Thirty-one years ago, almost to the month, the best football team ever to wear Anniston High red won the state championship. Its victories were brutal, demoralizing, often unfair. The Bulldogs oozed speed and attitude, and the city loved them for it. Demetric Roberts, the councilman-elect for Ward 2, started on that team. Jersey number: 54.
“I was probably the most important person on offense,” he says. “I touched the ball on every play.”
Roberts played center, a 155-pound beanpole known then as D.D., not Demetric. He even scored a touchdown against Gadsden. The following spring, he graduated with what he calls “the greatest class to ever come out of high school,” the class of 1990.
“We had classmates. There were no white classmates, black classmates … We had classmates. Our class was the tightest of classes you wanted to see.”
Roberts is 48 and likes to laugh. “I’m very silly at heart,” he says. He’s a materials planner at BAE Systems with a bachelor’s degree from Grambling University and an adoration for his hometown that borders on obsessiveness. One of his side gigs is manning the PA mic at AHS games. Don’t make light of it, either.
“I don’t think anything with ‘Bulldogs’ across the chest should ever lose,” he says.
This is what’s coming to Anniston’s council. This month’s runoff election remade half of that body, replacing Ward 2’s David Reddick (who ran for mayor) and Ward 3’s Ben Little with Roberts and Ciara Smith, a pair of native Annistonians and AHS grads whose passion for this place is as thick as April pollen.
“My love for this city is tremendous,” Roberts admits, but there’s a catch. He’s never been a politician; he’s never voted on a $40 million city budget; he’s never tussled with elected colleagues; he’s never been a public figure whose every move will be judged, if not criticized, through a singular lens: Is he part of Anniston’s solution or a continuance of its modern-day struggles?
His restrained runoff campaign against Dann Huguley focused less on specifics and more on decorum — and it worked. His vision of council harmony sounds otherworldly here, I must admit. It’s also reminiscent of the early days of the 2012 council, when Anniston’s councilors wielded boat oars in a photo-op to signify a somewhat short-lived commitment to rowing in the same direction.
Teamwork and ward politics aren’t friends, though.
“I’m not saying that the politicians of the past didn’t have the same ideas and the same thoughts,” Roberts says. “But we all have the same goal. Passion is very contagious. I have nothing but love and respect for Millie (Harris), nothing but love and respect for Jay (Jenkins), and nothing but love and respect for Jack (Draper).
“Now, with that being said, I haven’t been behind closed doors in a council meeting with them, either.” He considers this a clean slate for Anniston’s leaders, a chance to move from the political pettiness that has infested relationships between several of the city’s officials.
Granted, that’s easy for the new guy to say.
“I’ve just been adopted into a brand new family,” he says. “Like it or not, I’m part of the Anniston City Council for the next four years, and those are my brothers and sisters … We won’t agree on everything. I’m going to try to get everyone to understand it’s OK not to agree, but we don't have to be nasty or mean about it.”
Ward 2, Roberts’ responsibility, is Anniston’s most difficult to define. It essentially is an odd-shaped half-moon that envelopes the city’s northern core and doesn’t follow the usual east-west divide. Quintard Avenue bisects it. Like Ward 3, it’s home to some of the city’s lowest-income neighborhoods and industrial areas. And it needs help; deciding what assistance is most pressing is now on Roberts’ to-do list.
I asked him what he’d do for Ward 2 if he were Anniston’s king. His answer surprised me.
“The first thing, I would make everybody participate,” he says — in meetings, in community events, in making streets safer.
Roberts grew up in one of Anniston’s western neighborhoods in the 1980s, “three houses up from the projects,” he says, and yet he returned to west Anniston after graduating from Grambling. He laments that his city is divided along deeply ingrained lines of race and income. In Ward 2 today, there are pockets where “it’s a rite of passage to hear gunshots,” which must change.
Participation may be the councilman-elect’s low-hanging fruit, the goal easily obtained. “My biggest thing is safety right now,” Roberts says. “And we don’t feel safe enough in some places to sit on the porch.”
What this former AHS Bulldog will soon learn is that legislating small-town politics is messy and stressful, even when devoid of the nastiness he wants to abolish. Every first-time councilman experiences the unexpected and wonders: Why did I do this?
Roberts already has his answer.
“I want to be the glue that holds this city together and the bond that makes us tighter and stronger,” he says.