Tuskegee is a town of about 12,000 people in the southeastern portion of Alabama. It is home to Tuskegee University – a predominately black school founded in 1881 – that developed a national reputation for academics and philanthropy under the leadership of its first director, Booker T. Washington. The town is also known as the home to one of the most famous air squadrons of World War II – the Tuskegee Airmen.
One of those pilots, Lawrence Roberts, returned home and married Lucimarian Tolliver – together they had four children. Their youngest – a girl – was born on November 23, 1960. She grew up, however, in a different small town – Pass Christian – on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi about 60 miles east of New Orleans. She attended Pass Christian High School where she stood out academically as well as in sports – notably basketball and tennis. She was a gifted player which resulted in her being offered a full scholarship to play basketball at Louisiana State University. While impressed with both its academics and its campus – she determined that it was just too large for her to feel comfortable.
Leaving Baton Rouge, a sign for Southeastern Louisiana University caught her attention. She decided to visit that school and found her home. She received a scholarship – but to play tennis – which she did in addition to playing on the basketball team. She was one of only three girls who had over 1,000 points (1,446) and over 1,000 rebounds (1,034) while playing for the university. She continued to excel scholastically, graduating cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications.
Determined to follow in the footsteps of her older sister who was a news anchor for a television station in New Orleans, her first job was at WDAM TV in Hattiesburg, MS where her love of sports and her passion for journalism landed her the dual responsibility of dong sports reports and anchoring the news. It was 1983 and for the next several years she continued to excel at broadcasting – moving to ever larger markets – eventually landing a positions at a television station and doing radio in Atlanta. Beginning in 1995, she also contributed special reports for the ABC network’s national morning show -“Good Morning America”.
That led to her being hired by ESPN, “The Worldwide Leader in Sports” – which like ABC – is owned by the Walt Disney Company. There she became the first black woman to anchor the network’s flagship program – Sports Center. The combination of her tremendous sports experience, top-notch broadcasting talent and her engaging personality made her a favorite with viewers, athletes and the network. As is the case with many ESPN personalities, she developed several ‘trademark’ sayings — perhaps most her most popular being ‘Go on with your bad self”.
Her popularity grew and with it so did her career. In March of 2005 she was named co-anchor of the ABC morning show – which led to what – at least then – was her most emotional challenge at work. In August of that year, she had to cover the impact of Hurricane Katrina. That storm caused catastrophic damage across the entire Gulf including her home of Pass Christian. Her high school was completely leveled – and through it all, her professionalism never wavered.
She went on to lead Good Morning America to capture the rating of number one morning show, was the first reporter to interview President Obama, traveled with First Lady Laura Bush to the Middle East, former president Bill Clinton to Africa, has hosted prime time specials and ABC’s Oscar pre-show. She has won a share of three Emmy’s but perhaps the most telling honor she has earned is ESPN’s Arthur Ashe Courage Award.
All of these accomplishments were achieved because Robin Roberts is a fearless brand.
Fearless Brands live with courage
Robin Roberts’ career is no doubt impressive – but to limit one’s view to just her work life is to miss the essence of the woman. Her success has been driven by the value she consistently delivers to the public by embracing her passion and applying her tremendous skills. Roberts’ true appeal – her real strength – is that she is genuine. She is a positive person who loves life, sports and people – and that comes through loud and clear.
Perhaps her most significant attribute is courage. She had the courage to realize that LSU was not right for her and followed her mind and heart. She had the courage to follow in her sister’s journalistic footsteps – yet be true to herself. She had the courage to allow the stories to be the focus while letting her personality shine through. She possessed a courage that most weren’t familiar with….but that would change.
In 2007, Roberts was diagnosed with breast cancer. While that, sadly, is not unusual – the manner in which she went about dealing with it is. She showed the courage to share her diagnosis – but also shared her efforts to fight her condition. She won – she beat cancer – and went back to Good Morning America and a supportive and grateful audience.
Her breast cancer treatment did what was intended – an unintentional consequence was discovered in 2011 when Roberts was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome (MSD) – a very rare blood disorder. Again she chose to share her challenges with the public – not to elicit pity – but to build awareness of the disease and the critical role bone marrow could play in a cure for MSD and many other diseases. Her efforts, as well as those of her colleagues at ABC, resulted in an 1,800% increase in registrations at Be The Match which has and will save hundreds of lives.
When she again returned to Good Morning America – in 2013 – the show achieved its highest ever viewership when an estimated 6.1 million people tuned in. Roberts courage, gratitude and positivity were all communicated in her spectacular smile – and tears of joy. Her appreciation for life – her happiness – and her peace in life allowed her to once again demonstrate her courage as a person.
In 2014 she publicly announced that she was gay and has been in a long-term committed relationship. Courage and class allowed her to respond to her critics in a Good Housekeeping interview by saying simply – “…You don’t go through a year like I did to not be happy and not make your own choices.”
As you continue to upgrade your brand – it’s perhaps best to focus on three of Robin Robert’s quotes:
“Life is not so much what you accomplish as what you overcome.”
“I’m no Pollyanna, but I believe optimism is a choice — a muscle that gets stronger with use.”
“Right foot, left foot…just keep moving.”
Embrace your passion, build on your talents and add relevant value to the world…become a fearless brand – or as Robin Roberts would say “Go on with your bad self!”