Even before Bianca Roberson was born, her parents decided that they didn’t want to raise their daughter in the city.
They wanted to escape the crime, and they wanted better schools.
So, they moved from 53rd Street and Willows Avenue in West Philly to the suburbs, and eventually settled her in her grandmother’s home in West Chester.
“We knew we were having a little girl, so we moved out of the city,” said Rodney Roberson Sr., Bianca’s dad. “We were trying to protect her.”
But horrible things happen in “nice” areas too.
In 2017, Bianca was murdered during a road-rage incident while driving home from a shopping trip in Exton. She was only 18.
“It happened to our daughter anyway,” Roberson said. “It happened even when we were trying to protect her.”
After a massive manhunt, David Desper, a 29-year-old resident of Trainer, turned himself in. Last fall, he pleaded guilty to third-degree murder, and in December, a Chester County judge sentenced him to 20 to 40 years in prison.
No amount of jail time could ever be sufficient to avenge what he did to Bianca Roberson. She was beloved and had planned to major in criminal justice at Jacksonville University. There’s no telling what the teenager, whose favorite color was purple, would have become had she lived.
All the headlines have been about the tragic way she died.
With the help of Mural Arts Philadelphia and the Office of Violence Prevention, her parents want to commission a giant mural, possibly in West Philly, to memorialize her and remind passersby of the ills of gun violence.
Mural Arts has donated $6,500 to the effort. However, supporters still need to raise roughly $25,000. They’re collecting donations through a crowdfunding site called StartSomeGood.com.
“We want the mural to be large enough so it’s substantial,” said Jane Golden, Mural Arts’ founder and executive director. Not only is it a tribute to this wonderful young woman whose life was cut short, but it’s also going to be a call to action about combating gun violence."
The plan is for Mural Arts to work with Roberson’s parents to select an artist whose work resonates with them, and then to get local youngsters involved through Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Police Athletic League, among other groups, to help bring it to fruition.
Just the act of painting on parachute cloth, which will be attached to a wall somewhere to create the mural, will be healing, because it will bring disparate groups together for a cause greater than themselves. Hopefully, it will spark something in one of those young artists. Maybe something that they’ll remember years later, when they’ve gotten a license and find themselves outraged over another driver’s actions.
Or maybe when they’re an adult and upset about something, they’ll remember that mural’s message.
“Public art done with great intent can be a galvanizing force for good,” Golden said. “Art has real power. I have seen how art ... can break down walls and barriers and help us see another point of view.”
That may sound lofty, but there’s something to what Golden is saying.
Bianca’s dad believes it, too.
Formerly a merchant seaman, he no longer works because of a pre-existing heart issue exacerbated by the stress of losing Bianca, “his starchild.” But when he’s at a doctor’s appointment, visiting the mechanic, or running other errands, he’s looking for the perfect spot to put the mural.
Donations have been slow, which is discouraging.
“I remember my daughter before that event happened,” Roberson told me. “Her last words to me were, ‘Dad, you are so cool. I love you.'”
That keeps him going.