Terrance Roberts used to be in a gang. Now he’s organizing protests against police brutality.

Photographer Kevin Mohatt spent time with Roberts over the summer to get a behind-the-scenes look at the activist planning some of the protests and rallies in Denver and Aurora. 

Terrance Roberts leads protesters in a march calling for justice for Elijah McClain in Aurora. July 25, 2020.  Photo by Kevin Mohatt

Terrance Roberts leads protesters in a march calling for justice for Elijah McClain in Aurora. July 25, 2020. Photo by Kevin Mohatt

Kevin Mohatt
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By Kevin Mohatt

Photographer Kevin Mohatt spent time with Terrance Roberts over the summer to get a behind-the-scenes look at the activist planning some of the protests and rallies in Denver and Aurora. 

If you’ve been to a protest for racial justice in Denver or Aurora over the past several months, there’s a good chance Terrance Roberts was at the front line, yelling into his bullhorn, leading marchers in chants to end police violence.

But Roberts hasn’t always been an activist. In fact, he was once the person committing the violence.

“I can’t change the past,” Roberts said while sitting in his apartment in Denver.

Terrance Roberts works from his home in Denver, August 5, 2020. Photo by Kevin Mohatt

Terrance Roberts works from his home in Denver, August 5, 2020.

Kevin Mohatt

Growing up, Roberts was a member of the Bloods, a gang in north Park Hill. His lifestyle led him to commit several criminal acts including shooting up a fellow gang member’s car with a MAC-11 after an argument. This incident landed him in prison for seven years, which became a pivotal moment for him.

“I was looking at a bunch of prison time. I went to jail, and I started really studying about activism and organizing,” Roberts said.

He began reading the Bible and learning about the teachings of Mother Theresa, Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. Those lessons helped him see life in a new way, one where he could help others instead of hurting them. At that point, he started to become a peacemaker in prison and even managed to stop a race riot.

Once he got out of prison, he vowed to stay out of the gang and instead dedicate his energy to helping youth in the neighborhood stay off the streets. He started a nonprofit organization called the Prodigal Son Initiative, which gave kids a safe place to hang out after school. He established space for the youth to complete their homework, but he also provided activities, such as dodgeball and hiking, to keep them engaged.

Terrance Roberts meets with members of the activist group Frontline Party for Revolutionary Action at Candice Bailey's home in Aurora to plan their next protest against police violence, August 5, 2020.

Terrance Roberts meets with members of the activist group Frontline Party for Revolutionary Action at Candice Bailey's home in Aurora to plan their next protest against police violence, August 5, 2020. Photo by Kevin Mohatt.

CPR

“I’d been gangbanging. It got me nowhere but to jail. I’d rather be out here using my time to be somebody positive,” Roberts said.

Roberts’ work was paying off. Park Hill, which had grown accustomed to shootings and robberies, was seeing a decrease in gang violence during Roberts’ time running the Prodigal Son. But in 2013, at a community rally he helped organize, Roberts shot a man he said threatened him. Two years later, he was found not guilty of attempted murder.

Roberts has long been skeptical of the police and felt their use of force in his community, and other communities, was excessive. He felt there needed to be more accountability over law enforcement. That was when he began using his voice to call for an end to police brutality.

In the summer of 2019, when he heard of the death of Elijah McClain in police custody, he felt obligated to respond. Roberts is one of a small group of activists who have been out protesting at the Aurora Municipal Center on a regular basis long before George Floyd was killed.

He has partnered with other organizers to help lead large protests that have drawn attention of people throughout the world.  Those protests have also drawn the attention of local law enforcement.

Recently, he and five other protest organizers were arrested and charged with inciting a riot. He said the threat of prosecution is meant to intimidate and silence him. He said he would fight the charges and continue to help lead protests.

“All of that happened to me then, that is really why I’m doing what I’m doing today,” Roberts said. “Because I love my community.”

Terrance Roberts raises a sign while sitting out of the window of a vehicle during a car rally that included more than 200 vehicles which blocked traffic for several blocks and surrounded the Aurora Municipal Center calling for justice for Elijah McClain and to defund the Aurora Police Department in Aurora, CO, July 12, 2020. Photo by Kevin Mohatt

Terrance Roberts raises a sign while sitting out of the window of a vehicle during a car rally that included more than 200 vehicles, blocking traffic for several blocks near the Aurora Municipal Center. They were calling for justice for Elijah McClain and to defund the Aurora Police Department. July 12, 2020.

Kevin Mohatt
Terrance Roberts meets with members of the activist group he co-founded, Frontline Party for Revolutionary Action, to plan their next protest against police violence in Denver, September 3, 2020.

Terrance Roberts meets with members of the activist group he co-founded, Frontline Party for Revolutionary Action, to plan their next protest against police violence in Denver, September 3, 2020. Photo by Kevin Mohatt.

CPR
Terrance Roberts raises his arm in the air while leading protesters in calls for an end to police in Aurora, CO, August 30, 2020.  Photo by Kevin Mohatt

Terrance Roberts raises his arm while leading protesters in calls for an end to police in Aurora. August 30, 2020.

Kevin Mohatt
Terrance Roberts leads protesters in calling for an end to police in Aurora, CO, August 30, 2020.  Photo by Kevin Mohatt

Terrance Roberts leads protesters in calling for an end to police in Aurora, CO, August 30, 2020.

Kevin Mohatt
Terrance Roberts and Candice Bailey share a rare light moment while leading protesters in a march calling for  an end to police violence in Aurora, CO, August 30, 2020. Photo by Kevin Mohatt

Terrance Roberts and Candice Bailey share a moment while leading protesters in a march calling for an end to police violence in Aurora. August 30, 2020.

Kevin Mohatt
Terrance Roberts leads protesters in calling for an end to police in Aurora, CO, August 30, 2020.  Photo by Kevin Mohatt

Terrance Roberts leads protesters in calling for an end to police in Aurora, CO, August 30, 2020.

Kevin Mohatt
Terrance Roberts speaks to a crowd of protesters calling for justice for Elijah McClain and to defund the Aurora Police Department in Aurora, CO, July 12, 2020. Photo by Kevin Mohatt

Terrance Roberts speaks to a crowd of protesters calling for justice for Elijah McClain and to defund the Aurora Police Department. July 12, 2020.

Kevin Mohatt
(Left to right, starting in back row) Aariyah Johnson, Terrance Roberts, Lindsay Minter, Sheneen McClain, Candice Bailey, Desmond Lawrence, (front row) Nya Johnson, Shana Shaw and Christabelle Guevara, members of the Frontline Party for Revolutionary Action, which was originally named the Frontline Party for Elijah McClain, and co-founded by Roberts and Bailey in response to the death of Elijah McClain, pose for a portrait at the start of a protest they helped organize in Aurora, CO, July 12, 2020. Photo by Kevin Mohatt

(Left to right, starting in back row) Aariyah Johnson, Terrance Roberts, Lindsay Minter, Sheneen McClain, Candice Bailey, Desmond Lawrence, (front row) Nya Johnson, Shana Shaw and Christabelle Guevara, members of the Frontline Party for Revolutionary Action, which was originally named the Frontline Party for Elijah McClain, and co-founded by Roberts and Bailey in response to the death of McClain. July 12, 2020.

Kevin Mohatt
Terrance Roberts leads a march on the Fourth of July through the Five Points neighborhood in Denver, CO, July 4, 2020. On a day when most Americans celebrate independence, this march was focused on ending oppression. Photo by Kevin Mohatt

Terrance Roberts leads a march on the Fourth of July through the Five Points neighborhood. July 4, 2020. On a day when most Americans celebrate independence, this march was focused on ending oppression.

Kevin Mohatt
AURORA, CO - JUNE 30: Terrance Roberts addresses people who gathered to voice concerns about the Aurora Police Department after Aurora City Council moves council meeting to a virtual setting in aftermath of Elijah McClainÕs killing and subsequent protests that led to APD launching tear gas on people holding a violin vigil in honer of McClain in Aurora, CO, June 30, 2020. Photo by Kevin MohatT

Terrance Roberts addresses people who gathered to voice concerns about the Aurora Police Department after Aurora City Council moved their council meetings to a virtual setting in the aftermath of Elijah McClain's killing and subsequent protests.

Kevin Mohatt
Terrance Roberts addresses people who gathered outside the Aurora Municipal Center to voice concerns about the Aurora Police Department in the aftermath of Elijah McClainÕs death in Aurora, CO, June 30, 2020. Photo by Kevin Mohatt

Terrance Roberts addresses people who gathered outside the Aurora Municipal Center to voice concerns about the Aurora Police Department in the aftermath of Elijah McClain's death. June 30, 2020.

Kevin Mohatt
Artwork made by Terrance RobertsÕ child has the words "IÕm hooked on my Daddy" written on it and rests under awards he received from his employer for his work at Zillow at his home in Denver, August 5, 2020. Photo by Kevin Mohatt

Artwork made by Terrance Robert's child has the words "I'm hooked on my Daddy" written on it. It rests under awards Roberts received from his employer for his work at Zillow. August 5, 2020. Photo by Kevin Mohatt.

CPR
Terrance Roberts works from his home in Denver, August 5, 2020. Photo by Kevin Mohatt

Terrance Roberts works from his home in Denver, August 5, 2020. Photo by Kevin Mohatt

CPR
Terrance Roberts meets with Candice Bailey and other members of the activist group, Frontline Party for Revolutionary Action, at BaileyÕs home in Aurora to plan their next protest against police violence, August 5, 2020. They pass around a cell phone displaying video of events earlier that week where Aurora police officers handcuffed a Black family, including small children, after mistaking them for suspects in a criminal investigation. Photo by Kevin Mohatt

Terrance Roberts meets with Candice Bailey and other members of the activist group Frontline Party for Revolutionary Action at Bailey's home in Aurora to plan their next protest against police violence, August 5, 2020. They pass around a cell phone displaying video of events earlier that week where Aurora police officers handcuffed a Black family, including small children, after mistaking them for suspects in a criminal investigation. Photo by Kevin Mohatt

CPR
Terrance Roberts gets in his car to go meet with members of the activist group he co-founded, Frontline Party for Revolutionary Action to plan their next protest in Denver, August 5, 2020. (Kevin Mohatt/For CPR News)

Terrance Roberts gets in his car to go meet with members of the activist group he co-founded, Frontline Party for Revolutionary Action to plan their next protest in Denver. August 5, 2020. Photo by Kevin Mohatt.

CPR
Terrance Roberts leads protesters in a march calling for justice for Elijah McClain in Aurora, CO, July 25, 2020.  Photo by Kevin Mohatt

Terrance Roberts leads protesters in a march calling for justice for Elijah McClain in Aurora. July 25, 2020.

Kevin Mohatt
Terrance Robertsts leads protesters in chants calling for an end to police violence on the steps of the Colorado State Capitol in Denver, July 19, 2020. Photo by Kevin Mohatt

Terrance Robertsts leads protesters in chants calling for an end to police violence on the steps of the State Capitol. July 19, 2020.

Kevin Mohatt

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