Tracey Robertson relocated to Oshkosh in August of 2011 for a fresh start after living most of her life in Chicago.
In Chicago, she attended vibrant church services on Sunday and listened to Gospel music, an experience she would miss in Oshkosh. Robertson struggled to find a faith experience like the ones she experienced back home.
“I felt my whole life I had taken for granted my access to blackness,” Robertson said.
She experienced an absence of Black culture and people after she moved from Chicago to Oshkosh. Robertson hoped to find a place to live far enough away from home but close enough to visit., however, she sacrificed access to a Black community in the process.
She had visited a friend in the area on several occasions before moving and thought she had a grasp on the area, however, Robertson was not as familiar with the community as she thought. She said it took a while before she found a community where she felt like she belonged.
“Having visited the community quite a bit, it gave me sort of a false impression,” Robertson said. “I was navigating this community as a woman of color and it did not feel safe.”
Robertson found herself in uncomfortable situations. She also said the police stopped her a couple of times, never ticketing her, but enough to give her an eerie feeling. When Robertson first moved to the area some people would assume she came from the ‘hood rather than the affluent neighborhood she raised her kids in.
“It was really hard. It was a very hard transition for me and I spent a lot of time regretting my decision (to come) here,” she said. “I was having some really difficult experiences in the community.”
But when Robertson’s daughter transferred to the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Robertson decided to stay, though she would still face challenges fitting into Oshkosh.
After asking for prayer from her women’s group on a Wednesday night, Robertson met Janine Wright, a mother to four biracial children and wife to a Black man originally from Chicago. The two bonded over their experiences of race-based oppression and began confiding in one another.
“Those conversations were honest, frank and also broke our heart,” Robertson said.
Robertson and Wright would often have informal chats before returning to their respective obligations but once others found out about these conversations, the two decided to develop these conversations into learning opportunities. This led to the beginning of what would later be known as the Color-Brave Community Conversations. Each month a group of people would gather to watch a video clip and engage in a facilitated dialogue about race-based oppression.
After three years of engaging the community in dialogue Dr. Jennifer Chandler, a regular attendee of the meeting, asked Robertson, “What’s next?” Robertson did not know what was next at the time, but in July 2014, Chandler and Robertson co-founded Fit Oshkosh with Wright being their first board member. The organization provides racial bias and sensitivity training to businesses and other organizations. She said people often ask where the name “Fit Oshkosh” comes from, and she tells them it’s a nod to the fact that residents of color will often say they do not fit in or belong.
“We’ve really been the organization that’s begun to require people having these conversations,” she said.
Robertson also knew the power in representation and having leaders in the community to look up to. In 2016, the Friends of Oshkosh Community Media (OCM) asked her to sit on their board. After immediately noticing the lack of people of color represented on OCM’s radio station schedule, she proposed Real Gospel Radio in an effort to bring diversity to the station.
“I thought that was really important that I could make an impact there and that’s why I joined the board,” Robertson said.
When she initially moved to Oshkosh she struggled to find a vibrant faith based communities like the Black churches she grew up in Chicago. Robertson thought a gospel radio show would supplement her need for a rich faith-filled experience while connecting with people on-air. Also, Oshkosh FM promotes positive social change and gives a voice to people and issues that lack access to the media.
Robertson’s show is broadcast locally on WOCT, 101.9 FM, on Wednesdays at 1 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m. and is live streamed on the station’s website. Anyone, anywhere around the world, can link to the program at https://www.oshkoshmedia.org/1019FMListenLive.aspx
“Being raised around gospel music, I found that it not only ministered to my soul but also was, for me, therapeutic,” Robertson said.
Real Gospel Radio hit the airwaves in 2017 and quickly became the most listened-to show on the station. In 2018, Real Gospel Radio received the “Best of the Midwest Media Fest Merit Award.” Robertson, both the host and producer, features commercial free, Billboard Top 10 Gospel artists like Kirk Franklin, Tasha Cobbs, Kierra Sheard & Hezekiah Walker along with interviews with local community leaders.
“I haven’t’ seen another program like it,” Oshkosh FM Media Services Coordinator Jake Timm said. “It is refreshing. Tracey is awesome.”
He also said new people who do not often listen to the station tune into before and after the show. The station has also seen a spike in internet listeners. Robertson who did not have a radio production background prior to Real Gospel Radio is glad to provide a unique experience for her listeners, however, she is always looking to make improvements.
“I’m never comfortable. I’m always looking for ways to make the show more rich,” Robertson said.
She said technology is always changing like the city of Oshkosh. Robertson said she’s seen a lot more representation of people of color in prominent positions including areas like politics and in law enforcement. Robertson has become a part of that change.