Jerome Roseborough is an active Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competitor and the owner of Katy Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Revolution Team Academy in Texas.
Jerome found Jiu-Jitsu when a friend invited him to train in a small room in an apartment complex.
“It was not even a class,” Jerome said. “We did not have mats, so we just rolled on the carpet. We ended up smashing out a window, and I had rug burns all over my elbows. I loved it.”
They trained together for a few months and eventually bought some mats and invited other friends. After training there for about a year, Jerome moved to Texas and immediately joined Katy BJJ as a white belt.
“Before that first day, I didn’t realize there was Jiu-Jitsu in a gi,” Jerome said. “Probably like everybody else who walks in, I wasn’t grasping the concept of how the gi was working against me.”
Jerome was amazed that smaller and weaker guys were crushing him.
“I’ve noticed there are two types of people who try Jiu-Jitsu,” Jerome explained. “One person’s ego is so fragile that they will never come back, but the other comes back determined to learn it.”
Jerome has never had an inflated ego. In fact, he felt he was on the other end of the spectrum as the weaker or insecure person, so discovering Jiu-Jitsu gave him hope.
His attitude toward growth in life and Jiu-Jitsu developed during a tumultuous journey that began when he was homeless and living in a car as a child.
Jerome’s father wasn’t around when he was born, and his mother raised five kids alone by working in a department store. Jerome’s mother was fired after she was injured at work, and she was denied workers’ compensation payments. When the money dried up, they were evicted from their home and the family was split up. Jerome’s sisters were sent to a foster home, and his mother and second-oldest brother moved into a friend’s house.
“Everything was going all right,” Jerome said, “but then it all seemed to fall apart when she got hurt at work.”
“I don’t remember how it all happened, but my brother and I were living in a guy’s cramped apartment,” Jerome said. “We only stayed there for a little while because there was no room for us. That’s when we started living in the car.”
His mother did not know, but at 10 years old, Jerome and his 12-year-old brother moved into a small green Fiat car that was abandoned in the ghetto.
“I don’t remember details of that time period,” Jerome said, “but I clearly remember going to the grocery store every day to steal food to eat.”
One day, a man from the neighborhood approached the car that had become Jerome’s home. The man peered into the dirt-covered windows, trying to see if Jerome and his brother were sleeping in the car.
“We didn’t say anything and tried to hide,” Jerome said, recalling when the man called out their names.
Before long, Jerome and his brother were living in the man’s small studio apartment that was attached to the alley.
“It’s like a recurring nightmare,” Jerome said. “It is always dark. I can’t see the furniture, but I can feel and smell everything associated with it.”
Jerome did not have a sense of how long they lived with the man, but Jerome waited 25 years before telling anyone what happened.
During those days, basketball became Jerome’s way of coping with the pain of his childhood.
“If I was dealing with something, I went and played basketball,” Jerome said. “Not to find the answer, but as a way to escape.”
Jerome loved playing basketball, so he invested every spare minute of his days on the court and never left home without a basketball.
“I felt that’s what separated me from the other players.” Jerome said. “I was so sure of my skill set that I felt I could do anything in basketball, whereas, in other parts of my life, I didn’t.”
Jerome credits his high school junior varsity coach, Doug Peters, with having a significant impact on him.
“He was basically my Bobby Knight,” Jerome said, referring to the coach who was famous for his fiery, aggressive coaching style. “If Coach Peters saw potential in you, he rode you. He wanted you to live up to your potential. Some don’t perform well if there’s a bunch of yelling in your face, but that’s the type of coach I needed.”
Jerome excelled on the court, but there were consequences of using the court to hide from the trauma of his childhood.
“Did he do something to you!?” the coach yelled at Jerome. “Because you just fouled the shit out of him.”
Sometimes Jerome would respond emotionally and lash out in anger. Other times he just shut down. Jerome’s coach seemed to understand his family situation and took him under his wing.
“Coach Peters was not only teaching me basketball, but also how it parallels life,” Jerome said. “As tough as he was on me, he seemed to understand my anger and the way it affected how I played.”
“When you’re out of high school you might have a boss like me,” Coach Peters told Jerome. “You’re going to have friends and family and they’re going to disappoint you. They will be critical and do things you do not like, but you have to find a way to deal with it. You can’t deal with the world like that. It can’t happen.”
“Sometimes I wondered why he was singling me out,” Jerome said. “But in retrospect, he was right on the money, and it needed to be said. When I think about all the people in my life, I’m not sure any of them would have taken the time to do that.”
Jerome explained that his anger stemmed from being afraid of losing, but he admitted that it was more complicated than that.
“I needed people to see me in a certain way,” Jerome said as he paused to think. “I needed to play so people in the stands would think, I want to be like him. Spectators are not rooting for the supporter, they’re rooting for a star.”
Many of the times Jerome was emotional on the court, it was because he was terrified of letting his coach down.
“Coach Peters took the time while other people in my life were not paying attention to me,” Jerome said. “I was conscious of that, and I wanted to make sure that after the game, he wouldn’t have any critique of me.”
Outside of the basketball court, Jerome moved through life in the shadows because he was afraid of people noticing him.
“Ever since I can remember, I’ve been kind of a loner. I’m pretty quiet, reserved, and shy, but when I played basketball I felt alive and that I could be me.”
Jerome’s drive to get on that pedestal in sports became more than a passing desire.
“If I was not the star, I’d be a failure,” Jerome said. “It would prove all the lies that I used to tell myself.”
When Jerome was 17 years old, for the first time that he knew of, his father reached out and wanted to meet him. Jerome was reluctant, but agreed.
“I grew up angry,” Jerome said. “I was mad at my dad, and I certainly didn’t feel like I mattered.”
When his father arrived, he spent a little time alone with each of the kids. When it was Jerome’s turn, they went for a walk around the block and his father started offering advice about life.
“Who the fuck are you?” Jerome thought as he quietly listened to his father for the first time in 17 years. “You don’t even know me and you think you’re going to give me advice?” That was the end of it. We didn’t talk after that.”
Jerome held onto that anger for over a decade. It wasn’t until he heard a quote from Oprah Winfrey that he began reevaluating his perspective.
“Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could have been any different. It’s accepting the past for what it was, and using this moment and this time to help yourself move forward.”
Jerome thought about that quote for a long time as he struggled to understand how it applied to him. It was not until the terrorist attacks of September 11 that he began seeing a new perspective.
“I don’t know why, but that changed everything,” Jerome said. “I wanted to do some things differently.”
For the first time, Jerome was open to reuniting with his father. It took several steps to get there, but eventually they sat down and were able to have an open conversation.
“My biggest problem is that I’ve never heard an apology from you,” Jerome told his father. “I’ve never heard, ‘I’m sorry.’”
“What do you want me to do?” Jerome’s father answered. “I can’t change the past.”
“That used to kill me,” Jerome explained. “I was going to lose it if he told me that one more time.”
They continued to spend time together, but their relationship struggled until Jerome went on a trip with his father.
“There’s still this underlying thing,” Jerome’s father said. “We’re talking and spending time together, but it’s like you’re still mad.”
“You’re right,” Jerome replied. “I don’t think you get it! Why weren’t you there? I was the little boy who wished he got a phone call and birthday cards from you. I wanted to know that you were thinking about me. That you cared. I had to seek that out in other people.”
Jerome’s father finally opened up about his own struggles of living on the streets and being involved with drugs. His father had even been shot once.
“When he finally told me his story, I felt so dumb,” Jerome said. “I felt so bad that I had been feeling this way about him when he was battling his own demons. I never considered the fact that he hadn’t abandoned me, it was that he didn’t even have the capability to take care of me even if he wanted to. Because I was older, I was finally able to look at it from somebody else’s perspective. It clicked for me that there was another side to this story.”
That moment was the first time in Jerome’s entire life that he had the answer to the question that had been controlling his whole life.
“Once he told me, I understood,” Jerome said. “It was a bit of validation. It wasn’t that my father didn’t want to, but that he couldn’t.”
Jerome decided to give therapy a try. He was having some marriage issues, but there was more bubbling to the surface that he could not articulate. For the first time, Jerome opened up and told someone his personal story.
“I started to understand things I did not previously know,” Jerome said. “Once I knew, I became accountable and I could no longer do nothing.”
Jerome realized that he had made a choice to live as an angry person and that he was blaming his father for all the problems he had ever faced.
“I was addicted to that mindset,” Jerome said. “It was like I wanted to be angry. I didn’t want it to go away because it was fueling me. I didn’t know what to replace it with. That’s why I was reluctant to let it go. It had become my identity.”
After speaking to his father, Jerome felt he had lost the ability to continue blaming his father. Jerome’s father was responsible for his choices, but Jerome was finally able to apply Oprah’s quote about forgiveness.
“I realized that if I could be open to that possibility that my life could have been the same even if he had been there, that allowed me to start uncovering other things I needed to change. I realized I was being affected by the past, and it had a strong hold on me.”
Jerome believed that if his father had been present, none of the bad things would have happened to him.
“It came to a point where I had to look in the mirror and say, ‘okay, I’ve outplayed this,” Jerome said. “I felt like I held onto it as long as I could, but now I had to do something about it.”
Jerome spent his entire life blaming his father for any of his shortcomings, but now he was ready to take responsibility.
Before Jerome had the conversation with his father, he blamed being abandoned for his troubles, but then he realized there were two separate issues that had been controlling him.
Through Brené Brown, Jerome came to understand that he was using his story of abandonment as an excuse to be angry, but in reality, he was using anger to avoid his deep fear of shame.
When he was 10 years old, homeless, and living in a car, the man that lured Jerome into his home had been molesting him. Jerome already felt that his father did not want him, and now this man was offering to take him in. Jerome feared that if he told anyone, he would be homeless again. Jerome was more willing to suffer in silence than risk having to sleep on the streets again.
“I knew that it was bad,” Jerome said. “But I didn’t look at it like he was bad. I internalized it and felt like I could never tell anyone. The shame of it was so great that saying anything would have been unbearable. I felt dirty and disposable, so my self-esteem and self-worth played out that way.”
Jerome related closely to Brené Brown’s teachings about shame and avoidant behavior.
“As a kid, I always walked looking down,” Jerome said. “I felt that if I looked at people they would see me, they would see what happened. They would be able to see his fingerprints on me or the hue of his breath.”
Prior to learning from Brown, Jerome had been mislabeling his feelings of shame. He quoted Brené Brown.
“Shame is a focus on self, guilt is a focus on behavior. Shame is ‘I am bad.’ Guilt is ‘I did something bad.’”
“Once I was able to understand that, I realized that was exactly what I had been doing in all of my personal and professional relationships,” Jerome said. “I was able to clearly see my pattern when shame was triggered.”
Before Jerome was able to heal and share his story, he dove into every talk and book that Brown cited.
“I bought the book Daring Greatly, and it became my mantra,” Jerome said. “Anything showing vulnerability, to me, was displaying absolute weakness. I did everything not to be viewed that way. I walked around with a scowl on my face so people would not think I was soft. I did everything I could to show that I would just wreck you if you bothered me.”
To some degree, that defense mechanism worked for Jerome when he was young. It helped him survive by keeping people at arm’s length and it fueled his drive in basketball; but once he got married and had kids, he did not have a way to shut it off.
“It started impacting my personal relationships,” Jerome said. “It was ‘my way or the highway.’ I did not understand that I didn’t need that anymore, so a lot of people paid along the way.”
After these discoveries, Jerome realized that he was the common denominator in all of his problems. He decided that regardless what happened in the past, it was up to him to change.
“I decided I have to get a handle on this,” Jerome said. “When I decided I have to do my work, that’s when it just started changing.”
Jerome called his ex-wife out of the blue. He explained what had been going on and then apologized.
“What’s interesting is, 10 years earlier, I would have never done that,” Jerome said. “I would never have been open to the idea because I was not self-aware enough to know there’s value in being open to somebody else’s influence. I was the loner, I needed to do it all. I needed to have total control. I think that’s probably why my recovery was more delayed than it needed to be.”
Jerome has overcome an overwhelming amount of adversity to get to where he is today, and he credits his mother’s example as his model for perseverance.
“My mother raised five kids by herself,” Jerome said. “She was injured at work and our dad wasn’t there. She had all these things stacked against her. Nobody would’ve blamed her if she had said, ‘You know what, this is too much. I can’t do this anymore.’ She could’ve used all of these excuses, but she didn’t. She stuck it out, and she even went back to school.”
When Jerome was growing up, he used to deal with a lot of racism.
Jerome’s mother told him, “Every time somebody calls you a name, you can fight them or you can thicken your skin. At some point, you’re not going to be able to fight the whole world.”
“At first, that made me mad because it’s not fair,” Jerome said. “For a long time I thought, ‘I guess I’ll be fighting for a while.’ But then it started to get tiring.”
When Jerome looks back at those times, he realizes he was using those opportunities to fight as an excuse to blame his father. He wasn’t fighting those particular people, he was fighting his father, just like he had dreamt many times before. But when he looks at the lessons he learned from his mother, he sees that she never made excuses.
“She was preparing us for how the world was really going to be,” Jerome said. “Because the real world isn’t going to care about our excuses. That’s the way she raised us.”
Jerome’s journey of personal growth through adversity is what prepared him to take on his current role as instructor and owner at Katy BJJ. As Jerome worked his way through the belts in Jiu-Jitsu, his instructor was grooming him as a teacher, until he ultimately handed the reins over to Jerome.
Before Jerome’s personal development, he was driven by anger and shame. Today he is driven by his passion to mentor his students in the same way that others were a mentor to him.
“My desire to get better is still there, but it’s not what drives me anymore,” Jerome said. “I want my students to succeed before I do as an individual competitor. I’ll still compete, and I have aspirations in the sport, but that comes secondary. When I watch a student start on their first day, and watch the growth that happens, that’s more rewarding than what I’ll get out of competing.”
Today, Jerome is able to use his platform as an instructor to guide other men through life just as his basketball coach did for him.
“When I hear someone talk about their struggles, I get to use Jiu-Jitsu as the opening to throw something out to see if they’re in a place to receive it,” Jerome said. “But they have to get to a certain point before they can even address it.”
Jerome’s model of the world has changed as he’s grown and become more self-aware. Today, his measure of success has less to do with him and more to do with his students.
“Success would be one of my students owning their own studio.” Jerome said. “To be able to groom somebody the same way my mentors did for me. That would be super awesome.”
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