It is important to serve others and treat other people right. It’s important to realize that everyone has something to contribute at the “table of life,” so do not cast anyone aside. Relationships with all human beings are important.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Josephine H. Robinson. Josephine H. Robinson is a woman passionate about working in her hometown of Chicago, Illinois to improve the lives of young people and their families. She is World Vision U.S.’s, a global nonprofit, Partner Coordinator for their Chicago operations. In that role, she directs the volunteer program, serves as a liaison to all World Vision community partners, and plans/conducts community engagement activities. Her work with World Vision is driven by her passion for improving the quality of life for young people, and their families.
Previously, she worked for Chicago Public Schools’ Gage Park High School and directed their College and Career Center. In that capacity, she served as a community liaison for Chicago Public Schools with community partners including churches, nonprofits, and businesses.
She is an active community volunteer for a variety of organizations across Chicagoland with more than 40 years of experience in the social service field. She is a member of Sisters in the Struggle, a group of women who works together to sponsor community events, and to mentor young women in the Greater Englewood neighborhood of Chicago. She is also one of the co-founders of the Cradle to Success Pipeline Coalition that serves the South New City and Greater Englewood communities. Josephine also is a “Child Defender Fellow” with the Children’s Defense Fund.
Josephine has been a leading voice and director for some of Chicago’s most noteworthy boards, coalitions, and advisory councils that exist to help improve the quality of life for all community residents. She presently serves as a volunteer at DuSable Museum of African American History, The All Stars Project Afterschool Working Group, and with the Community Advisory Council of Chicago Children’s Choir.
She is a member of Salem Baptist Church of Chicago where she works in the Membership Ministry and the Department of Christian Education. Josephine is the mother of an amazing young adult daughter, Erika S. Robinson. Josephine has a Master of Arts from the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration, and a Bachelor of Arts in Social Work from Valparaiso University.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
Igrew up on Chicago’s South Side in the Fuller Park Community. I was raised in a large immediate family consisting of eight siblings — four brothers and four sisters — along with my parents, Mr. and Mrs. James Edward Hamb. We lived in the community house of our home church, Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church, where my Father was the custodian. My mother, Mrs. Fannie Hamb, was a stay-at-home mom and a great prayer warrior. I attended church and was baptized when I was five years old. At the age of 16, I even became a Sunday school teacher. I also loved school and was a great student, usually making the honor roll list. When I graduated high school, I was one of the top students in my class before going to college.
Is there a book that made a significant impact on you?
I love to read, and my late, dearest friend, Jennifer Artis, helped me develop this love. I have read lots of books, and I maintain a list of my top 50 books that I enjoy sharing with my family and friends. I want to share three of my favorite ones with you: Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson, Mirror to America, by Dr. John Hope Franklin, and Becoming by Michelle Obama. All of these authors shared their life stories, and they all had an impact on my life because it showed what hard work and passion can do to change the world, even when you come from a low-income or working class African American community.
Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
It is hard to pick just one story, but if I had to pick, it was when Dr. John Hope Franklin explained his experiences with Jim Crow laws in the American South. For example, he recalled the story of when he and his mother walked away after refusing to sit on the back of a train. Another life moment of his that struck me was when Dr. Franklin was honored at private club where he was a member, and a white woman gave him the keys to her car because she thought he was a valet. He was a noted scholar and professor, but he was still the victim of people judging him by the color of his skin, alone. His stories resonated with me because he was able to accomplish so much in his life in the face of such racism and adversity. His stories help me — as someone living in a different time period — to stay focused and live out my life’s purpose and calling.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
It is not as much a “Life Lesson Quote” as much it is my mother’s life purpose that she practiced every day: “Love God, and love and serve others.” My mother was orphaned at two years old, lived poor in the Jim Crow American South, yet she managed to graduate from high school and start a better life for herself and her family.
She was an outstanding mom and treated everyone well; she truly lived to serve children and our entire community. My mother always had time to mentor and love my siblings and she showed that kind of care for other children, too. Her life itself was a lesson, and I still learn so much by remembering how she lived her life that was full of giving, praying, sharing, caring and inspiring others.
Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
My mother inspired me to want to help others, and that is one of the reasons I majored in social work in college. I dedicated my life to service for others, both personally and professionally. In my present position at World Vision, I serve others while being a meaningful part of a humanitarian organization, with a widespread domestic and international impact. World Vision gives me an opportunity to live out my values; my volunteer and community-minded work is inspired my mother’s life who was my chief role model.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. You are currently helping lead a social impact organization. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to address?
I serve as a Partner Coordinator for World Vision U.S.’s Chicago operations; I coordinate World Vision’s volunteer program, serve as community liaison with our partners and the community, and organize/conduct community engagement activities with a group of our partners called the “Intergenerational Community Circles.” Our team holds an Annual Community Engagement Day (CED) that was attended by hundreds of volunteers last year. The purpose of the CED is to provide an opportunity in which nonprofit organizations, churches, and schools can connect and network to build collaborative relationships and learn about best practices.
I also co-founded two leading nonprofit organizations. The Cradle to Success Coalition is a recently formed group I started along with two young ladies, Tameka Gavin and Jeanina Payne. The organization began after I completed a fellows program with the Children’s Defense Fund that allowed me to establish the Cradle to Success Coalition. We work to engage community residents and local organizations to provide more opportunities for Chicago’s children in the South New City and Greater Englewood neighborhoods. Cradle to Success volunteers seek to ensure that children get a “Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start” in life, a community-oriented bridge to adulthood.
I also co-founded, with five of my sister friends, most of whom I have known for over 20 years, Sisters in the Struggle. Our focus is to inspire and motivate young women by conducting events to celebrate African American women across generations. We have intergenerational conversations, honor our elders, and conduct engaging book club discussions.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. We just don’t get up and do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
My “Aha Moment” for the Cradle-to-Success Coalition was when I kept hearing the phrase in public discourse, “Cradle-to-Prison Pipeline.” I felt there was a pervasive public perception that most low-income, African American men were destined for a life in-and-out of the U.S. correctional system. I want to be a consequential part of the solution that helps change that perception, and those widely held cultural beliefs.
In July 2018, one leader of the Children’s Defense Fund Joseph Worthy and Jeanina Payne, along with myself, came up with the concept for the CTS Coalition. Months later, we were “off the ground and running” and had our first meeting. I believe that all of us can be a part of the solution and the CTS coalition is a grassroots example of how we can all come together for the common good.
Furthermore, my involvement with Sisters in the Struggle is another way that we can have events that inspire girls and women of all ages. We sponsored an event called “Celebrating African American Women Across Generations” in which we honored girls and women across generations for the work they have done in the community, and for all the young girls making responsible life decisions to advance their futures.
Can you tell us a story about an individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
I will discuss a young woman whom I have known since she was five years old (I will not name her for purposes of anonymity). She has six children, and she is a single mother. She became my God daughter. This young woman has some challenges, but she has been open to accepting my love and concern for her and her children; she is making great strides. As a result of my connection with her, her children have become more focused on school and making good choices. They are 16-year-old and 15-year-old young men, and the younger children are doing well, too!
Are there three things that the community can do to help you in your great work?
The first thing is seeing young people in our African American Community as young people with unlimited potential. Our younger generations need to see older role models as those capable of speaking about life to them, while encouraging them to reach toward being a positive, and accomplished individual. I want older generations to see our young African American leaders for who they really are, without writing them off.
The second thing our local communities can do to help with my work is to help support the great nonprofits and organizations that support our populations of greatest need. For example, World Vision, the global humanitarian organization I work for, has a variety of missions including clean water access, poverty alleviation, education, and women’s empowerment. They also have a variety of domestic programs that seek to aid vulnerable communities with essential resources. For those who want to get involved with a program of such size and scope, World Vision has a presence in all states across the U.S.
I also encourage readers to support local nonprofits that have a specific focus on neighborhoods and communities. For example, Cradle-to-Success in Chicago is one of the great organizations I help lead that is working in partnership with the community, parents, and children to make sure that these groups have a positive support system. Many of our children and families just need to know that someone believes in them and wants to provide them with support and guidance. Local, hyper-local nonprofit groups serve to fill this essential need.
Finally, I ask readers to advocate on behalf of all children and to make sure their communities have the resources needed in improving their quality of life in all aspects — socially, emotionally, spiritually, financially, and educationally.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
I define leadership as the ability to lead, first, yourself in being a caring and thoughtful individual. Leadership is also the ability to lead others in working toward a common goal, improving the quality of life for others, and the action of active listening to all people, with respect.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
I wish that I would have started journaling when I was a young girl. I journal now, and it helps me to stay focused on my purpose and goals in life. I believe if I had started earlier, I would have made more progress with my purpose and goals.
To realize that I had great potential and not to limit myself. I had people believe in me, even when I doubted myself.
To save more and spend less.
To reach out to people that I could have benefitted from in my career field. I have always had so many people I admire, but I was often too afraid to reach out to them to seek guidance. It’s always a beneficial idea to reach out to people who inspire you for direction.
To have personal devotions, daily. I started doing this in my adult life, and since starting devotions I have benefited so much in my work that I do because I hear the voice of God through scriptures. I now have an opportunity to reflect on the choices I make, and the service I perform for others.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
To believe in themselves, they have endless possibilities, and to start early making good decisions early in life. It is important to serve others and treat other people right. It’s important to realize that everyone has something to contribute at the “table of life,” so do not cast anyone aside. Relationships with all human beings are important.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
As my mother said, “Love God, and love and serve others.” It is the defining set of values that guide my life and work.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I would love to have a meal with Marian Wright Edelman, the founder of the Children’s Defense Fund. Her life has been dedicated to improving the quality of life for children and I would like to hear what key life lessons she would share and to get more insight from two of her books she wrote: Lanterns, and The Measure of Our Success: A Letter to my Children and Yours.
How can our readers follow you online?
While I don’t maintain a social media presence personally, I encourage you all to visit the website and social media channels of where I work, World Vision U.S.! You can find them online at worldvision.org, @WorldVisionUSA on Twitter, and @worldvision on Facebook and Instagram.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!