The Talon staff sat down with Oklahoma Christian University senior Desirea Roberts this week to discuss the 33 year old’s passion for helping show Jesus to people in need. Roberts currently works with two self-started nonprofits while completing her degree.
Q. What can you tell us about the nonprofits you work with?
“Living Hope ministry is actually the nonprofit that got me started. It is my mentor’s organization and I just help with a number of things. That is where my life changed. It helps women who struggle from all types of abuse and it is not just a poverty thing. They have dealt with prescription drug abuse as well. I also help tutor children that are in low poverty areas. So, if it is a low performance school, I usually try to help with that school and ask if they have any students who need help. I usually connect with the teacher first, they’ll introduce me to the principal and then it just kind of goes from there.”
Q. What initially inspired you to go into nonprofit work?
“Honestly, because of my upbringing—I grew up in a middle-class neighborhood, but I had friends who were upper-class and I had friends who were lower-class. I noticed how it was a disconnect. The upper class didn’t understand the lower class and the lower class couldn’t understand the upper class. I felt like I was that person in the middle that could be that gap to say, ‘Hey guys, we can all work together to really accomplish goals.’”
Q. Why did you decide to pursue a degree after your nonprofit success?
“Being an African-American in America and not having a degree, certain doors just won’t open if you don’t have that degree and you don’t have that title. Really nowadays, it’s not even an African American thing anymore, you need that degree to initially open doors. So, there are some things with my business—I don’t want it to be just in the state, I want it to be nationwide— and so OC is that thing that will help me get there.”
Q. Why did you decide to come to Oklahoma Christian?
“I was looking for Christian schools. I went to Valencia [College] in Orlando, FL and I thought I would love to see what it would be like to go to a Christian school. Believe it or not, OC is one of the cheapest—most affordable, we won’t call it cheap—most cost-efficient schools in America that still ranks high as far as education goes. That was my main reason for choosing here.”
Q. In what ways is the college experience different for you compared to the average student?
“It’s completely different. I didn’t know about Earn Your Wings, so I didn’t get the chance to really be introduced to anyone. One of the stories I tell more often is that when I moved here, I got really sick and I didn’t know anyone, didn’t have any family here. I didn’t have those people to rally behind. Then, my mom got sick and I began to question why I was really here. My mom was battling cancer, my dad was battling cancer, I’m in my 30s going back to school and I wondered if I was being selfish—should I really be doing this or taking care of my parents right now?”
Q. What do you think is the benefit of going to college later in life?
“I think you appreciate it more. You have to determine whether or not you want to leave with a substantial amount of debt and you are more disciplined. You’ve lived through life and you’ve kind of had to kick down some doors to get just basic jobs because you didn’t have a degree. There’s no reinforcement, you are the reinforcement, so you’re either going to do it or you’re not going to do it—there’s no in between for me.”
Q. Is there anything in college you think is easier because you have more life experience than those around you?
“Absolutely, conflict. I noticed certain things I can laugh and joke about that students have said. I can kind of brush it off, whereas if this was 10 years ago, it wouldn’t have gone over as easily.”
Q. What’s been the hardest part of being a business owner and student?
“Time. There are some nights I just don’t get sleep and there’s some days where I’m like, ‘Should I go to school today?’ or ‘I’m not feeling well today, should I take a few hours off?’ But I don’t really get that option because if I don’t work, I obviously can’t pay my bills. If I can’t pay my bills, I’m going to school in vain, so sometimes it’s kind of rough.”
Q. Has there been any notable moments of success or joy while pursuing your degree that have made all the challenges worthwhile?
“I graduated from Valencia in May of last year and I am a first-generation college student. To see my parents cry and to see my nephew—who, you know, no one has ever graduated—to be a role model for him, it made it all worth it. I wanted to tell him, ‘You have something to look forward to. You don’t have to look at a celebrity to be your role model now that you have me.’”
Q. What can you tell us about the “Home for the Holidays” campaign you are trying to start?
“I’ve designed several t-shirts and I’ve got the slogan, ‘from homelessness to wholeness.’ I’m selling these shirts, taking donations, and what this does is, if a family or individual is homeless, the proceeds from that will help get them a house after the first of the year. One of the biggest things that bothers me with American culture is that we give during Thanksgiving and Christmas but after the first of the year we go back to our regular lives. And there’s millions of people who are just living on the streets, so I asked myself, ‘What can I do?’ I not only give them the money, I also keep contact with them for six months, so I am going to reach out and they will have weekly sessions where I check in. I’ll help them with financial literacy and to really combat everything so they do not have to go back into homelessness.”
Q. What advice would you give to a student who doesn’t know what they want to do in the future?
“It takes time. I think the biggest misconception that we have is that we want to figure out life at 19, and the reality is there are things that are going to come when you are 30 that you never would have expected. So, everything that you thought you should have done when you were 19 will make sense that you didn’t accomplish it. Just know that it takes time. I never knew what I wanted to be, but I knew what I didn’t want to be.”