First of a two-part story
Robyne Robinson has long been a pioneer in Twin Cities’ media. Apart from scoring exclusive interviews with the likes of such legends as the late Prince, she also made history in her own right as the first Black woman to anchor a local primetime newscast.
Now she’s making history again as the first person of color to be inducted into the MN Broadcasting Hall of Fame. Robinson was inducted into the Hall of Fame Class of 2018 on September 22, honoring her 25+ years of broadcast experience, including 20 years as a reporter and then anchor at KMSP/Fox 9.
Robinson went on to run for Lt. Gov. in 2010, launch her own handmade fine jewelry line and upped her championship of the arts as art director at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport. She’s now running her own consulting firm focused on celebrating the rich arts culture in Twin Cities.
We asked the Emmy Award-winning broadcaster to reflect on her experiences during her broadcast days and her commitment to community.
MSR: What were your first thoughts when you learned that you would be inducted?
Robyne Robinson: I was really kind of stunned. I asked who else has gotten this. Has anybody else that was African American got this? I think they were a little embarrassed. I think I’m the first!
MSR: Did you think you’d be here making history again?
RR: I honestly thought that Lou Harvin, who used to be with Channel 5, would have been there first, or Yusef Mgeni with the Urban Coalition. I don’t remember which station he was on, but he was on years ago. So, I would have thought those two brothers would have at least been in the mix. And, I hope that Roxanne [Battle] is next.
MSR: What does it mean to you in terms of the goals you have set for yourself?
RR: I say this and it sounds very, very Hollywood script-like, but I did come here on a Greyhound bus with no job, and to accumulate the love [from] the entire community — that means the world to me. It means that a community watched me grow up on the air [and] allowed me to be me when the industry was changing.
It’s a difficult thing to be in an industry where people are calling for your head a lot of the time because you’re trying to tell the truth, but you’re also working within a corporate construct that really has a complex agenda… Sometimes I would just kind of say, “You know what? If they fire me, they fire me, but I have to be real about what’s really going on and making sure that folks have a chance to be heard.
MSR: How did that impact your work?
RR: All you can really do is try to make sure that you keep your foot wedged in the door so that another generation can go forward. And, that’s really how I always tried to live my life so that, no matter how it is criticized, no matter how it can be at odds with our community, that there is somebody there that was keeping the light on for us that will allow another generation to go forward and tell a bigger story about our role in the diaspora.
MSR: What was the biggest challenge?
RR: Ooh, girl, every day, every day you walk in you kind of realized who you were in that role because you were reminded — whether it’s in the community or…you’re in the newsroom. You learned to pick and choose your battles and when to go full throttle and when to try to back up. Those are the things that you learn in a newsroom every day.
You had really high points when you like the story that you’re doing or the anchoring that you’re doing. And then you had those day-to-day battles where you had to really recognize that if you don’t say anything, no one’s going to say anything. Or if you don’t say anything, the story is going to be wrong. Or if you don’t say anything, who are you as a Black woman in the community? So, you have those things every day that you go through.
MSR: What has changed in terms of how our stories are being told from when you started to now?
RR: From Tycel Nelson to Philando Castile, that’s 28 years and not much has changed, and that’s sad. But, what has changed is there is a generation of young people that are shutting down 35W because they are done, they are not having it, and that’s what’s righteous… Now it’s more dire than ever that we remain resilient to the struggle.
MSR: What was the pressure like fighting those battles?
RR: I think there’s a lot that we hide because we don’t want people to think that we need to “get tough.” But, you’re tough is not somebody else’s tough. There’s an excellent book, I don’t think it’s in print anymore, but it’s called A Foot in Each World, and it’s by this sister Leanita McClain. She was the first Black columnist at Chicago Tribune and she committed suicide. She wrote her story about this alienation that you face and gain [as] part of this construct of media.
There’s definitely a part of your community that doesn’t see you in a favorable light and you’re alienated from your people from that, but then, alienated from the White folks that you work with every day, too. And so, you walk in the two different worlds and you’re never really completely accepted by either, and you fight this internal struggle, and so you kind of hide that.
And, there were many years that we’d be invited as media to things that were happening in the Black community and they’d stand up and say, “Get out!” And there’s people cheering, “Get out, media, get out, we hate you!” I would just be like, “I’m not going.” And Jerry McAfee would come over and say, “Sister…” and [I’d say], “I’m not leaving. I’m a Black woman in this community. I’m not going to let you put me out like that because basically, you’re saying I’m a tool of this machine.”
There were many times it was really difficult.
MSR: What one thing do you want us to take away from you getting this award?
RR: I could go into this whole Evita “Don’t Cry for me, Argentina” kind of thing, but I love this community. I don’t ever want them to forget that I would do anything for this community to know how much I love and respect them.
All I’ve ever tried to do is reflect it the best I possibly could with what I had to work with. I might not be perfect, but I want to thank this community for letting me grow and evolve and become myself here and just really know how much I love this community.
Read part two: From making history to designing a future