Your Story : Robert Bruce

Mar 24, 2021 Wellness, Faith, Your Story
“I want people to gain hope & learn that anything is possible.” – Robert Bruce

Born in 1963, Robert grew up in northwest Detroit with his parents, two brothers & sister. After the riots, Detroit became one of the murder capitals of the world with crime rates sky-rocketing and the drug epidemic going through the roof. He lived in a neighborhood where there were only a few houses that were actually occupied, the rest were either boarded up, abandoned or burned down. On top of the hardships of his environment, his father left when he was just 7 years old, his brother, Michael, who was mentally handicapped passed away at the age of 16, and later his brother, Bill, passed of alcohol poisoning at 27 – all of which really struck Robert hard.

(Pictured below is Robert in the white shirt with his father, brother Bill, brother Michael holding the guitar case, & sister Julie. Robert is reconnected with his father now who resides in Seattle. His beloved mother, who took the photograph, passed away four years ago.)
“As a teenager you become a product of your environment” – Robert began to drink & do drugs and “never got out of the ninth grade, constantly failing, skipping school and going out & getting high.” When he was 17 he was hit by a car on his motorcycle, broke 19 bones, couldn’t walk & was in a wheelchair and then a walker for a couple of years. This is when he was introduced to hard drugs & used every day until he was 25.

“I lost all of my family & friends due to my addiction, but I always believed in God, so God was the only thing that was constant in my life. Even though I had shame, I was embarrassed to pray, but I always knew He existed.”

Robert decided to finally take school seriously however, still endured many hard & violent times as he tried to push forward. He was beaten often, held at gun point 11 times, stabbed – there were too many incidents to count. After one particular brutal beating by a gang (which ended him up in the hospital), he decided he had had enough, dropped out of school & went directly to receive his GED (which he passed surprisingly with flying colors & claims that “it was a miracle, I think God was on my side”). He then went to apply to one of the big three; Ford, GM & Chrysler, but did not get the job.

Still hooked on drugs & living in the ghetto, Robert married at 21 & had a beautiful baby girl, Tonya, when he was 24. When she was 3 months old, his wife became fed up with his addiction and kicked him out. He had no choice but to live out of an old $300 van that barely ran & began going to Narcotics Anonymous, as well as AA.

“At this point in my life, everyone abandoned me but I knew God still loved me. It was just me & God now – I just needed to get clean & change my life. So, I went to these meetings, sometimes 2-3 meetings a day and then I would go back to my van & read the Narcotics Anonymous & AA books. I started getting clean and I surrendered completely & God blessed me. I haven’t used drugs… it will be 32 years this July 12th.”

At one point during his healing & recovery, when he was rock bottom with his mental state, he was walking through a park & stumbled across a small green Gideon bible. He decided to open it up, read a verse & immediately felt overcome with the Holy Spirit inside him. It was after this experience that he was able to walk in freedom from the strongholds that had previously been weighing him down. “I was never a Bible thumper or anything, but I knew that God existed because I could always feel him in my heart.”

Robert when on to say, “Faith is a relationship, & like in any relationship, like a marriage, you need to get to know that person to have a healthy relationship, spend time with that person, do things for that person because they do things for us -- it’s a mutual exchange of love. And that’s the same thing with God, because He’s our father & we want to get to know Him as He knows us & appreciate Him, just like we do with our other relationships. When we build that relationship, that’s how we truly get to know God in our heart -- the more you get to know Him, the more you want to get to know Him.”

Once he was sober, his wife let him back but, she was still using. He felt himself outgrowing her, with his focus on being a good father & getting a job after receiving his associates degree in photography & a Pell Grant. After feeling that his daughter was not in a stable environment anymore, Robert divorced his wife. He was moving forward but still not feeling like he could find his place, working hard but not able to make enough to not feel like he was still barely surviving, all the while raising his daughter.

After a few more years filled with another divorce, death & heartache, he began dating & living with a woman named Annette who owned her own hair salon. Robert started taking photographs of some of her clients & she would let him hang them up in her salon. This naturally started a little side business as extra income for him. Later, after he was laid off of his job, Annette was the one who encouraged him to really make his photography a full time business. He was able to save up $20,000, which was unheard of for him at the time, & he put it on a land contract on a empty building in Royal Oak where he planned to create a studio space.

Unfortunately, right at this exciting time in his life (35 years old & 10 years sober), Annette broke up with Robert and once again he found himself without a home. Luckily, his friends Chuck & Deborah, allowed him to live in their basement until he could get his life together again. He never wanted to have the mentality of being a victim, because he knew that if he had the victim mentality, he would fall deeper into a pit. Feeling emotionally bankrupt from his break up, Robert felt that he had nothing to lose & no fear, so he put all of himself into creating the perfect studio space. He eventually moved into his completed studio and, after working 15-17 hour days 7 days a week taking any job that would come to him, he was able to purchase a house down the street & take full custody of his daughter, as well. For the next 10 years, Robert continued to work hard & save money.

Soon after, Robert met his soulmate, Christin, who he said, “came into his life at the perfect time -- if she had come any earlier, I wouldn’t have been ready for her.” Ironically, the first time they met she came to his studio – the exact place where so much growth and positive change had already happened. On their first date, they talked all night long & he knew right away that she was an incredible person, “a bright shining star”, someone he had wished God would bring into his life when it was the right time. And, he was right -- they have been happily married for 12 years now & Robert can’t say enough about how helpful, supportive, understanding & downright amazing Christin is.

“She is truly like an angel,” Robert said so lovingly, “It’s such a blessing that I have her.”
“Every time before I do a job, I pray for the client, I pray for me, I pray that God will give me the vision & I thank Him for the work that I got because I know that everything that I have is not because of me, I was just the body that came & showed up and God is what gave me everything… it tears me up to think about it. We can never lose sight of where things come from. It’s all because of God. People say, ‘It’s because you’re talented’ but I wasn’t talented, God gave me what I have! Going from a junkie in the ghetto of Detroit to now where I get to travel around the world & my clientele are people like President Bush, Prime Minister Tony Blair, Nikki Haley, Colin Powell, Laura Bush, Senators, Governors, movie stars like Adam Sandler, Rock Stars, Walt Disney etc. – I realized I was living in this bubble my whole life thinking that ‘that was my world & this was it’. My goal in life back then was to own a double wide trailer in a safe area & to work as a garbage man. If I would have followed my dreams & not listened to God’s vision for me, I would have short changed myself tenfold.”

From living in the ghetto, to living in a van, to buying two rental properties in Hawaii, owning 3 houses & ½ million dollar studio building with NO debt – Robert is a walking, breathing, living example of what hard work & never-ending determination can do.
Robert works with a lot of successful people and enjoys learning from them, always curious what contributes to their success. One of his favorite pieces of advice that he received was to “live every day like tomorrow is going to be a financial catastrophe & if it’s not, then you’re set” -- to not live like you are paranoid, but to truly live within your means.

“Money was never a motivator for me, not being homeless was… & still is to this day,” Robert explained.

The two people that influenced Robert the most (other than God), were “old people & rich people.” Annette’s father, who was both of these, once said to him, “Always stay small but, first class… & you’ll always be successful. Work as hard as you can until you are 50 because life begins at 50, and then you can decide how much you want to work.”

Because of his journey, Robert is very aware of how everyone has struggles in their own way – “no matter what environment or race or color or religion or circumstance we grow up in.” Perseverance, commitment to God & believing in yourself were the game changers that paved his path.

As we were ending our time together, Robert shared one last story with me about the power of envisioning. The first night when he met Christin, she had noticed that he had Jackson Brown in his music list & expressed to Robert how enamored she was with the singer. He said that from that day on he envisioned somehow being able to get her to have a conversation with Jackson Brown “even if he had to pay $10,000 for it.” Fast forward to years later, Robert wanted to do something special for Christin & at the same time had become friends with someone who happened to be connected with Jackson Brown. Not only did Robert soon after get to do some lifestyle shots of the singer, but Jackson also asked them to do dinner before the show, gave them front row center tickets AND invited them backstage to hang with them some more. It was surreal.

“I envisioned it, and it happened. If you envision something and pursue it, it will happen. If we limit ourselves into what we think we can do, we are limiting ourselves and our lives. Anything is achievable no matter what our circumstances are, we can always achieve it, we just have to envision & envision BIG. I never envisioned big growing up,” Robert explained, “My vision was so small, it was such a tunnel vision. If I die today, I feel like I have gotten SO much more than I ever imagined and have had such a wonderful life, regardless of the hardships I have been through.”
Robert concluded his story with,

“When we’re forced to survive and you put your full dependence on God, it’s incredible what we can accomplish.
I don’t hold any grudges for anything that was done to me because I have to give grace just like God does for me.

The number one thing for me though is GRATITUDE… being grateful makes everything enough.
If you don’t have gratitude, then nothing would ever be enough.
Work hard and know that God doesn’t give us anything we can’t handle and always gives us everything we need.

I don’t want to have the victim mentality because of my past – it will only hold me back.
I’m not a victim anymore, I am an adult capable of making good choices. I’m a survivor.”

Want to know more about Robert? Here’s a quick snapshot :

What's one word the best describes you & why?
Nice! Because I am nice.

What's one thing you do daily that you can't live without?

What's one habit you're working to improve & why are you motivated to do so?
Not to worry so much because it limits me.

What does faith mean to you?

What's brings you joy?
Family, friends and new people that I meet.

Anything else you want to share?!
I’ve always been a musician – in 1997 my band, Bright Black was named “best unsigned band” in the United states in Guitar Player Magazine & then answered an ad in Time magazine & we got picked up and played in Lalapalooza. I always had these goals, & one of them was to play in some sort of arena… to be known. I've played with Beck, Coolio, Cypress Hill, Courtney love, Sinead Oconner, Reba McIntre & warmed up with Snoop Dog. You have to have visions & you have to believe in them.

Thank you, so much, for sharing YOUR STORY, Robert.
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