Sanders' career focused on serving community he loves
by Rory Doyle
Dec 28, 2012 | 3080 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Robert Sanders
Robert Sanders
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He's big, he's tall and he has a quarter century of law enforcement experience under his belt.

"People have always called me Big Rob," said Robert Sanders, Cleveland alderman and current Mississippi Valley State University police chief.

"I'm 6'6" and sometimes people are intimidated by my height and size, but once they have a chance to interact with me, people see I'm just a guy with a big heart with concern for others."

And Sanders's biography is as intriguing as his stature.

The Shaw native first made a name for himself on the basketball court, bringing statewide attention to the Shaw High Hawks by making it to division championship games in 1979 and 1980.

His skills led to stardom at Mississippi Valley State University where he was recognized as a two-time All-American and all-conference player before graduating in 1984.

The campus of MSVU was rocking with the success of Sanders on the court and fraternity brother Jerry Rice on the football field.

For a long time, Sanders was sure basketball would be his only career — he even signed as a free agent rookie with the Indiana Pacers of the National Basketball Association.

While he never made a regular season NBA roster, Sanders spent four years in Europe and South America developing his game.

"I have nothing but good memories from playing ball in Holland and Argentina," said Sanders. "It was such a learning experience."

But the Delta roots within Sanders and his wife, Tracey, who also joined him abroad, lured the young couple back to their home state.

"The Mississippi Delta is where I'm from," said Sanders. "Playing basketball and traveling were great opportunities, but leaving for a while and coming back made me appreciate life here even more."

He returned for a short stint of coaching and teaching at Shaw High before transitioning to a long-time career of public service.

"I always had an interest in law enforcement, which is why I'm extremely thankful for former Sheriff H.M. "Mack" Grimmett for giving me my first deputy job with the Bolivar County Sheriff's Department in 1988.

"Growing up in the Delta means you are going to face challenges — as I did. But I've learned to use the challenges as motivation to make things better."

So a commitment to better Cleveland, the county and state has been Sanders' driving force for 25 years.

During this time he has served in many capacities, including: police officer with the Cleveland Police Department, chief of police in Shaw, D.A.R.E. officer in Cleveland and sergeant-at-arms in the Mississippi State Senate in Jackson.

"Serving as the sergeant-at-arms for four years was one of the highlights of my career because it was truly an honor to protect the lieutenant governor, state senators and the staff.

"The position also gave me insight and broadened my skills to come back and offer my services to the citizens within the Cleveland community.

Working hand-in-hand with state politicians encouraged Sanders to run for Cleveland Board of Alderman, where he has represented Ward 2 since 2009.

"Being on the board is about improving the quality of life for everyone in Cleveland," he said. "This means we hear the concerns of all citizens and help lead the way as problem solvers.

"I think our town has come a long way and we've seen substantial growth — from the upcoming Grammy museum, the baseball World Series, downtown business development, walking and biking trails, parks and even our streets and sewage systems.

"Cleveland is one of the best cities to live in because we have great citizens and leaders."

Sanders continues to dedicate his time as a quality local leader and shows no signs of slowing down.

"I look forward to serving our city as an alderman and any other capacity deemed necessary.

The secret to his dedication and success — his wife, who he met as a student in 1979 when his Shaw Hawks basketball team came to Cleveland to play the Wildcats.

"Tracey's been by my side every step of the way," Sanders said. "She's fascinating and has helped me get through everything I've done in life."

The couple raised their three daughters in Cleveland, a town they will forever love, serve and protect.