While others may have questioned Daniel Roberts’ decision to enroll at the University of Mississippi, the Moss Point native felt no apprehension about being on campus. And any doubts about whether he belonged soon disappeared, thanks to his involvement in the Black Student Union.
“The Black Student Union was a safe space for black students,” said Roberts, who graduated in 2014 with a degree in public policy leadership and a minor in political science. “It provided a place to talk about the challenges we saw on campus and strategize ways to address them.
“BSU allowed us to be ourselves and stay in touch with the culture that we experienced growing up while navigating a predominantly white university. It taught us about the different hues of blackness and the varied experiences many of us have.”
Most importantly, the organization, which celebrates its 50th year in 2018, helped African-American students maneuver through campus while being unapologetically black, said Roberts, who lives in New York City.
“I appreciate BSU for that,” he said. “I continue supporting the university by playing an active role in the internship program. I work with the staff twice a year to speak with students who are interning in my city and help connect them with professionals in their fields of interest.”
Roberts said he had always told himself if he didn’t go to college on the East Coast, he’d go to the best school in Mississippi: Ole Miss. After being accepted to the university’s Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and Trent Lott Leadership Institute and receiving a full scholarship, it was a no-brainer.
“I didn’t have any apprehension, but there were a lot of people who questioned my decision because of the university’s history involving integration,” Roberts said.
Roberts is remembered by UM staff members as a leader who worked with purpose.
“Daniel was personally motivated to make a difference for the active students in the Black Student Union,” said Valeria Ross, associate dean of students and director of the Office of Leadership and Advocacy. “He wanted to contribute however he could.
“What I remember most about Daniel was the intentionality with which he approached his support for the Black Student Union. He was very creative and he helped students pursue, oftentimes, unique opportunities … definitely, ones that many times the student had not considered.”
Roberts pushed the importance of networking, internships and planning for the next step beyond the undergraduate experience with members of the Black Student Union, Ross said.
“He was one of the Black Student Union leaders who I remember passionately pushing study abroad, summer internships, connecting with alumni, all in an effort to encourage intentionality in charting the student leader journey so that it would connect to the student’s overall future career and/or graduate school plans,” she said.
As a student, Roberts served as chief of staff to BSU President Quadray Kohlhiem.
“My most memorable moment in BSU was during the university’s 50th year of integration,” Roberts said. “Our school received a great deal of international media coverage – noting the progress we made – and brought monumental speakers including Attorney General Eric Holder and civil rights leader Harry Belafonte.
“During this time, BSU leaders played a huge role in sharing stories of progress, while pointing out areas that still needed addressing.”
An account executive at Edelman, the world’s largest communications marketing firm, Roberts’ work includes doing a mix of public relations such as crisis management, executive visibility and celebrity engagement for several major brands.
“Ole Miss prepared me for this path by providing me countless opportunities to engage in global thinking through studying abroad three times (Ecuador, Germany and South Africa) and interning with first lady Michelle Obama at the White House,” he said. “Those experiences led to me securing a full-time role at the White House where I worked in communications and legislative affairs before starting my current role.”
Roberts’ parents, Ruben and Debra Roberts, and sister, Rachael Roberts, still reside in Moss Point.
By Edwin B. Smith
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