CANDID CONVERSATION WITH BARBARA A. ROBINSON
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one thing youíre most proud of that you have never shared before?
My family staying
together and my children joining together to all take responsibility
for raising my grandchildren. Itís not, "These are your children
not mine. Iím not their father. Iím not their mother. Iím only an
aunt. Iím only their uncle." My grandchildren are the responsibility
of the entire family and Iím so very proud of that. After all the
mess my husband and I went through and everything I went through,
our family survived and thrived. I was out there in the streets
as well. But I was also going to school. Despite remarkable circumstances,
every one of my children graduated from college, each one owns his
or her own home, and they are all successful in their own right.
Do you have
I regret not
learning sooner to live my life for myself and not through the eyes
of others. I regret that it took so long for me to understand that
I have a lot on the ball, and so much to offer. I regret being such
a strong disciplinarian when my children were growing up. Only after
I put my faith in God was I able to realize that I am somebody,
that I donít have to be a product of my past, that I could be a
product of my own choosing. I should have learned that years ago.
I wasted precious time, but I donít waste time worrying over things
about which worrying canít change.
can you give to single mothers in the workforce today?
Go for your
dreams. Donít let anyone tell you that you canít make them come
true because youíre Black, Hispanic, poor and so on. Donít let anyone
define your limitations and never sell yourself short. Make sure
your kids graduate from high school. Realize that your children
come first. Never, ever, put a man ahead of your children. Be the
role model for them, be there for them. Be your childrenís hero.
What do you
do now if you feel overwhelmed or down?
about what I used to do, where I used to be, the abyss of frustration
and self-destruction that once defined me. I wouldnít trade anything
for my life now. I love who I am. I love who God has allowed me
to become. When I feel overwhelmed, I say, "Things may not be all
they should be but Hallelujah, anyhow!" Failure isnít an option
for me. If I really thought about what I had to do each day, Iíd
feel overwhelmed. I get up each morning, look at my schedule and
take one step at a time. At the end of the day, I thank God for
most embarrassing thing that happened to you?
to happen to me when I dance. When I was younger, I was at a party
and under my dress, I was wearing a half-slip and I was boogieing
away. When I twirled around, my slip fell to the floor. I stepped
out of it and kept right on dancing. Then, I yelled, "Somebody lost
their slip...Iíll just pick it up for them." Another embarrassing
moment ó once again, I was at a party, dancing. This was back in
the 1960s when all those crazy wigs were in style. The best way
to keep the wig from making your hair break off, or from becoming
thin around the edges was to wear a stocking cap underneath the
wig. When I look back, I chuckle at how ridiculous a fashion practice
it was. In the middle of a twirl, my wig fell on the floor, and
all that remained was the stocking cap on my head. Another person
on the dance floor yelled, "Miss, you just lost your hair." I smiled
sheepishly, picked up the wig and put it right back on my head ó
backwards. I thought I was such a diva. Good grief.
most humbling experience youíve ever had?
There are two
such experiences. I host a weekly radio talk show. One afternoon
while I was shopping, an elderly man overheard me talking to a sales
clerk, and he recognized my voice from the radio. He looked at me
with a huge smile and said, "Youíre Barbara Robinson....I just want
you to know that because of you I have my own business. I was listening
to your show one night and you were talking about your past and
how you struggled against such awful odds. I remember you said,
ĎDonít let anybody tell you that you canít achieve your dreams.
It might take you a little bit longer than it takes somebody else
but never let it go. I used to be homeless and on drugs.í Thank
you for telling your story that day, because it was my story, too."
Later that afternoon, I left for a book signing and it was raining
like mad. When I arrived at the signing, the same man was standing
there, soaked to the skin, waiting for me. "I just could not leave
until I gave you a hug," he said. This man had been abused by his
uncle, and suffered tremendously as a child. Another experience
was when I received an email from someone and she wrote, "Mrs. Robinson,
you probably donít remember me, but when I was eighteen years old,
I attended a lecture you gave. You shared your story about abuse
and drugs. I listened to you and it was like I was hearing my own
story. You also said to follow your dreams and never let anyone
make you believe that you canít achieve your goals. I also listened
to you talking about how long it took you to earn a Bachelorís degree.
Well, I am now twenty-eight years old, I have earned my Bachelorís
degree, a Masterís degree, and a Ph.D. I am also the pastor of a
church. I would be honored if you could come to the opening," and
gave me the address. That hearing me could have impacted the lives
of these two people is the most humbling thing that ever happened
to me. I carry it in my heart, always. Your memoir AND STILL, I
CRY, is disarmingly honest.
the hardest component of unleashing so many truths?
thing was letting people know that I came from a background of abuse,
drugs, infidelity, emotional and physical pain, and all the rest
of the junk in my trunk. When people see me now, they see me as
a successful woman. I wanted people to know that I didnít start
out this way. The toughest thing for me to do was to admit the truth
of my less than innocent past. Once the book was published, so many
readers thanked me, because they found their own stories in mine.
That made all the hell of opening up old wounds worth while. The
message of my book is that your condition does not have to be your
conclusion. I thank God for giving me the courage to tell the truth.
If I could make it against the odds, others can too, and there is
nothing more affirming or healing. You canít appreciate how far
youíve come if you donít acknowledge where you were.
How do you
see your role as a grandmother?
are my best friends and my absolute joy! And yes, I bake cookies,
but after I rest from work. Iím not a traditional, "stay at home
grandmother." But the most important thing I can do for my grandchildren
is to show them by example how to follow their dreams. I want my
grandchildren to know that they can be whoever they want to be.
Iíd like for my grandchildren to work with me in my business. I
want my family to know that Iím leaving something for them. After
Iím gone from this earth, I want them to say of me, "My mamma was
a humdinger, but she looked out for us." I want to leave my grandchildren
a legacy that transcends financial security, but that imparts to
their very hearts and souls the confidence they need to manifest
their individual destinies.