Focus: HOPE is a non-profit organization founded after the Detroit riots in 1967 with the goal of overcoming racism and poverty by providing education and training for under-represented minorities and other members of the community.
The Detroit-based organization provides several inclusive services, including workforce development training, a food for seniors program, early education programs and many other incredible initiatives, all done under the lens of advocacy and equity.
[Learn more about all the Game Changers honorees at DetroitRedWings.com/Equality]
Roberson joined the Focus: HOPE team as CEO in 2018, bringing strategic and inclusive leadership with a focus on moving the organization forward.
Roberson said she's honored to give back to families in the community where she grew up.
"I was very fortunate, my family didn't need the services of Focus: HOPE, but I knew about it and grew up not too far from Focus: HOPE, and I just thought this was an opportunity to really give back," Roberson said. "Ultimately, I'm most grateful for the opportunity to serve. The gratefulness that people have for us, the sense of what we're doing makes a difference for them, makes all the work worth it."
Video: Game Changers Round Table Discussion | Comerica Bank
Detroit Red Wings and Tigers director of community impact Kevin Brown said Roberson embodies the Game Changers ideal of making a positive impact in the lives of Detroiters and establishing a profound influence in the areas of youth education, wellness or hockey participation.
"When we were searching for our Game Changers honorees, Portia Roberson instantly came to mind," Brown said. "For years, she has been a powerful voice in moving the city forward. Now with Focus: HOPE, Portia is bringing her voice and unique background to expand opportunities and resources across Detroit for children and families to succeed."
Roberson, who is a lifelong Detroiter as a Cass Tech High School graduate with a Juris Doctorate from Wayne State University Law School, said she's thrilled to be honored by the Red Wings, especially because of the Wings' commitment to making hockey accessible for inner-city and under-represented children in Detroit.
"I'm a Detroiter, born and raised. I know the Red Wings like the back of my hand. Being honored by the NHL and the Red Wings, specifically, is just huge," Roberson said. "It's sort of opening doors for African American kids to look at hockey as a possible avenue. Traditionally, we look at basketball and football, and not necessarily baseball and hockey as accessible sports, but I think you'll see more kids of color getting involved in hockey and baseball moving forward."
Prior to her work with Focus: HOPE, Roberson was a group executive for the City of Detroit's Civil Rights, Inclusion and Opportunity Department, where she worked tirelessly to ensure all major economic development projects in the city hired Detroit-headquartered or Detroit-based businesses, allowing Detroit workers more opportunities for employment.
She also worked under Detroit mayor Mike Duggan, U.S. attorney general Eric Holder and in the Obama administration, gaining experience as a fighter for social justice and equality on a local and national level.
Roberson said Focus: HOPE is attempting to continue the recent momentum of the nationwide social justice movement by placing a heavy emphasis on equality and inclusion through anti-racism training and unconscious bias education.
"We're doing significant anti-racism training with different organizations and corporations," she said. "But it really is about addressing how we all have some biases and identifying what that looks like, something that you may be unaware of. We're a lot less conscious of little things that we may be doing, but unconscious bias can be prevalent everywhere."
Roberson said people are finally starting to understand how serious social injustice has been in metro Detroit and throughout the country, slowly but surely resulting in increased unity.
"So much went on in 2020 that it's hard to stay focused on any one particular thing, but I think what we're seeing is kind of a reset towards coming together," she said. "It sounds kind of corny, but the reality is, we're so much stronger when we're all together.
"We don't have to agree on everything, but talking to one another and coalescing around the idea of fairness for everybody, justice for everybody, equality for everybody; we do it better when we are talking to one another and understanding other people's point of view."
One of the aspects of 2020 that made it difficult to focus on granular facets of social injustice was the COVID-19 pandemic. Roberson said Focus: HOPE quickly sprung into action when the pandemic hit to ensure the organization continued running smoothly and continued serving people in need.
"We were really lucky. We pivoted on day one, so we've not closed our doors at all," Roberson said. "During COVID, so many seniors have been isolated in their homes, unable to get to a grocery store and unable to have their families bring them food.
"With our food for seniors program, we go out and do our deliveries, and the reaction that you get is priceless. They're really, really grateful for us. And I think it reminds us, even in this bubble that we're all living in, that we're all connected to one another."
Roberson said in addition to serving more than 41,000 metro Detroit seniors, Focus: HOPE also revved up its digital presence to combat the pandemic, providing virtual training and education in a safe and socially distanced environment.
"We started doing our workforce training virtually. We made sure our students could do training from home, so we provided devices for students who didn't have them," she said. "One of the best things I've seen this year has been the dedication with which our students have shown. We converted to virtual for our workforce training, and watching students stay committed to instruction over a computer all day has been incredible.
"They know that the avenue toward the life they want could be through this training, and they're 100-percent committed. We're really proud of that, and we'll continue to help as many people as we can moving forward."
Roberson said the Red Wings Game Changers series is shining an important light on all the struggling families and children in the Detroit community, and is showcasing several ways people can get help.
"I think what the Red Wings are doing by honoring the Game Changers is bringing attention to the organizations that we're involved with to let them know that we're continuing this work and we always need more help," Roberson said. "So many families need help from Focus: HOPE. I hope this honor helps people realize there's always a need to help others, and we have to step up and continue to provide help for those in need."
For more information on all the services that Focus: HOPE provides, visit FocusHope.edu or call 313-494-5500.