By Harriet Tramer | Photo by McKinley Wiley
But Berts, a spokesperson for Life Obstacles, which works directly with families as it guides them toward self-responsibility, brings the same enthusiasm to her efforts as might a businessperson who is developing a firm. As with all good salespeople, she remains consistent in delivering her mantra: You cannot make the system more responsive to your needs but you can achieve your goals by learning to navigate challenges.
“Life Obstacles is a program where people come together and vent,” Berts says. “They thank us for creating such a unique forum that allows them to come with problems and get immediate ‘solutions.’”
Berts acknowledges that she sometimes has to apply some tough love as she makes her points. And she still remembers the time she took a disrespectful teen to a rough part of town and told her, “Stay here for a while and then tell us when you want to come back home.” As she recalls it, that girl’s attitude started changing dramatically at that point.
There are times, however, when her interventions assume a very different approach, one marked by sensitivity above all else. The incident that first inspired Berts to become involved with Life Obstacles remains a case in point. When she was working with the Cleveland Police Department she struck up a conversation with a young man who, only after she had gained his trust, divulged an “embarrassing” fact.
He could not read and did not even realize that he was in the wrong place – the police station instead of the juvenile court. At that point, she went immediately to the judge assigned to that case and explained the situation. That judge, subsequently, directed the boy to a literacy-training program and set up a new trial date.
But while Berts maintains that such experiences have granted her important guidance and motivation she maintains that her family has been her major source of strength.
“I have eight kids – five boys and three girls ages 13 to 33 — and all of them are doing well because I have taught them how to empower their bodies and their minds,” Berts says. “We get together regularly and hold family circles, discussing any issues we might have and how we can help one another. I try to bring that same energy to my work.”
Life Obstacles works directly with East Cleveland Schools and the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, which help fund its programs.
Berts’ efforts as a community activist date back to 1992 when she was involved in a front-porch reading program. But Life Obstacles did not exist in its present form until 2014 when Berts joined forces with Gerri Knight, James R. Washington, and Brenda Vereen to establish it.
For more information: lifeobstacles.org