Recess Cleveland Reimagines The Manner Youngsters Play


Robertson was surrounded by the wealth of fellowship and compassion when he was a child. His grandmother lived in Glenville with his grandparents, aunt, mother, and younger brother and taught him about ingenuity, conviction, and generosity. In the summer, she sat on the porch of her home and invited residents in need of food to join her.

“It wasn’t uncommon for me to come home from school and see someone I’d never met before sitting at the table eating a meal she’d cooked for them,” says Robertson.

He attended St. Agatha St. Aloysius School until the summer before sixth grade. His teacher recommended that Robertson’s mother allow him to take part in the REACH program, a summer course at the University School for gifted African American students. The program is designed for middle school students to promote and develop skills for academic excellence. He did it so well that the university invited him to attend full-time.

“This invitation turned out to be a turning point in my life,” says Robertson.

The transition to university was a culture shock. Robertson recalled that St. Agatha St. Aloysius had a predominantly African American student body, but he was one of only six black students in his senior year at the University School, which had state-of-the-art computer labs, flight simulators, and stock market computer games that he used to do his classwork could support. While most of his classmates were using computers, he had still typed his English papers on an electronic typewriter.

“I was so ashamed in the first few days of school,” says Robertson. “I knew we weren’t rich, but I didn’t know about wealth until I started going there.”

Although he felt he didn’t fit in, he found community by attending the school’s field days, where all the students could play games like the 30v30 Battleball, a version of dodgeball that anyone could enjoy allows other players to come to the sidelines. Robertson dominated the competition by taking out up to 15 opponents at the same time and making him an opponent.

“The days were like the games at Hogwarts in Harry Potter, where there were 12 different houses and everyone came to school with their house t-shirts,” says Robertson. “It took me time to realize it, but it’s not where you’re from, it’s what you do with it.”

He then went to Columbia University to study computer engineering, and he was the first in his family to graduate from college. After graduating, Robertson worked in investment banking for a number of years. During the height of the 2008 recession, he chose to act as a consultant helping small businesses develop their websites and do marketing. When he was home in 2014, he tore his Achilles tendon playing basketball at Euclid Beach Park, and Robertson decided to return to his mother’s home in Cleveland for a rest.

His mother recommended his name to some community organizations in Glenville, and a representative from the Famicos Foundation asked if he would be interested in mentoring a youth landscape program. At first Robertson declined because he was still recovering.

“I remember just thinking, I’m on the couch, I can’t walk. You want me to push a lawn mower? “Robertson giggles. “They said they just needed a mentor and they told me I could ride a bike.”

Robertson taught life skills and personal development to approximately 34 children each summer for the next four years. But in the summer of 2015 he noticed that there weren’t as many children playing outside in Glenville as they used to be when he was their age. So Robertson asked five of the kids if they wanted to play dodgeball. Four of them said they had never played before which sparked an idea.

“I wanted to give kids the ability to drop their phones, drop their screens, and socialize again and play old-school games like we used to,” says Robertson.

He applied for a Neighborhood Connections scholarship and received $ 2,000 to host an event at the former Harry E. Davis Elementary School near Churchill Avenue and East 105th Street. On August 9, 2015, Robertson invited neighbors, families, friends, and residents to join the fun. More than 100 people attended the all-day event where they ate food, took part in line dancing and played games.

“I was really smart,” laughs Robertson. “We threw it the day after a big block party in the neighborhood and I was able to hand out flyers. It was my birthday too, so all of my friends and neighbors were obliged to come. ”

During a kickball game at 7 p.m., those who were still divided into teams of 21 or fewer players competed against a team of 14 adults. When a 65-year-old grandmother got her first kick, several high schoolers from Glenville and Collinwood stepped in 10 steps from the outfield in preparation for an easy exit. The pitcher, a 5-year-old grandson of a Clark-Fulton woman, rolled the ball and the grandmother kicked it so hard it went over the left fielder’s head.

“She ran to the first base and said, ‘Yeah, I still have it! ‘and after doing it for the first time, she yelled back,’ I need another runner, ‘”chuckles Robertson. “I realized this never happened and I had to do it again.”

This first event resulted in a wealth of community support. By August 2018, Robertson had hosted a number of events involving inflatables, play equipment, and potlucks, and he was given a small school bus in hopes of providing free transportation for future events. Robertson, dubbed the Fun Bus, began picking up families and transporting volunteers to events in neighborhoods like the Detroit Shoreway, Glenville, West Park, and Clark-Fulton.

“We got the idea that instead of forcing people to come to us, we wouldn’t go to them,” says Robertson. “Organizations with services and CDCs with information and resources that worked with us had to do the same. It was this effort that made me realize that this is more magic than just playtime. “