Randall Robinson, a 1967 graduate of Virginia Union University, is an author, law professor and founder of the foreign policy organization TransAfrica.
The kick-off event, which is free and open to the public, will be held at 10 a.m. in Coburn Hall on the university’s North Side campus. It will mark the start of a series of events lasting throughout the school year, culminating with a rededication of the university on April 9, 2015. The university will also unveil an anniversary monument in May 2015.
Born and raised in Richmond, Robinson graduated from VUU in 1967 before attending Harvard Law School. In 1977, he founded TransAfrica, now the oldest African American foreign policy organization in the United States. Under Robinson’s leadership, the organization fought to end apartheid in South Africa. In 1994, he participated in a hunger strike for 27 days protesting military rule in Haiti. Robinson has written seven books, and is now a law professor at Penn State University.
We caught up with Robinson prior to his address to talk growing up in Richmond, international social justice and the next generation of freedom fighters.
RM: How did coming of age in Richmond during the civil rights era shape you as a person?
RR: In ways that were life changing, segregation in Richmond sharpened my interest in social justice for all peoples, worldwide.
RM: What does it mean to you to be a graduate of Virginia Union University?
RR: I am very proud to be a product of a historically black institution.
RM: What was the most important lesson you learned during your college years?
RR: With reference to career choices, learning to make the distinction between what one wants to “be,” and what one wants to “do.”
RM: Why was participating in international causes in South Africa and Haiti a priority for you?
RR: The cause of self-determination for blacks is global and indivisible.
RM: What is your most vivid memory of or representing apartheid in South Africa?
RR: My first visit to South Africa occurred in 1976. The Richmond of my youth had been cruelly awful. South Africa during apartheid was much, much worse.
RM: You've been called a freedom fighter. Do you think you're a part of the last generation of freedom fighters?
RR: Not at all. There are countless younger individuals doing extraordinary work: people like Michelle Alexander, at Ohio State University, who is showing how glaring inequities in America’s criminal justice system are marching black men and women, boys and girls, into this country’s prisons, with multi-layered, life-altering consequences. As you may know, she insightfully labeled this phenomenon “the new Jim Crow.” Brian Stevenson, director of the Equal Justice Initiative, is showing how, across this nation, minor infractions are being re-classified as felonies, thereby making it easier to corral black and brown Americans into America’s jails – with many of these jails, alarmingly, being owned by private investors and traded on our country’s stock exchanges. There is Tricia Rose at Brown University, who is doing phenomenal work on race and ethnicity in America, and who shows how the crass commercialization of black popular culture encourages hostility toward blacks. Chuck D, through his music and activism, is railing against the “culture vultures” and commercial radio stations “that strip young people of pride and drive them to soulless materialism.” Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change, is an insightful, effective strategist on matters of race in America, and deserves all the support the rest of us can muster. Susan L. Taylor, formerly of Essence, works through her National Cares Mentoring Movement to impress upon the rest of us the pressing urgency of our investing just one hour per week mentoring a black child. I could go on indefinitely. But what the rest of us need to do is to learn more about these individuals and find some way — through our time, our resources, or both — to support these individuals in their important work.
RM: What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
RR: I have never really thought about this.
RM: What do you look forward to doing most when you visit Richmond?
RR: Seeing those I once knew and haven’t seen for more than 50 years.