The late Dr. Myles Munroe once said, “True leaders don’t invest in buildings… They invest in people, because, success without a successor is failure. So your legacy should not be in buildings, programs, or projects; your legacy must be in people.” This mantra is one that has been manifested through nearly a century of life-long commitment, to the minority community of Houston by the notable dynasty of the Judson W. Robinson family. For scores of decades, the Robinson family has upheld a tradition of self-sacrificing tireless efforts for African-Americans and others throughout the city.
In 1928, the late Judson W. Robinson, Sr. journeyed to Houston after attending formerly, Prairie View State Normal and Industrial College (Prairie View A & M University); and emerged into a well-respected entrepreneur and civil leader. His legacy of excellence has been continued throughout two generations with the birthing of his son and grandson, Judson W. Robinson, Jr. and Judson W. Robinson, III, (respectively). Recently, African-American News & Issues privileged me with the delightful pleasure to conduct an exclusive interview with, President and CEO of the Houston Area Urban League (HAUL), Mr. Judson W. Robinson, III. Robinson, III has become the third-generation extension that has continued on in the legacy of the Robinson’s family commitment to the community.
Robinson Legacy of Commitment to the Community
Judson W. Robinson, Sr., a native of Crockett was born in 1904. After relocating to Houston, he achieved the title of being the first African-American to serve in various capacities. Amongst those entitlements, he was first in his race to: serve on the local YMCA board, manage the Kelly Homes (Fifth Ward) and Cuney Homes (Third Ward) projects’; uphold an appointment to the Houston Housing Authority, where he later served as Vice Chairman and became the first African-American mortgage company in the state, approved by the Federal Housing Administration, with his inception of Judson W. Robinson & Sons Real Estate and Mortgage Company in 1962. Robinson, Sr. also: instituted the Sleeping Car Porters and Waiters Union (President); served as President of the Houston Citizens Chamber of Commerce and operated as director of the Houston Negro Chamber of Commerce. During his lifetime, he was Chairman of Precinct 259 in the Pleasantville community; and was responsible for encouraging voter participation, resulting in the largest voter percentage turnout within the city of Houston. He was also a founding member of the Houston Area Urban League, which subscribes to a mission to, “help African-Americans and other minorities to secure economic self-reliance, power, parity and civil rights”.
The second-member of the Robinson’s family legacy was Judson W. Robinson, Jr. Robinson, Jr. was a dedicated warrior for education and civil rights. He first began in politics in 1967, by becoming Judge of Precinct 259, the same precinct in which his father chaired. In 1971, he excelled in the City’s history, by leaving an unblemished mark of becoming the first African-American elected to City Council. He served as the at-large Position 5 City Councilmember for 19-years, while serving twice, as mayor pro tem. Wife, Margarette Robinson was appointed as caretaker of his seat for a year, after his demise. Judson Robinson, Jr. was also an accomplished businessman, who owned the first African-American franchise of the Burger King Corporation (R.M.P Development); he was also a co-owner of KCOH radio station. Today, he has on record an elementary school, library and community center named in his honor.
A New Era of Leadership with Judson W. Robinson, III
Robinson, III was raised in Pleasantville, a highly-respected community during his years of rearing, in the early 1960’s. During our interview, he recalled fond memories of his childhood such as: “being able to peacefully play outside until it was dark, safely walking to and from Pleasantville Elementary School and frequenting his next-door neighbor, Mrs. Hawkins’ home after school with other children as we waited on our parents to arrive home from work.” Early on, he was exposed to community, educational, civic and political involvement through the examples demonstrated by his parents.
He was amongst the first generation of children to experience busing in Houston, this measure proved to be an, “eye-opening experience” for him in junior high school; as it was at that age, that he was first exposed to children of different races and backgrounds. After attending public school within the Houston Independent School District, his parents decided to enroll him into a private institution. Accordingly, he graduated from St. Thomas High School. Afterwards, he matriculated at Fisk University in Nashville Tennessee, where he earned a Bachelor’s degree in Business.
Upon completing his studies, Robinson returned home and initiated a career with IBM, working as salesman for a number of years. Eventually, his division was bought out by Nynex and he remained with the company until his father’s health took a turn. Intuitively, he decided that it was more important for him to engulf himself in the family business, Judson W. Robinson & Sons Real Estate and Mortgage Company. The company had become a valued asset within the community and a significant sentiment within their family. Therefore, he proceeded to take all of the necessary courses and prep work for him to become a licensed realtor. Simultaneously, his father’s health declined to a stage where it was necessary for him to become heavily involved in the firm. After his father’s passing, he and his uncle continued on in the business. However, due to the devastating economic downturn that affected most small business owners in the 1980’s; the company’s mortgage clients were in crisis, therefore impacting the company’s assets. Though the business sufficed for some years, later, ultimately, it was not able to survive the economic burden associated with the oil bust of the 1980’s. During this time, people lost jobs, homes and businesses, at levels not seen since the Great Depression. A cycle of lost wealth in Black communities had taken place that still lingers to this day.
Robinson, III father’s passing left a void in the lives of the minorities that he championed. Countless Houstonians held a great deal of admiration and respect for him due to the abundant sacrifices that he and his family had made on behalf of the African-American community. Once his mother, Margarette had fulfilled the remainder of his father’s term, there was a great outpouring of hope from the community; that their only son would follow the legacy. Hence, Judson W. Robinson, III took into consideration the example he saw displayed by his predecessors. Fighting for equal rights, being politically involved and working on behalf of the people, was the climate of normalcy that he’d become accustomed to. Therefore, the decision was made to postpone his real estate career and wholeheartedly pursue politics. Amidst a fierce race with several candidates, Robinson, III was victorious and elected by the people to serve as the at-large Position 5 City Councilmember. This feat accommodated him with becoming one of the youngest African-Americans first elected to public office.
During his tenure as City Councilmember, he experienced a plethora of success. He ran on the promise that improvements to the downtown economy would create new jobs and a lifestyle of vibrancy to inner-city neighborhoods. This mission was accomplished during his administration with the support of his colleagues. Under his leadership, the Council was able to establish the Business and Tourism Committee. They were able to initiate the many Downtown Civic improvement efforts, such as the esteemed Hilton Americas Hotel, that was built through initiatives of the Committee. Members were also responsible for and awarding many minority airport concession contracts, many still are in place today. Economic development was stimulated by revitalizing Houston’s, Mid-Town. Collectively, the Council created a taxing and investment tool and the city upgraded the infrastructure of the area for developers. Ultimately, residents, small business owners, developers and the City of Houston benefitted from the project that was aimed to improve downtown livability and create more density. Robinson served on the City Council for six years, chaired four committees and was vice mayor pro-tem, by appointment of then-Mayor Bob Lanier. During his first term on the council, a referendum was put in place by voters limiting the terms that council members could serve, therefore, serving six years, maximum by law.
Following, he began working as an Independent Consultant by assisting small business owners with strategic relationship building. From this experience, many business owners were privileged with learning how to process appropriate paperwork and other resources to foster a level of success in contract acquisition. As time progressed, one of his clients offered him a position to work full-time to assist in its expansion. He took the opportunity and served as Area Vice President of Professional Service Industries (PSI) Houston, a construction-oriented engineering firm, for several years.
Afterwards, Robinson worked for Senator Sylvia Garcia, who was Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner at the time. He began working as Co-Chief of Staff in her office supervising the operations of multiple Precinct 2 departments. Together, they experienced much success. However, in the process of serving as her assistant, the president of the Houston Area Urban League (HAUL) announced her retirement. Robinson was encouraged by many to consider the upcoming vacancy. Attracted by the opportunity to continue on in the work that his family had previously devoted their lives’ to; he obliged and submitted his credentials. Consequently, he was selected to become the Chief Executive Officer of HAUL, in November of 2007 and has faithfully remained since. In doing so, he mirrored the steps of his late grandfather, who was a founding member of the organization.
About the Houston Area Urban League:
According to the organization’s history, “HAUL was organized in June, 1968 as a nonprofit 501(c) 3 agency. Affiliated with the United Way and National Urban League, HAUL advocates for and provides social services to disadvantaged people of all races, genders, age groups and/or disabilities. HAUL operates the following five (5) programs targeting residents in economically disadvantaged geographic areas in the Greater Houston areas: Education and Youth Development; Workforce and Economic Development; Workforce Training; Housing and Health and Wellness initiatives.”
HAUL has a wide variety of programs for nearly every facet of life for minorities. There is a program for individuals planning on purchasing their first home. Certified housing counselors are available to guide people through the process of educating them on how to maintain and manage their resources once they have acquired a home. There is also a Community Development Corporation created by HAUL, which builds affordable housing for area residents. For entrepreneurs who are seeking to start a business, there is a program which provides solid advice and information. The agency is also able to assist with helping business owners obtain contract opportunities with the Port of Houston and other local partners and entities.
In another element of HAUL, there is the (HAUL YP – ages 20-40), a network which creates pathways to leadership for young adults. HAUL YP’s mission is to financially support HAUL and they experience giving back to the community and are considered the civic arm of the agency. Furthermore, young people are paired with mentors whose objective is to guide them in a positive direction. After graduating high school, youth within the program have the option to participate in the work experience program.
HAUL Guild is a 40-plus age group, which is considered the volunteer arm of the organization. The most recent task of Guild has been calling on victims impacted by Hurricane Harvey, to ascertain what type of assistance HAUL may be to and for them. Currently, the agency has been instrumental in providing a slew of immediate needs to locals who were heavily displaced by the torrential storm.
Robinson says he is honored at the opportunity to: “help parents be better parents, help children get a better education, assist with helping people to attain their first job and learn the coping skills to maintain an existing one, helping people to get the grounding that they need to matriculate through the rest of their lives.” He explained that HAUL is tied into the community resource cloth that is equipped with the purpose and expectation of helping minorities succeed. Robinson believes that, “The Urban League is the kind of agency that should be a partner in the development of every African-American or minority’s life.”
Long-lasting Legacies of Inspiration:
Quite naturally, Robinson holds the legacies of both his grandfather and father near to his heart. He regards them as two of his most-respected mentors and greatest inspirations. Additionally, he acknowledged other local legends that have made tireless sacrifices on behalf of others. Amongst those, he mentioned the late Mr. Zollie Scales who was a resident of Sunnyside; and always maintained a reputable relationship with local judges, in his era. Robinson described Scales as being the, “go-to” person, when young people would encounter incidents with authorities. He was a humble, politically savvy giant, who spoke up for his people and never asked for anything in return. Robinson said, “He was one of those, who always tried to do the right things, for the right reasons.”
He also reverenced the late Quentin Mease, who selflessly advocated for African-Americans in Houston. Mease was a member of the Hospital Board and also has a community health center which bears his name. He was responsible for helping to pioneer the South Central YMCA, the first Black center of its kind in Houston. During the dispensation when race riots were rampant in many major cities across the nation, he became an integral character in helping to create the Urban League in Houston. He worked closely with some of the local leadership in the city, to help them understand the anger that most African-Americans felt, due to inequality. Mease understood the significance of African-Americans having a resourceful establishment to go to for employment, housing and educational needs. Therefore, he relayed those sentiments to local affluent leaders like, Gerald D. Hines (Galleria Developer). Mr. Hines is the founder and chairman of Hines, a privately held real estate firm. From that experience, Hines portrayed a vital role in the establishment of HAUL and remains committed to the organization, today. Robinson outlined the summary of his inspirations by expressing, “When you have people that are willing to self-sacrifice on behalf of others, without any expectation of personal gain or reward; I believe those are the kind of people that we should aspire to be.”
A Word from the Wise:
Robinson encourages the community to, “remain optimistic”. He says, “Life is a journey, it’s a process, so try to find your process and work it.” He referenced Oprah Winfrey who said, “Surround yourself, around people who will lift you higher.” Furthermore, he shared, “We are not an island and if we would simply let others assist us, we can go a long way together.” “I’m no expert in education, housing, economic development or health; but I’ve got people who are and I let them do what they do, and we all complement each other,” he added.
Mr. Judson W. Robinson, III has been married to his best friend of thirty years, Cora Robinson; they have three children and three grandchildren.
For more information or details about HAUL, contact (713) 393-8700 or visit the website at www.haul.org. HAUL is located at 1301 Texas Avenue, 77002.
By: Rebecca Jones