Photo by Clément M. on Unsplash

Daniel Roble was the youngest of two boys born in Detroit on July 4th1943 to a Polish immigrant couple.

He was a precocious kid who always seemed to look for or see things other people didn’t, although sometimes at a detrimental cost. Like the time when his father surprised the family by bringing home a shiny brand-new Oldsmobile. The new pride of the family was white but in Dan’s mind the car would look better in red so he went to his dad’s garage, found a can of red paint, took a wide brush, and proceeded to paint the car. Of course, Dan’s present to his dad was not as appreciated as he expected, something he felt all the way to the bottom of his heart.

I really don’t know but maybe there was a give and take between Dan and his parents because every 4th of July they would promise him a big birthday party with music, balloons, and lots of guests so the family would dress up, drive over to downtown to watch the holiday parade and make Dan believe all that people had come to celebrate his birthday, filling the toddler’s soul of happiness. This went on for years until he was old enough to figure out, he’d been lied to all along, and maybe that was his way of getting back at them when he brush-painted red the brand-new car.

Dan’s family evolved during the 40’s and 50’s when Detroit was known as the Paris of the United States because of the model infrastructure, architecture, and public places the city could fashion due to the high standard of living created by the auto industry and great UAW wages and benefits enjoyed by the common man. All of that began to change in the sixties when large cities like Detroit felt in the streets the social anger after the assassination of Dr. King. I remember the 6 o’clock news highlighting disturbances in large cities like Houston, Chicago, St Paul, Los Angeles, and Detroit. The Civil Rights movement was in full swing impacting the visionary minds of people like Dan.

While attending Michigan State University, Dan Roble excelled as a student of political sciences and was also an outstanding basketball player scoring records that would take years to surpass. However, following his political nature he decided to answer JFK’s call and joined the first generation of Peace Corps volunteers.

Dan served the next couple of years in Ecuador as one of several goodwill ambassadors sent by El Tio Sam. He told me it was a bunch of kids in their 20’s mostly looking for a good time and happy to be there instead of serving in Viet Nam. He said most of them wanted to volunteer in the communities by the ocean thinking it would be like enjoying California type beaches, sunbathing, and surfing in their time off. So, when assignments were given, they were all dispersed across the country and the ocean spot was granted to one of the kids who had political connections in high places. 

Later, the group found out that the Ecuador oceanside villages are far different from the ones depicted by Hollywood, so the poor volunteer ended up spending his Peace Corps term tending to a pig farm in a swamp.

In the process of placing volunteers based on their aptitudes the Mayor of Quito, the capital of Ecuador noticed Dan’s basketball skills so fate would have him placed in an ideal post. Brother Roble was assigned to train and coach nothing less than the national women’s basketball team. Not only that, but as happens in the best romantic comedy films, Daniel ended up falling in love and marrying the captain of the team. This, despite many of Dan’s shenanigans, like giving out free game tickets to workers in places he frequented in the Red Zone so when the big games came around, the VIP sections were filled with sex workers cheering for “… Don Daniel, Don Daniel…”   

I met Dan in 1971 when I was hired to run a radio production program in a Chicano organization, Sol de Aztlan in the north side of Lansing, Michigan where the directors of the barrio project, Dan and Gilberto Martinez had managed to divert Michigan State University funds to sponsor a Raza oriented community advocacy program. It was a one of a kind project whereby this dynamic duo convinced the university, city management, and WKAR, the university’s NPR station that Chicanos were entitled to free speech their own style, so they found an about to be condemned two story building, revamped it, baptized it with the name El Quinto Sol building and installed a state of the art production studio where locals could get trained and broadcast live radio programs from el corazon del barrio Chicano.

I remember being surprised by seeing Dan involved in a Chicano organization, to that extent, Daniel was the only white person working in the barrio that I can remember. Contextually it should be explained that the social dynamics of the 60’s and 70’s did not lend themselves to white and brown people to socialize let alone share common ideologies. At least to me, seeing Anglo people in our midst was an oddity, especially if they were bilingual. I remember laughing this time when I couldn’t resist and asked him “how did you learn Spanish” to which he responded in his characteristic raspy voice, “Nah, I used to speak Spanish, but lost it when I started working with Chicanos”.

It took me a while to learn and appreciate Brother Roble as a smart, charming, politically savvy but most important, caring human being. My time with him taught me that some of our best movimiento brothers are not necessarily Chicanos and the other way around. To that effect, Gilberto used to quote Shakespeare by saying, “… we went out looking for the enemy and found him home…”.

In my social work and community organizing studies, I have learned there is an institutional structure I call the Hierarchy of Service Delivery that categorizes the way social issues are systematically addressed. This happens through three types of agencies: Sanctioned, NGO’s and Grassroots. The first are the ones that are funded and run by the government, the second ones make up the non-profit industry which are guided by their funding sources, while the third type are the Grassroots organizations also known as the Civic Society and are guided by ideology seeking structural changes the first two only comply with. Characteristically the third type has a short longevity of no more than 10 years, so El Sol de Aztlan faded out in the mid 70’s. 

After the Sol de Aztlan years, Dan and his family moved to the Pacific Northwest where once again he became active in the farmworkers’ struggles and associated with the leadership of Northwest Rural Opportunities (NRO), a Washington statewide service and advocacy agency for campesinos. With his many years of experience working for and with Raza, he quickly found affinity with the most progressive elements of the Washington Chicano community.

I feel personally indebted to Brother Dan for sharing up close his true nature as a sensitive, caring human being and for seeing the potential in me which allowed me to develop my communication and organizing skills that have given me a lifetime focus and understanding of my place and relationship with my extended community family.

Along my journey, I’ve observed that there are people who talk, people who work, and people who make things happen. I am not much of a speaker but consider myself a worker, while Dan was the type of person that made things happen. Thanks to Dan’s work and vision I became a pioneer in Raza radio development, contributing to the founding of three radio stations and formatting two more plus training an army of radio activists. I owe him my national notoriety as the voice of Radio Cadena National News, the first national service of its kind distributed to 85 stations in all regions of the US, conceived and directed by him in 1977. 

KUFW, Radio Campesina is essentially a product of his work by facilitating the necessary means and resources. That seed has grown to an 11-station radio network in over four states with an estimated 1.5 million listeners or followers, according to Marc Grossman, spokesperson for the Cesar Chavez Foundation, Also, KDNA established in Yakima, Washington in 1980 came about through a high school reentry program he created for kids that hadn’t finished secondary education because of the many barriers faced by farmworkers, kids with criminal record, or substance abuse issues.

That was the beginning of Radio Cadena, although at the time I felt working with his students was setting us back from our goal. This one time I told him that working with these young people was very difficult and that we could develop the radio without them. His response was that “… if we don’t pay attention to them, no one else will and they will get lost …”  Thanks to Daniel’s dedication, many of them led productive lives in broadcasting and other areas, one of those young women eventually graduated from law school and retired as an attorney in Seattle.

 We lost Daniel in March of this year from lung cancer complications. I am sure his wife and three sons found it difficult not to celebrate him on Fathers’ Day and on his birthday this 4th of July but I couldn’t pass the opportunity to pay homage to his work and legacy remembering him as a person with very strong principles, commitment, and dedication. He also enjoyed a lot of imagination, creativity, and a great sense of humor. His vision was a gift that many of us lack and without someone like him we would not have advanced this far.

By Julio Guerrero
Hasta pronto Carnal

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