2 years as an enlisted sailor and then I crossed over and became an officer. I went into the reserves so I could go and get a Master's in Divinity from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. Then I retired as a chaplain with the United States Naval Reserve. I reached the rank of Captain, which is 03 in the Navy, which acts as a lieutenant in the Navy and a captain in evety other branch. That is my education and school career growing up. I did grow up in a pastor's household and I am a fourth generation preacher. KR: Can you elaborate on your father's occupation? DR: My great granddads on both sides, my mom's side and my dad's side, were preachers and every generation Jl'om them, there was a preacher in our family, whether they were married in or born in like I was. My dad was from Gainesville, Florida and my mother is fi·om Asheville Nmth Carolina. He came here with my Aunt Sis, his mother's sister. He came to Asheville with her, smt of to look after her. At that time, he was in a little rock and roll band, used to open up for (inaudible). He was running from his calling. Then one day my oldest brother got hit in the head with a brick and I had a mild concussion playing football and my sister got ran over by a cab and backed over. So, my mom was like, "Does God have to kill one of your children before you answer the call?" So, after that he started to straighten up, turn himself around and he became a pastor of the church that I grew up in which is Fairmont Missionaty Baptist Church in Asheville, Nmth Carolina. So, I was born and raised in the church, been in the church all my life really. My dad did go to Asheville Buncombe Technical University for some electronics and engineering. He did have a job with then BellSouth, now AT&T. He was a chief installer and he went with them and he retired from them. But working for them there and paying for all three of his kids to go to school, although most went into the army. They elected not to go to school, they went into the army. I am the first of my siblings to go to college and to get a degree. And I'm the only one to have a Master's level degree of my siblings. 3 Now my children have Master's degrees and my nephews, my sister's children, have Master's degrees and my niece has a Bachelor's degree, my brother's daughter. My father does have a little formal education where he went back to school, and so forth, after his children went to school. My mother did graduate from an all-black, all-girls school back then in the 60's called Allen High School in Asheville. She has a degree to go and get a teachers ... but she decided to get married and raise her kids and make that sacrifice. I always promised her that if my brother didn't get to school, I was going to go to school and get her a degree. So when I graduated, I gave her my diploma and she still has it in her house. So, I graduated college, but she still has my degree. KR: So it's pretty fair to say that your parents and siblings had a huge influence on your religious career? DR: Mom, mostly. My mama always talked about Jesus her whole life. My brother and I thought my mom was having an affair on my dad with this guy named Jesus and when we got older we would beat Jesus up and then I found out who Jesus was and we were like "oh, oh." All my life, my greatgrandmother- my great-grandmother was I 03 when she died when I was a freshman in college- she'd always sit me down and tell me stories about my great-grandfather and the way they preached back then in his day and just things that he was doing and things that she remembered being married to a pastor, etc. and so. All our lives we have always been in church and, sort of like the movie Soul Food, always came home from church to my great-grandmother's house and evetybody would sit around, usually evetybody and their cousins and all. Somebody - two, three, or four of them in there - was preachers and pastors, and so the Christian theology and doctrine has been in our family from the beginning. KR: So what church did you go to as a child again? DR: Fairmont Missionaty Baptist Church. Born and raised in a Baptist church on my mama's side. But in Florida- Gainesville, Florida- where my dad's from, they were all Pentecostal Holiness church so I grew up with a little bit of both. I'm actually non-denominational. I'm just in a relationship with my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I'm really not religious. Well, folks say, "How can you be a preacher and not be religious?" And I say, "Well my religion is Monday Night Football but I'm in a relationship with my personal Savior." Jesus didn't really establish a religion, he established a relationship where you get to know him personally and you have a personal encounter with him. Religion is a lot of theology and people's philosophy and doctrine. Some of it is in the Bible and some of it's not. But the word, which is Jesus Christ, be in his life that we may have life and so I am in a relationship with a personal savior as opposed to a religion with rules, regulations, and things that you should follow. I believe in the moral, what is morally right according to God's word. But I also know that the Bible's clear, we all ascend to become sons of glory. So it's about your relationship and realizing that he died and that he came for you to form a relation to save a wretch like me. And so my mom is still living and I think she would die for me but the fact is that only Jesus really died for me. 4 KR: So I know that you have a personal relationship with God and Jesus Christ, but did your church have an impmtant role in the community, in both communities in Florida and in Asheville? DR: I don't know so much about the role of the church in Florida. We would only go visit our grandparents for the summer or whatever. I spent a lot of time really just hanging out with cousins and running around and just being a kid. In the South, you cannot- I have some cousins and stuff that live in the North- but one thing about the South is that when you come home to the South you need to bring a suit because you're going to church. Whether you're asleep or you're awake or whatever you still going to church. So when I went to my grandma's house, we went to church but I was just having fun playing like a kid. But here, where I was born and raised, I was indoctrinated in the community service and working, you know, giving to the poor, the needy, and the homeless and so I grew up in a church that was very active. My father was very active and he and Dr. Molen, Dr. Ray, and Dr. Abrams were pillars in the community, the whole community of Asheville, but mostly the African-American community. And they were very actively involved and activists as well. They were heavily involved in the NAACP, just basically about justice and righteousness for all people. I was never really raised to understand that I was black until Roots came out because a lot of my friends growing up that I spent the night with were white 5 guys. My best friend, Bob Chamberlain, his daddy was a doctor and I knew his house was bigger than mine and they had a little more things like swimming pools and stuff like that, but I really didn't know any real difference in the way that we were raised. We were all raised as God's people and God loves evetybody. So I smt of loved everybody. But being in middle school, 7'h grade, when Roots came out, I was like, "What in the world?" And my parents they knew about our heritage and they made sure that we understood who we were but we were always raised to believe that equality in Christ-Jesus. And so when Roots came out, I really began to understand smt of the plight that my ancestors had went through. My great-grandmama, Ida Sewell(?)-who probably taught me the most about the Bible even though she had only a third-grade education and couldn't read- she could always quote the Bible word for word, she just knew it. And she was actually born in slavety and seen her dad auctioned off. And so when Roots came out, she would sit down and started telling us different stories. They wasn't any histmy books and there wasn't no TV, but she didn't need them and I was like, "wow." I realized then that I am also a direct descendant of Chief Blackhawk of the Sauk Indian tribe. So, I had a lot of education of who I was as a true Native American, who I was as an African-American, and who I was as a Christian, as a child of God. KR: You seem to really know yourself so do you think that also played a role in you becoming a religious leader in your community? DR: Well to be truthful, being born and raised in a Baptist house, I always said, "When I leave home or go to college, I ain't going to nobody's church." I was pretty much sick of church. We had to go to church all the time. In the morning, afternoon, and the evening. Monday night. Tuesday night. Any activity that was going on at the church. And the mission work. As a pastor's kid, you always got to go, you ain't got no say so. So I kept saying, "Man when I get out of high school and go to college, I'm not going to nobody's church." Then when I got to Western, no matter what I did- whether I went to patties, fraternity patties, or hung out- turns out, on Sunday mornings, I just didn't feel right and so I would always get up and go to church. I wouldn't go to Sunday school and I stopped going to Bible study when 6 I got to college. But !never not went to church the four years I was there. I would always find myself going to church. As a matter of fact, that was the main reason why I pledged the ll'aternity that I pledged is because eve1y time I went to church the Kappas was always in church and I thought, "Look at these guys. They always go to church." So I had respect for the fact that they at least got up no matter what we did the night before. We still got up and went to church. Even if we slept through the whole service, we still went to church and I felt like I need to be in the aisles. I felt like I needed to be in church and I would always tell my mama, "I went to church, mama. I ain't go to Sunday school and I didn't do all that stuff but I did go to church." You know because my dad would always tell me - and I used to think it was funny- but he'd say "son did you leave your eyes at home at home?'' And I'd say, "What are you talking about dad?" And he'd say "Where's your mouth at, your mouth at home?'' And I'd say, "No, it's right here with me." He'd say, "OK then, so since you didn't leave those things at home that are very important to you, you need to always go to church and don't leave that at home. You can't come to the church at home because you're in school but you need to find a church somewhere." So in the AfricanAmerican ... We had a strong African-American Black Student Union- Baptist Student Union which is on the edge of the campus -that was pretty big on the campus. So we went to all the three major churches on campus the Baptist church, the Methodist church, and the Presbyterian Church but then we found out that there was an AME Zion black church just outside of campus. So we stmted going to that, the black students did. Then we would go to Sylva to Libe11y Baptist church in Sylva. We would go over there some times and go over there to support the two black churches in the area as well, because we were black students and that was more our heritage. The singing and stuff (inaudible) as opposed to maybe the First Baptist church. Regardless, we went to church somewhere on campus or off campus, we always went to church. And then some Sundays- I don't know if they still got the organization there for the students, the OES. We had this organization, the OES, for students at Western when I was at school that periodically, especially over a major holiday like homecoming or something, the OES choir we would have a service ourselves in the music auditorium or in the Grand Room- upstairs in the Grand Room- or sometimes we would have it at Hoey Auditorium we'd have a worship service- the OES students would provide a worship service on campus. But we always found ourselves in church and the singing of the choir was a way for me to stay connected to my spiritual heritage and who I was in Christ. KR: So, it sounded like you had a lot of preachers in your early life that really affected your, and really motivated you in your pastoral ambition. Do you think that your earlier in life pastoral leaders or your college career really ... Did any preachers in college really affect your pastoral ambition? 7 DR: No, it was like I said, I didn't want to be no pastor. I told my mama all the time about preaching. When I was three years old, a prophet came up to my mom. She said - I was three now- but my mom said that the lady came to her and said "your baby boy right there is gonna be a dynamic preacher, a famous person, or a professional ball player or something like that." And so my mom kept telling me, "boy you know you supposed to be a preacher." I said, "No ma'am not me. I ain't fixing to preach. Daddy already preaching. Grandad, great-grandad, grand uncle, and all them cousins, already we got enough preachers in our family." AJ's (?)the oldest. I was the second bam son. I'm not the first born son. So I denied and ran from it. Actually, for 33 years eve1y preacher in my life or anybody, who said "Man, you know you're going to be a preacher" and I was like, "Nah, you got the wrong person." I actually shunned it and actually ran from it for 33 years and then one day the Lord stmted guiding me and I got a shot at it in the Houston navy, I was in the Navy and it was a situation and all that, and I was like "Man, you know I'm about tired of having folks talk about preaching." So I said, "Lord if you really want me to preach I'll fill out this package"- they kept trying to get me to be an officer because I actually had a degree, but I still went enlisted first. But I already had a degree when I went in. They kept !tying to get me to be an officer. And I didn't want to be a token black officer, and I really didn't want to be an officer. I liked being an enlisted sailor. So I gave a couple of packages away to some of my other shipmates who had degrees and I was left with the chaplain packets. So I started reading through them and I thought okay well I don't have none of this. I don't have a Master's of Divinity. I don't have a license. I'm not ordained. I don't have none of that. So like I said, my mom and everybody else ... So I said, "Lord I'm going to send this out. If it comes back approved then I know you really want me to 8 preach and I'll go ahead and do it. But if it comes back denied then I am going to shut everybody out." I just knew it was going to be denied because I had none of the qualifications. I didn't have none it. And it came back, and a few months later I was licensed, ordained, off to chaplain school and enrolled at Liberty. I was like, "this is moving fast." And you know my dad was like, "He ain't moving fast. He been waiting on you for a long time son and you finally got to a place where you could hear him talk to yourself." So all of my early years and all the preachers in my life, I just never wanted to be one even though I had a lot of respect for them and I could appreciate the sacrifice that they had made and stuff. And I had seen the benefits of them and how they helped folks heal and be delivered and turn their lives around and get off drugs and all of that stuff. I just said that I wasn't going to do it because I had also seen their pain, their struggles and sometimes it's not a glamourousjob like people think it is. I lived in a pastor's household and I seen their struggles and I've seen how people respect and disrespect them. How they mess up their credit, co-signing for somebody and they couldn't sign for their own children and stuff like that. I'm like, "I ain't doing it. I'm sony. I'm just not doing it." So I didn't really have a pastoral form(?) because I ran li'om it but it was still in my spirit because I lived in a Baptist house and I been around all family members that was preachers. Even when I went to college, even my classmates in school would say, "Hey Dave you gonna become a preacher?" And I was like, "Nah man, don't say that to me no more." But it was something about the air, the aura, about myself that people would always say, even people who come on campus for the first, say, "Hey man you a preacher? You sound like a preacher." And I'd say, "Well how a preacher sound? I'm not a preacher, man. My dad is but I'm not." So I couldn't run from it. I tried to run from it but I couldn't, and then at age 36, 33 years later, I finally answered the call to and go into the mission. The Lord used the Navy and that chaplain package to finally get me to accept the call to go into the ministry. KR: So you would definitely say that your profession is a calling rather than you need to have some type of theology ... I know that you personally have a degree in theology. Do you think that anybody can or do you think there should be some type of educational background? 9 DR: Well there's a difference. There's a difference. To be totally honest, most African-American preachers don't go to school to be preachers. They nmmally get called by the Holy Spirit and then they'll go back and get some training. There's some like the Methodist, the AME, the AME Zion, the CME they pretty much prefer their pastors to have at least a Bachelor's degree. The Holiness, the Baptists, more of them are starting to now, but a lot of them just want to make sure you've been called by the Holy Spirit. Acts 13: Chapter [2] says "Now consecrate for me Barnabas and Paul for the work that I have for them to do." And so African-Americans use that same thing if the Holy Spirit has spoken to you and it is time for you to come and do it. So most of them don't go into it as a profession, like a degree, as opposed to say the Catholic priest or the United Methodist or the Lutheran. A lot of them actually when they are in high school- and some of them are called as well, they feel the call - but a lot of them were just raised in a spiritual home and are just good guys and they have this desire to be in the ministty. And so Catholic priests take the vow of celibacy, they just marry the church and they go and do all their professional training stuff for the work of the ministty. But most Afl-ican-Americans get the spiritual call first and then some go into it, some smt of ... Some go on and get a degree and some appreciate it. I appreciated getting the degree because the degree opens up some things and gives you some more research and background into some of the writings of the Bible which makes you even more profound in the way you accept the gospel and a deeper understanding and a deeper realization. So, there is a purpose and a need for the education and I always encourage eve1ybody if they're called into it, at some point, go get some type of form of education but it's not something ... Like I said, my profession that I went into was theater arts and I came out of that and ended up being a professional sailor. Then I ended up being a school teacher. When I started drilling, I taught school in Charlotte- Mecklenburg for I 6 years. Retired ll"om that and now I'm actually a full-time professional pastor. My Master's degree was a Divinity Master's in Counseling, Pastoral Counseling. A Master's of Divinity in Pastoral Counseling. So a degree does help, but for me the calling is more impmtant than having a degree. KR: I know you talked about going to Libe1ty and AME Zion Church that's around campus here at Western, did you form many connections with those ministries fi·om around the area? 10 DR: Yeah, yeah we did. My fraternity, the Kappas, again we were founded on a book of the Bible, so pmt of what we do is community service. We linked up and partner with Mount. Cannel AME up there and Liberty Baptist over in Sylva and did work with them. Feeding of the homeless and clothing drives and Thanksgiving give away turkeys and things like that with both of them. We did things like that. Or study halls with the youth in those churches. We came to study and were mentors and tutors which was part of our Guide Right program. But we was able to link up with them. And then one of the pastors that camethe AME they rotate their pastors out by the Bishop and the other- one of them was actually one of my cousins that's a preacher, so I had a good relationship with that pastor. We suppmted them a whole lot. And now the actual current pastor at Liberty is actually one of my high school buddies that we grew up with. We called ourselves The Fellows, there was five of us and Charles Lee graduated a year ahead of me from high school and went into the Army, but he's now the pastor at Libe1ty and we were like best friends, like brothers, growing up. So, we advise the Kappa Sigma chapter right now that is still up there at Western. We still have a tight relationship with Libe1ty because of me and Charles growing up together so we do a lot with Liberty now, the undergraduates do. KR: Now this is more of like a community question. Another community question. How do you envision your role as a preacher in your local community? How do you envision your role? Like, what do you think your position as a community leader has, like, on the community itself? DR: Well I am pretty active here in the Hickmy community. Here, and really in the South- I guess some in the North and the Midwest but mostly in the South- the African-American pastors still are impmtant role models/figures, if you will, for the community. So we are active here. I still. .. Like, when I was a kid, the preachers would come to the school if a kid got in trouble. So the kids in my church, the members of my church, if their kids have trouble, because I taught school as well, I go and become like a guardian ad litem or an advocate for the parents. I go and meet with them and help them to understand 11 where the school's at, so they don't falsely accuse the school or blame the school because they are black. And they say "well they did that to me because I am black." And I say, "nah your kids acting up period. And he's hardheaded and he needed to be dealt with." And I do that. I am an advocate for both the school and for the ... And we have a tight relationship called the Racial Reconciliation with the cops and the leaders here so that we come together. We have meetings all the time and we come together within the community. I'm pmt of HAM, which is Hickmy Area Ministers, black and white preachers together making sure that since we are all pastors in the same area, working with our community. I am pmt of the CCM, Cooperative Christian Ministty, which gives food and some rent and financial suppmt for light bills, water bills, and stuff like that to the community. I am on those councils. I am on the FEMA council to make sure that the funding is properly distributed, too. I am on the economic development council here to make sure that the things we are bringing to the area - to improve Hickory or to expose Hicko1y- the economics are evenly divided throughout. Not just black and white but Asian, (inaudible), Hispanic, all of them. I am pmt of the, the Hispanic community, making sure that the HIPPA (Health Insurance Pmtability and Accountability Act) doesn't affect the ones in our community, that they are being properly treated right and that. .. Of course, our current President is doing what he's doing, but making sure that they are treated as citizens and that they are respected. So, I do a lot. It is critical that a pastor understands that because he's working from a higher calling, so there's somebody above the president and that's God. And there's somebody above the UN Council and that's God. So, God is a God of all people so it's critical that the pastor be heavily involved in the community. Not just his demographic that he lives in or that his church is located, but the city, the state which he is involved with. And so that is the role that I see the pastor doing. KR: Do you think that the role of ministers have changed over time? I have interviewed other pastors from this area that think that the role of ministers have changed. Now they think that pastors are only here to marry people and stuff like that. They think that that is more of what their profession has turned in to. Do you subscribe to that or do you think the roles of ministers, still holds true to their roots of being pillars ... 12 DR: Again, I think that that relates to the denomination and actually, if you will, to the race. In AfricanAmerican communities, the role of the pastor is still the same if not greater. But I've seen my colleagues ... Again, I was President of HAM, my term is up so I am now the Treasmer of HAM which is all the ministers- black, white, Catholic, Methodist, Protestant, eveJ)'!hing- we all work together. And a lot of my colleagues they see that their role is diminishing and mostly because of technology. Kids nowadays, Millennials, don't really come to chmch. They'd rather watch it on live stream or Y ouTube or just turn on the TV and watch Joel Osteen or somebody like that. So they don't feel that need. Now, some of them still will come to the pastor, like I say, for marriage for funerals and some counseling but they sort of prefer to go to a professional counselor for the counseling. And so a lot of them, other than preaching on Sunday, teaching Bible study on Wednesday night, they don't do what's called groups where they'll have little groups get together. And so the role of the local church has sOli of changed. The importance of you've got to go to chmch has smi of changed for my colleagues. But for the Afi'ican-American community- because the chmch was the pillar of the community. It's where we got social information, where we got political information, where we found refuge, and we got suppmt, etc. - in om community it is pivotal for the black community. The chmch is still viable and the pastors still cany their role. Also, with the Hispanic community a lot of them are Catholic and their priests is still eve1ything to them, they are still reverenced and respected. Now, with people shooting in schools and bombing, I'm sorry, chmches and bombing churches there isn't an overall respect for Christianity period, because of what is happening in America where you can talk about every religion but Clu·ist. They don't want you to say nothing about Christ. You can talk about Islam, you can talk about Buddhism, you can talk about Judaism, you can talk about the New Age, Scientology, all that stuff. But if you start saying Christ then all of a sudden you're not being (inaudible), you're not being inclusive. So that whole shifting in America from the importance of Christ and Christendom has changed and for that a lot of Christian pastors have 13 found their role diminishing among my colleagues. But in the African-American community there's still a viable role of the importance of the pastor. KR: I see, I see. Well, you've provided a lot of great input about community influence that pastors do have and I really appreciate that. Is there anything you would like to add? DR: Well, I will add this right here. Again, I ran for 33 years, and I didn't want to do it. But now I wish that I had of when I was mature enough to understand what it was the past ten years. Because the benefits of seeing a drug addict come off drugs, the benefit of seeing an alcoholic come off alcoholism, the benefit of seeing an abuser stop abusing, the benefit of seeing a marriage restored, the benefit of seeing a father connect with his daughter or daughter or son connect with their mom when they're living in a foster home or a group home because of whatever their parents were doing but the Holy Spirit touched their parent and they came up and they come together. I know you're a younger fellow but even I've seen a person who was homosexual, God touched them and they come out of homosexuality and see the beauty of that, of them understanding that even though they were confused and lnnt but instead ofturning to that, which is almost like a drug if you will, turning back to Jesus and he changed his life. And so, seeing that type of change man, I'm like, "Lord I wish that I had done this so much earlier." But I too had to mature and grow as a person so I really wasn't ready to go in the ministry. Even though I was running from it, God knew I wasn't ready but at age 36 he knew I was. And so, from that time until now it has just been a blessing watching God's hand move in the lives of people. END OF INTERVIEW:
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