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Remembering those we have lost
Phillip Robinson, a Student Support Coordinator for the Boston Public Schools, has raised many thousands of dollars to end the AIDS epidemic by participating in each and every AIDS Walk Boston, and empowered thousands along the way to fight AIDS with a methodical, tenacious, stubborn belief that everything is going to be okay.
“If you don’t have hope you can’t really activate yourself to believe that things can be done,” says Robinson, who began volunteering at the AIDS Action Committee in 1992 in response to the deaths from AIDS of many of his friends.
‘I’m a voice for those who no longer have a voice’
Shortly after getting involved with AAC, he shared a poem he’d written with others at AAC including Liz Page, Tom McNaught, and Larry Kessler, who encouraged him to circulate the poem at various events organized by AAC. Around the same time, Robinson made a silk screen panel of this poem and donated it to The Names Project (a replica of the panel is also on display at Project Trust at the Boston Medical Center). Titled “We Still Leave a Legacy,” it describes how those who have succumbed to AIDS should never be forgotten.
“Their lives still add much to those who do this work. We stand on their shoulders as we move forward to a cure,” says Robinson, who continues to share his poetry and prose — lending his voice “to those who had sadly become voiceless.”
Soon after volunteering with AAC, Robinson, who joined the Board of Directors in 2000, became involved with the annual Bayard Rustin Breakfast, which was pioneered by Harold duFour-Anderson to galvanize Boston’s LGBT African American community to become more involved with AIDS activism. He co-chaired the Breakfast for seven years during the 1990s and is now the Chair of the newly developed Bayard Rustin Empowerment Scholarship. This award will be announced Saturday, May 15 at the 21st Bayard Rustin Breakfast, which takes place at the Walter Denney Youth Center at Harbor Point in Dorchester.
A few years after becoming involved with the breakfast, Robinson came up with the idea for an annual Bayard Rustin Award for Courage. The idea was not initially embraced by leaders at AAC because the agency already had a Community Award for Recognition and Robinson’s idea was seen as somewhat redundant. But Robinson, in his understated, yet persistent, fashion, refused to get ruffled — or give up. He lunched with key decision makers, kept talking about it, and when he was told that the agency already had a community recognition awards ceremony, he would reply, “You know, that’s an award for the general public and we also want to honor some people that may not be in that loop.”
“We wanted to recognize individuals whose voices are not often heard and who work in the trenches of communities of people of color,” recalls Robinson. “There was a little tug of war but it didn’t last long. The powers that be acquiesced and we were able to get it up and running.”
A few years later, Robinson helped institute the Belynda Dunn Award for Courage, which is also given out annually at the Bayard Rustin Breakfast and named for Belynda Dunn, a longtime AAC employee who died in 2002 of complications from a liver transplant.
Robinson also co-founded the Nancy Strunk Memorial Scholarship Award for the Boston Public Schools. It is given out each year to a graduating senior intending to major in college in community health. It is named for the Boston’s Public Schools’s HIV/AIDS Coordinator, who died of breast cancer three years ago. While working for the schools, Strunk successfully advocated for the introduction of a HIV/AIDS curriculum in the Boston Public Schools.
Today, Robinson, who has also served on the board of directors of Victory House and BAGLY, is driven by the need to educate young people about HIV/AIDS. “When you don’t offer our youth the pertinent HIV/AIDS education, they can become vulnerable through miseducation and fall victim to unnecessary consequences,” he says matter of factly. “We have a large contingent of people who are not getting this information which is equally as important as taking the MCAS exams and that’s frightening.”
He shares that passion for education with his partner of 29 years, Joseph Jackson, who has taught in the Boston Public Schools for 33 years and has been an AIDS Walk Team Leader for Madison Park Vocational High School for the last 16 years. Like Robinson, Jackson has also walked every year and has helped raise thousands of dollars to fight the epidemic.
For those who don’t think there’s an urgent need to educate young people, Robinson has this story: Just a few weeks ago a student asked him why he had a red ribbon on his walkie talkie. The student, a seventh grader, had never heard about AIDS.
You can’t give up trying to have an impact on AIDS, Robinson says. “Of course there’s a need for more money, there’s a need for more of everything. There’s a need for more activists. But what can you do? You go with what you have.”
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