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July 21, 2012

The Bishop Robinson Story; A second chance at life

BroncoBlitz.com had the opportunity to interview Western Michigan basketball recruit and Kalamazoo Loy Norrix star Bishop Robinson. Part one of The Bishop Robinson Story details Robinson's life growing up in Kalamazoo's south side neighborhood. Part two details Robinson's second chance at life with the Rocco family.

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In eighth grade, April Rocco began noticing Bishop Robinson coming to school with a suitcase. She would soon come to find out that both Bishop's mother and father had been in and out of jail over the course of the last several months.

It quickly became apparent that Robinson was homeless.

When Robinson wasn't staying with his father or his cousins, he spent nights on his grandmother's porch on Washington Avenue, in the City's south-side Edison neighborhood. But despite his homelessness and unpredictable living conditions, he continued to come in to school each day, doing the bulk of his schoolwork in Mrs. Rocco's classroom. Just as he had always done.

Bishop continued to build a relationship with April at school, and would even occasionally stop by the Rocco's home to help out around the house and do chores.

"I started working around the house. I cleaned gutters, mowed the lawn, helped fix stuff," said Robinson. "I got to the point where I just felt really comfortable around her."

One day out of the blue, Robinson received a phone call from his mother. She went on to tell Bishop that she had moved to Virginia. At the time, Robinson's mother was still battling drug addictions and was unemployed. Although the young teen wanted more than anything to stay with his mother, he ultimately decided to stay in Kalamazoo.

"I wanted to go with her, but it was just too far," explained Robinson. "I knew she couldn't provide for us. I miss her and love her very much. She was my mom."

Between his mother's struggling drug addiction and his father's struggling alcohol problems, it soon became evident that Robinson wasn't going to live with his family again. So the young school teacher talked to her husband Frank Rocco, a fifth grade teacher at Woodward Elementary in Kalamazoo's Northside neighborhood.

"We panicked," said Frank Rocco. "We wondered, 'what is this kid gonna do?' We had a lot of conversations about it. Should we do this? Can we do this?"

"We finally agreed that if we were going to do this, it wasn't going to be weekend sleepovers," Frank said. "It's all or nothing. And so we decided to ask him."

Initially, Robinson didn't commit. Until one night he was sleeping on his grandmother's porch and he heard gunshots nearby. Robinson came to school the next day with his suitcase in hand, and said to April Rocco, "I have to move in with you or I'm gonna die."

That day, Bishop Robinson moved in with the Rocco's and his life was forever changed.

"It was like I had a new life," said Robinson. "I knew everything was going to change for me. As an African American, I saw how white people treated their kids. I knew my life would be strict and the things I could do might be limited."

"I realized I wasn't going anywhere doing what I was doing. So I talked to my (birth) mom, and we both agreed that it would be better for me to move in with them."

"I wanted to be somebody and go somewhere," Bishop recalls. "I didn't see anything on the streets that really showed me a way out. I've seen most of my family members locked up and involved in shootings. I saw my cousin get drunk, and then get shot and killed. I realized I wanted to do something with basketball."

When asked if he was scared of moving into a new environment, Robinson recalled, "No, not really. I mean, I was so comfortable around April. She was basically my god-mom. That's what she felt like to me and that's what I always tell people."

Moving in with the Rocco's took a few adjustments, and Robinson surely went through some challenges along the way.

"The first few weeks were rough. I knew there were parties on the weekend and that I couldn't go to any of them. [April] would talk to me about [the parties]. She would talk me through it and tell me that it was alright. Eventually, I felt like I didn't really need to go out, and I started going to sleep at reasonable times."

It also became a huge period of transition for the Rocco family as well.

"We have two boys, ages five and seven," says Frank. "I didn't expect to all of a sudden be dealing with teenage issues like talking about sex, drugs, and alcohol. It was tough trying to convince the kid that he was a good person and a great athlete, and that he was worth something. And knowing that we only have a 4-5 year window to change this kids life. As if managing all of his basketball stuff isn't enough, I'm trying to get him to be a man, establish social skills, teach him how to eat dinner at a restaurant. Things that you wouldn't normally think of in your everyday life."

"We went out to eat one time. We all got out of the car, but Bishop was still in there. He didn't want to get out of the car. We asked him what was up and why he wouldn't get out of the car? He asked me 'Am I going to be the only black person in this restaurant?' It has really made us conscious of things."

"We've provided him with a great opportunity. But at the same time, none of this would've worked if it wasn't for him. He's been a wonderful big brother to my kids. They have Bishop Robinson posters in their room. They worship him. They think he's the greatest thing ever," said Frank.

"It's nice," Bishop says. "I was asking James what number he wanted to be when he plays baseball and he told me he wants to be number 33," which of course happens to be Robinson's basketball jersey number.

At Milwood Middle School, they've blown up pictures and posters of Bishop Robinson in the hallways. Robinson is also already a member of the Milwood Middle School Hall-of-Fame, and routinely goes back to the school to talk to kids about the importance of studying and education twice per year.

"I enjoy going back," says Robinson. "I think it's fun. I tell them that middle school is where it starts. This is where boys become men. This is your time to do what you want to do with your life. I tell them I've been through the 'hood life and there wasn't anything there for me in the past, and there wasn't anything there for me in the future. I turned my life around and it's better now. There's more than gang life out there and you can be successful no matter how you grew up."

"When he goes back there to talk and teachers see him for the first time since he was in their classroom, they can't believe what they're seeing," Frank explains.

Although Robinson continues to walk through the hallways and classrooms of Kalamazoo Public Schools as somewhat of a local celebrity, the 17-year old prep star at Loy Norrix has been facing a different kind of adversity lately. And that is garnering the interest of division one schools despite averaging a double-double his junior year of high school, and continuing his absurd pace this summer against some of the highest level of competition in AAU.

***

Check back tomorrow at BroncoBlitz.com for Part Three of "The Bishop Robinson Story" series. Use The Knollwood Tavern to discuss and comment anything related to Bishop Robinson and his amazing, inspirational story.

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