Longevity has its place and for former state representative James R. Roebuck, that place was in Harrisburg serving the people of the 188th legislative district which he has done since 1985.
With a background as an educator, having worked as a professor at Drexel University prior to his 25 years of public service, Roebuck was a staunch advocate for education and that advocacy continues to this day.
But, 2019 and 2020 saw sweeping changes in the Pennsylvania legislature and throughout Philadelphia, incumbents were swept away by a sea of new faces vying to replace the older vanguards. Former councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, who occupied the seat once held by the late Lucien Blackwell, was swept out of office by Jamie Gauthier in an upset which shocked many.
In the 185th Legislative district, Regina Young upset Maria Donatucci to assume the position of State representative and in 2019, Tracey L. Gordon ended the reign of Ron Donatucci, former Register of Wills who held the office since 1980.
Adding to this change was the defeat of James Roebuck to Rick Krajewski, a local community organizer who will go on to represent the 188th.
Roebuck began his nearly 3-decades long career in public service as a member of Mount Olivet Tabernacle Baptist Church pastored by Marshall Lorenzo Shepard, Sr. in West Philadelphia who also had served as state representative.
“He served the Pennsylvania Legislature from the 1930’s until the 1940’s,” said Roebuck of his late pastor.
“He was right in the center of all the things that were going on politically in the city and in the church, and we supported him as our pastor, and we supported what he did. We were a part of the effort to bring about racial justice in the city, the state and the nation.”
Politics and social engagement weren’t something new to Roebuck when he decided to first run for office in 1985.
“That’s a very natural thing to me, that’s something I grew up with, that’s something I was well in tune with and something I tried to carry forward in my life of public service,” he said.
Serving as state representative was dear to Roebuck but he also had another passion, something close to his heart:
“I have always been an advocate for education. I am by background a teacher and that’s still my first love in life,” he responded.
Today, Roebuck is still active in local community groups and for years has tutored local students in reading. [I know, you didn’t know about this but that’s why I’m here, right?]
“I have been doing that for years but because of Covid-19 all of that has been shut down but I do have a commitment to be involved in the schools, working with young people, not only in regard to mentoring and tutoring but also in terms of talking to them about what I did, or what I have done and how they might want to think about what they want to do, how to choose a career and what they have to do to be prepared,” he said.
It's important that today’s students get the most out of their educational experience. Memorizing facts and passing tests are one thing but Roebuck says education should be a “pathway” guiding students from where they are to where they want to be, doing what they want to do for a living as adults.
Throughout his time in office and his days as a community advocate, Roebuck has seen a lot of things – but he never, ever saw anything like the debacle which took place in Washington January 6th , when a mob of Trump supporters desecrated the Capitol in Washington, D.C. during what could only be described as an insurrection.
“I think the whole thing that happened in the White House is something that should be condemned more forcefully,” said Roebuck.
“I mean, I never saw a president do the things that Donald Trump has done. The vicious attacks, the personal attacks of his political peers, his whole approach to endorsing racial discrimination and bias and things like that are just unacceptable. I thought we were well beyond that.”
While Roebuck’s position and title might have changed, his work and civic engagement continues.
“I’m still a part of many community groups, and all of that, and if people have things that they need me to do, give me a call. I’d be willing to sit down and talk with you and I have no problem doing that and look forward to the opportunity,” he said.
“If there is something going on in your neighborhood that I might be helpful with, let me know and I hope that, as time goes on, the new leadership that’s in place will have a record that is as good as mine is, even better than mine is. This is a process that is continuing, and I hope that we can move forward.”
To leaders like James R. Roebuck, Jr. being out of office does not mean being out of service.