Bianca Nikol Roberson was headed home from an Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, mall on June 28, 2017.
According to Roberson’s stepmother, Susan Roberson, the 18-year-old West Chester, Pennsylvania resident had just graduated from high school and was preparing to attend Jacksonville University in Florida on a full scholarship. She was attempting to merge onto a one-lane road when the driver next to her, David Desper, pulled out a gun and shot her in the head.
Roberson’s car went off the road and smashed into a tree. Desper was convicted of her murder in December 2018 and is now serving a 15-to-30-year sentence.
“If you’re so hot tempered that you’re going to fire off a gun when you’re mad at someone, you should not be carrying it where you can get to it,” said Roberson. “Because to me, it’s a source of protection. What were you protecting yourself from?”
Rodney Seth Roberson Sr., Roberson’s father, created the Bianca Nikol Roberson Memorial Foundation in memory of his daughter, and always envisioned a mural of her in his native Philadelphia. But he died in February of 2021 from a heart condition, just eight months shy of the mural’s completion.
Bianca’s stepmother came across Moorestown High School alumnus and muralist Sean Allen on the home services site Thumbtack. Of all the people who responded to Roberson’s pitch for someone to create the mural, Allen was the only one familiar with Roberson’s story.
The Bianca Nikol Roberson Memorial Foundation mural, which Allen created in a month, is located on Locust and 52nd streets in West Philadelphia and includes several other victims of gun violence. It was officially presented to the community on Oct. 22.
“That was certainly Rodney and Susan’s idea, to include other individuals from the community outside of Bianca,” said Allen. “They really did a lot of the organization and communication there (with the other families.) From there, I had 10 portraits, I had 10 reference photos, and we had the basic message of the mural and the positivity, and the love, and the community.”
“From there,” he added, “it was really just using the reference photos and those values to put together a design that I think summarizes all of those things together.”
Wasiu Ojuolape Jr. graduated from Moorestown High in 2014 and helped Allen create the mural, as did Ryan Casinelli, a junior at the high school.
“As we were working, there were tons (and tons) of people walking by just giving us congratulations and saying how they weren’t sure where it was going to be at first, and now they’ve seen it come to life, and (they) were just giving us props and everything,” Ojuolape noted.
The mural has a message of hope for those who’ve lost loved ones due to gun violence.
“The key in the middle (of the mural) is showing that there’s a child’s hand, which is purple; there’s an adult hand, which is blue; and the key is for the connection, the love to take place, in order to get rid of all of this gun violence occurring in the city,” explained Roberson, who chose the mural site.
Helping the Roberson family bring the mural to life and working with Ojuolape Jr. and Casinelli were special to Allen.
“Talking to Rodney, and Rodney passed away, and then carrying this project on with Susan has been quite the journey,” he noted. “It’s just opened my eyes to her leadership, her spiritual strength and it’s something I’ll never forget — the experience that Susan and this path has led me down.”
“I think the size of the project forced me to reach out,” Allen added, “and I’m just so glad (that I did), because it definitely makes working on the project easier when you have a couple of friends working alongside you.”