The working day has barely started, but Jim Roberson is pacing with the sort of energy he uses to inspire rooms full of youngsters.
In his exuberant American accent, the former school teacher and sports coach is keen to explain why he’s trying to get kids into RAP – and why he’s definitely not talking about music.
‘I’m talking about respect, accountability and preparation. That’s at the heart of everything I teach,’ says Jim, who takes this message to children and young people at schools and youth groups.
‘Respect is vitally important. I’m trying to get off this word behaviour, is someone behaving or misbehaving.Suppose a kid sits down and looks like they’re listening and behaves in the right way. It doesn’t mean they’re learning anything.
‘Respect is listening to someone when they’re talking to you and treating them in the right way. We use a lot of words that could just be covered by ‘‘respect’’. For example, if we have respect we don’t need the word ‘‘racism’’.’
The 53-year-old lives in Fareham with wife Teresa and their youngest daughter, but grew up on a housing project in New York right next to The Bronx. His home was pleasant and Jim had a good upbringing, but he knows plenty of people who turned their backs on difficult childhoods.
‘That’s where accountability comes in,’ says Jim. ‘You can grow up in the nastiest neighbourhood in the world but take responsibility for yourself and be accountable for your change.’
For Jim, a former university American football player and coach, preparation means one thing – education. ‘An education prepares you for life, it gives you choices.’
Jim taught citizenship and PE at King Richard School in Paulsgrove for 13 years. The self-styled ‘discipline coach’ now runs Youthminded, a company that runs sessions for young people in schools and other organisations, helping with revision skills and teaching the importance of education and respect.
He believes youngsters are under a lot of pressure from society’s influences and one of those is his pet hate – rap music. ‘It’s not the music it’s the lyrics, the language, it’s disrespectful – and you ain’t ever gonna desensitise certain words with me. What I hate most is it’s all about making money – that’s exploitation.’
Jim has recently had a book published called The Discipline Coach – a series of helpful ideas and stories to inspire, teachers and other professionals, parents and children.
In the book is a quote from American football coach Lou Holtz – ‘Discipline is not what you do to yourself, but what you do for yourself.’
He explains: ‘We gotta stop kiddies thinking discipline is what someone is going to do to you but what you can do to help yourself.’
His ideas have come from his own background and education. Jim was the first black student at the affluent Bronxville High School and studied economics at the University of Rhode Island. He first came to the UK to coach American football, met his wife and decided to settle here.
Jim likes to tell youngsters that everyone needs a bit of help and thanks a series of inspirational people in his life.
‘Miss Potts, she was my teacher when I was nine. She wanted to take us on a school trip but it was expensive, so she got us all raising the money. We sold cakes, we raked leaves. And we went on the plane upstate to Albany. It was incredible.’
Then there was Mr Bray from his prep school where as a scholarship student Jim had to wash the dishes. ‘Mr Bray inspected them and if they weren’t perfect, you did them again. He was great and now I’m a believer in washing dishes. I’ve never had a dishwasher in my house.’
So he learned to take pride in what he did and is now keen to pass on aspirational messages and guidance. ‘I thought either I can just do this for my kids or say ‘‘yo man I’m gonna give the world back what it’s given to me’’.’
Jim takes youngsters on trips to New York where they visit sites like the UN and Empire State Building.
And he hammers home education. ‘We get hung up on telling kids money’s not important, they just gotta be happy. Tell a 14-year-old that and what are they gonna do in an exam room? We need money for everything. And even if they want to do something that’s not well-paid, hell they still need an education.
‘Besides, if my son ain’t earning money, he’s got his hand in my pocket,’ he says, grinning.
Jim’s own children are either studying or teaching. They grew up washing dishes, cleaning their rooms, earning their keep and studying at the agreed times.
‘It didn’t always work out like that and they had freedom – you gotta let kids make their own mistakes or they don’t learn. But I never acted like their friend. I had a job to do. I’m gonna keep it real, say things that a friend would never say unless they’re being nasty. But I’m making sure they know how to take care of themselves.’
But he says they have a great relationship because of two things – humour and respect.
‘We’ve always had a lot of laughs and we’ve talked a lot. And you respect kids too. It runs both ways.’