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2020 12 People: Toni Robinson

The Change Agent

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Last edited 4:58 p.m., Jan. 3, 2019

Toni Robinson is using the top role within the NAACP Springfield chapter as a platform to make the community more inclusive, an ambition that could have far-reaching cultural and economic impacts.

After taking over in December 2018 for longtime NAACP President Cheryl Clay, Robinson got to work on a learning and listening tour to build relationships with community stakeholders, such as the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce. The areas of diversity and inclusion have been touted by economic development specialists when it comes to recruitment and retention.

“Springfield is realizing how much it needs diversity and inclusion,” Robinson says.

The local NAACP chapter doubled to 200 members within Robinson’s first year as president. Listening to understand was important, and so is Robinson’s background.

“I think my identity as a young, queer person has helped,” says Robinson, who uses the nonbinary pronouns “they”, “them” and “their.” “There are so many youth that identify in so many different ways.”

And with organizations struggling to attract top talent, Robinson says prior misconceptions that race or gender affects a person’s abilities must be thrown out.

“There are things happening whether people know them or not,” Robinson says, pointing to discrimination occurring in schools and workplaces. “We have to get those stories out and we have to share them.”

When starting the NAACP job, Robinson admits to a bit of frustration. Robinson found some local professionals ignorant about daily issues facing the minority community, and at meetings, rhetoric was high but actionable items were low.

“I came into the first board meeting with my eyes wide open and super green,” Robinson says. “Instead of becoming really frustrated at the direction I couldn’t move, I decided to focus on the stories.”

Turns out, Robinson’s first year at the NAACP would have watershed moments.

In separate incidences, Robinson and the NAACP weighed in on incidents of racial discrimination and LGBTQ bullying involving youth at Kickapoo High School.

Robinson received phone calls from media across the nation, including The New York Times and The Root.

“It drew a lot of attention. It brought CEOs to the table,” Robinson says.

Now, Robinson wants to establishing a network of volunteer attorneys or retired lawyers as a “legal coalition” that would work to file litigation on behalf of the NAACP. Robinson also wants to make the president role for the local NAACP chapter a paid position to increase the organization’s viability.

“I don’t think I’d make it through my whole two-year term without a salary,” Robinson says.

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