Good Morning, I am Alicia Robinson, and I am the Local Program Director for Turnaround Arts Bridgeport. and it is my astute pleasure to you speak with you this morning about Life, Leadership, and Legacy.
“Whatever your life's work is, do it well. A man should do his job so well that the living, the dead, and the unborn could do it no better.”
- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
My life began on a warm summer day when I was born in Park City Hospital in Bridgeport, CT. I realized early on my love for the arts. My mom, who was a music enthusiast and a pretty decent vocalist, always played music around the house. From jazz and show tunes, to the latest hip hop and R&B, I was exposed early on to diverse, quality music. I took my love for music one step further when I was in the 5th grade. I signed up to play a band instrument, and even though I didn’t get the instrument I wanted, I played what was available because like most 5th graders at the time, I thought it was cool to miss class for practice and trips to parades!
After switching my instruments a couple of times, I finally settled on the clarinet which I played until my sophomore year of high school, when, all of a sudden, things changed. I was faced with a challenge- the school I attended no longer provided instruments. I had 3 options: 1. Quit playing altogether, but I had already invested 5 years playing and I really enjoyed it; 2. Ask my mother to buy me an instrument, but as a single mother of 3 kids, I knew that wasn’t an option; or 3. Play what they had available. So, I chose the latter, and began playing a brass instrument, the trumpet, after having had played the clarinet for 4 years. It was new and different, but I quickly began to like it. I played the trumpet for a couple of years before my true passion was introduced to me…the TUBA!
I volunteered to play on a whim. The sole senior tuba player was graduating and the band director, not really expecting a response, surveyed the room and asked if anyone was interested in playing. I remember this moment like it was yesterday. I looked to the left of me and then to my right, and saw that no one had their hand raised. I slowly and nervously raised my hand until my arm was fully extended in the air. It was almost like an out of body experience. I saw my hand go up even though my mind couldn’t fully process what was happening. I often reflect back to that exact moment in my life. What in the world gave me the courage to raise my hand? First and foremost, I thought it would be cool to be a female tuba player because I had never heard of such a thing. I envisioned boys opening doors for me and offering to carry my instrument, of which, I rarely took them up on. Besides that, I knew someone needed to step up, and why not me? I went on to play the tuba my senior year of high school and continued on into college where played in the marching band and the concert band. I still play from time to time for different events and occasions and anytime I tell someone I play the tuba, I still get the same disbelief and surprised reaction I did when I first started playing in high school.
As a female tuba player, I faced many challenges. Of course I had to learn to play the instrument altogether, but I also had to learn to read music in an entirely new way. Both in high school and in college, I was the only female tuba player in my section, and so I worked twice as hard to prove I was just as good as any of the boys I played with. But my hard work paid off. Not even a year after picking up the instrument for the first time, I was invited to play with a regional honors band. My audition earned me second chair, beating out more than half of the boys that auditioned who had been playing 3 and 4 times as long as I had.
I continued to play the tuba throughout college and after I graduated, I went on to live my passion by becoming a music teacher in the Bridgeport public school system, the same district I grew up in. I taught for 8 years before stepping into my current role as Local Program Director for Turnaround Arts: Bridgeport, through which, I get to impact thousands of lives by increasing access to the arts for students all across the district in the hopes of not only improving academic achievement, student attendance, and school culture, but by giving a creative outlet that allows students to find their voice.
"If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way." - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but engaging in the arts significantly influenced my leadership skills and abilities. I was used to performing in front of large crowds, facilitating small group rehearsals, working with team members, and reflecting and refining my craft, all of which are pertinent attributes of a leader.
In middle and high school, while working on different group projects, I would take the lead in delegating or would be voted the speaker to present on behalf of the group. I was involved in a lot of programs, similar to Live Girl, that further nurtured my leadership skills. I participated in gospel choir, band, and girl scouts. I attended several summer camps, and volunteered in middle and high school to help students with special abilities. All of which helped develop me into the leader I am today.
Hopefully, many of you are already participating in Live Girl, but some of you might not be. Some of you may be student athletes or musicians or participate in a STEM or chess club. Maybe you take dance lessons and compete locally or nationally. Regardless of your personal interests, each of your talents will help you develop into the future leaders you are destined to be.
I have dedicated my entire career to the arts, but have always had a special interest in developing the talents of our young girls for a couple of reasons. For one, I’ve had to face challenges as a woman such as self-esteem issues, or being doubted, denied, or questioned by others because of my gender, which makes it easy to see myself in the girls I work with. Second, I see the past, present, and future versions of my daughter in the girls that I’ve taught, making it that much more important that I listen, watch, and learn about the challenges the young girls of today are facing. One of the things I noticed was how voiceless and inadequate our girls often feel, due to a world where judgement, peer pressure, and monocentric views of how you should look reign supreme when instead, you should be made to feel emboldened and empowered, further cultivating the confidence and positive self-esteem you need to become the change makers of our future.
As girls, some of us aspire to become mothers and wives, but we also aspire to become artists, educators, doctors, lawyers, senators, engineers, scientists and more. The young women sitting before me today will find lifesaving cures, create life changing inventions, create progressive world policies, and be the global citizens of tomorrow that will continue to make this country a leader in critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity. Currently, young women who are assertive, opinionated, and driven are considered bossy. How many of you have been called bossy? Well, we need to shift that narrative to one in which a girl or woman with these qualities is simply referred to as ‘a boss’, which, the urban dictionary defines as: Incredibly awesome; miraculous; great. Raise your hand if you think you’re awesome…fabulous…great!
Each one of you in this room is already a boss. Let me tell you, this can be a heavy load to bear at times. But if you remember Dr. Kings words, you don’t have to overwhelm yourself with trying to do it all, but instead, do something small, but in a great way.
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?” - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
This question guides the work and the decisions I make today. When I was younger, I often made decisions that greatly benefited me. I joined the band because I wanted to miss class. I attended college because I wanted to make a livable salary. But as I got older, the focus of self, began to shift to that of others. I continued to participate in band because I wanted to be part of a team that worked together to bring life to music written on a page and joy to those that were listening. I chose my career because I wanted to serve as a role model to the students I served. I accepted my current position because I wanted to positively impact students across the district and bring them arts experiences they may not have been previously exposed to. I wanted to speak to you today to hopefully sew a seed that will grow into the next generation of female leaders that have a passion for giving back.
As you mature into adults, you will find that all of your life’s’ experiences will have perfectly prepared you for your future. All of the trials and tribulations you are facing, and will eventually overcome, will quip you with the perseverance and strength to tackle the challenges of your future. You may feel sometimes like you want to give up. You may think that you’re not good enough or that someone else is better or can do something better than you. In those moments of doubt, I want you to reflect on the very reason you’re in this room today- in celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, who faced immense adversity and tragedy, yet, remained steadfast in his belief that one day, all people would be treated as equals and that civil and economic rights, freedom and equality would be attained by all. And if that doesn’t work, then think of me, a self-proclaimed boss. A young, cool girl, who challenged the stereotype that the tuba was a male instrument and proved that girls could not only play, but could play it even better than the boys. Or think of any other role model you may have in your life, that I promise you, although they make it look easy, didn’t get to where they are today without having some self-doubt and overcoming many obstacles, some of which may be the same ones you’re facing today.
And so before I leave today, I challenge each one of you to do the following 3 things:
1. Figure out your passion. Think about what fills you with deep emotion, happiness, or gratitude. Thank about what can’t you live without. For me, it was music. A seed was planted early on, but it really wasn’t until college that I claimed it as my passion and sought to live a life filled with musical experiences that I could share with others. Some of you may already know where your passion lays. Some of you may need to do some self-reflection and experience life a little more before you can claim yours. But I challenge you to find it, and claim it, in your own time.
2. Put your passion to work! Embrace what stirs something in you and begin acting on it. Before I could even name the arts as my passion, I was playing an instrument and participating in band, which allowed me to hone my talent and further develop the skill that ultimately became my passion. For you, that may mean volunteering in whatever way you feel compelled. Maybe you’d like to start feeding the homeless or volunteer at an animal shelter. Maybe you’d like to sign up for a dance class or learn more about your interests by finding a mentor in that field that can help advise you along the way. It may seem like a small start, but in the words of Vincent Van Gogh, “great things are done by a series of small things brought together.”
3. Communicate your passion to others, for it just may inspire someone to live their truth and begin their own search for lifelong gratitude, personal fulfillment, and love. And this is definitely what I hope to have done with you all today.
I’d like to close with a brief activity. How many of you have adopted new year resolutions? For those of you that have, I encourage you to reach the goals you have set for yourself. I used to adopt a resolution, but have recently took on a new tradition. Instead of coming up with one or two things I’d like to accomplish by the end of the year, I’ve decided to simply adopt one word. This word will drive and influence the work I do and who I am as a person for the entire year. I can add this word as a screensaver to my desktop or phone, or write it on a sticky note and leave in my office or next my bed. I can even get it printed on a t-shirt to serve as a reminder. This word can be anything and mean anything to you. My word for 2019 is balance. And for me, balance means engaging in family and personal time as much as I engage in my work. It means establishing boundaries and not bringing work home on the weekends so that I can spend that time with family and friends. Balance, to me, means saying no sometimes, and not feeling bad about it because my mental health is just as important as my physical well-being.
And so I’d like for you to think right now, for about 30 seconds, about 1 word that you can adopt for 2019. For those of you that think of a word, and feel compelled to share, I’d love to hear it!
I thank each of you for your time and commitment today. Many of your peers are home and possibly even still sleeping, yet, each of you has demonstrated your commitment to honoring Dr. Kings legacy by simply showing up. Although considered a day off, today is very much so a day ON, and I’m so thankful to LIVE GIRL for the work they do and for thinking enough of me to invite me to speak with you today. Your vision helps young women and girls realize that glass ceilings are meant to be shattered and their potential knows no bounds.