Youth advocate Amanda Robinson awarded for work
Amanda Robinson was baffled recently when she received a Facebook message from the Rev. Jeff Hood, executive director of Hope 4 Peace and Justice. His organization was giving her an award.
“You sure me?” she asked.
“Yes. #?” he wrote back.
On Sunday, Sept. 13, Robinson received the Hope 4 Peace and Justice Ambassador of Justice award for her work with Real Live Connection, a volunteer-run organization for LGBT and allied youth. She founded the group not to get awards, she said, but to bring LGBT youth into the Pride fold.
“[Receiving the award] was surreal,” Robinson said. “It didn’t hit me until the morning of,” in part because her mother had driven from Mississippi, where she was raised, to see her receive it.
Other prior commitments were on her mind as well. Real Live Connection was hosting its motivational, faith-based Inspirational
Sunday, also at Cathedral of Hope, later in the day. She had the logistics under control, but she wanted it to be perfect.
It had to be perfect for the kids.
“It was cool to receive an award for my youth work,” Robinson said. “To receive an award for my efforts then work with the youth right after was an amazing feeling.”
With the third annual Teen Pride coming up on Saturday, Sept. 19, Robinson hasn’t had time to think about the rectangular glass block with her name etched into it. Then again, she didn’t really have time to reflect on her work before receiving Hood’s message either.
On Labor Day weekend, Robinson took Real Live Connection to Jackson, Miss. for a barbecue and pool party. About 50 people showed up for food and fellowship in a safe space.
Robinson is preparing to join LGBTQS.A.V.ES. in Fort Worth next month for another Teen Pride event during Tarrant County Gay Pride Week.
Because September is also Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, Robinson is hosting a National Day of Remembrance event for the LGBT youth who have died by suicide.
But there was another reason, besides being so short on time, that she hasn’t talked much about the award: “I’m humble,” she said. “I was raised that way.”
Robinson said she was raised in Mississippi by a “little bit of everybody in my family.” While her mom, a single mother, was away, Robinson and her brother stayed with her grandparents, both sharecroppers. They would make her, her brother and collection of nephews and nieces work long days.
The workdays were nonstop; they didn’t end even when driving back from the patch of land 45 minutes from the family home.
“We’d pick vegetables, but on our way back we’d also pick cans off the side of the road,” Robinson recalled.
With sometimes nine people sharing a truck, there was a constant game of who’d get “shotgun” — the front passenger seat.
Everyone else sat in the bed of the truck.
Work didn’t end at the back door of the house either.
“We’d peel and clean the vegetables. And after that, my grandma would drop off bags of each to neighbors. Whenever we realized they were giving them away, we’d ask why” Robinson said. “She said because it doesn’t cost a lot to help someone.”
Just like her grandparents, Robinson wanted to give back. But she for sure wasn’t staying in Mississippi.
She wanted to be in the entertainment business. “But there weren’t a lot of opportunities [in the state],” she said.
Besides, it wasn’t easy being an out lesbian growing up in rural Mississippi. But moving to Texas made it clear to her that being an out LGBT teenager wasn’t easy anywhere, not even at a perceived safe space like a Pride event.
Pride events may be about glitz, glamour and celebration, but a lot of youth feel out of place, Robinson said, adding that they’ve lost their feeling of what it means to be part of a family.
“A lot of us don’t have family who accept us. We make our own family,” Robinson said. “Having family helps you find confidence in your self-worth.”
But because Pride is a celebration of the LGBT community, Robinson wasn’t willing to give up on making Pride safe and welcoming for LGBT teens. If she couldn’t change what was already in place, she decided, she would instead add to it.
As in previous years, this year’s Teen Pride is free for youth ages 13-19 who present a student ID. This year’s theme is “All Lives Matter: Peace, Love and Teen Pride.” It’s a throwback to the wild and free-spirited 1970s, but also a serious reflection on the current state of movements for peace and justice, including the recent #BlackLivesMatter movement.
“It’s important to introduce young people to history,” Robinson said. “Young people aren’t activists anymore. I feel this [the LGBT rights movement] is the first civil rights movement to forget young people.”
Teen Pride will be poignant, but fun, she insisted. Youth can expect tie-dye, drag shows, food and resources at their disposal. And it will have an authentic Pride feel.
Where else but a Pride event could someone get a library card and dress in drag? Nowhere else could youth have that opportunity but in a safe space.
“Lots of kids are limited in their surroundings. Providing them an experience [at their level] is the best thing you can do for them,” Robinson said. “[With Teen Pride], we’re saying don’t limit yourselves in your dreams.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 18, 2015.