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AJC Sepia HBCU of the Week: Corporate attorney found her foundation at North Carolina Central University

AJC Sepia HBCU of the Week is an occasional series that looks at Historically Black Colleges and Universities

I am a proud graduate of a historically black college and university – North Carolina Central University.

I graduated in 1994 with honors with a major in public administration and a minor in political science. Upon graduation, I attended Indiana University at Bloomington and graduated with a Juris Doctorate in 1998.

Today, I am a senior vice president and assistant general counsel at CBS Corporation and the founder and CEO of Corporate Counsel Women of Color, a nonprofit that has galvanized close to 10,000 diverse attorneys (in-house attorneys, law firm attorneys, government lawyers, and judges) in the legal profession. Our mission is to advocate for diversity in the legal profession.

I found my way to North Carolina Central by way of my parents, Frances Privott Robinson and the late James Robinson.

My mother and father were both raised in North Carolina. They attended NCCU when it was the North Carolina College for Negroes.

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They met there, fell in love, and married. When my parents graduated from NCCU, my father went on to attend law school at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.

Upon graduation, my mother and he moved to the Washington, D.C. area.

I was born and raised in Prince George’s County in Maryland – one of the most affluent African-American counties in the United States.

Our community was filled with professionals, many of whom had attended HBCUs such as NCCU, Tuskegee, North Carolina A&T, Morehouse, Spelman, Howard and Tennessee State.

These people were role models to me. They were successful in business, the public school system, military, and in the government.

They had a strong sense of community, self, and pride as African-Americans.

As a child growing up, my parents were active in the NCCU Alumni Association and often quoted the school’s motto to me: “An Eagle is no ordinary barnyard fowl.”

My parents instilled in me the lessons they learned at NCCU and conveyed to me throughout my life that I could be anything I wanted to be.

My mother grew up as a tenant farmer in Cofield, N.C.

She repeatedly shared with me what her father, my grandfather, told her: “Each generation must do better than the generation before.”

My grandfather sent all three of his daughters to HBCUs.

After I graduated from high school, and it was time to select a college, there was only one choice for me – North Carolina Central University.

My entire time at NCCU was nothing but rewarding. Many of the tools and skills that I learned at NCCU have carried me through my 18 years as a lawyer in corporate America and through my 12 years of leadership of Corporate Counsel Women of Color.

One of the experiences at NCCU that stands out to me -- that helped to shape and mold me into the person I am today -- is the stringent curriculum.

I was in the NCCU University Honors Program, which required students to conduct qualitative and quantitative research. Through the Honors Program students were required to take 21 hours per semester and maintain a 3.0 GPA.

This experience was phenomenal. It gave me the foundation to be multi-functional and efficiently management my time. It also gave me the fundamentals in the law for research, writing and analytical skills. It helped springboard me to write a cutting-edge article while I was in law school for the "Indiana Law Journal" entitled “Professional Athletes - Held to a Higher Standard and Above the Law: A Comment on High-Profile Criminal Defendants and the Need for States to Establish High-Profile Courts.

Furthermore, through the Honors Program, I earned a summer internship at the White House in First Lady Hillary Clinton’s office. It is exciting to see my former boss now running for the White House.

Another critical experience at NCCU was my ability to serve as Miss North Carolina Central University in 1994, where I was able to serve the community, serve as the University’s ambassador, and develop my leadership skills.

The best part of the experience was the ability to compete in pageants. Through this process, the campus administrators provided me with training in oratory, voice and diction, and presentation. The pageants pushed me out of my comfort zone. I learned the critical importance of following instructions, controlling oneself, graciously receiving feedback, criticism, and critique — all of these skills are important in the workplace and in life.

I remembered they would tell us that being on time is being late. To this day, I arrive 15 minutes early before an appointment so not to miss anything. I learned the most important lesson: My only competition is me. Don’t look to the left. Cut out the distractions. Don’t look to the right. Keep your eyes on Christ and look straight ahead.  This lesson carries me to this very day.

It should be noted also that at NCCU, the faculty took enormous interest in me. They nurtured me and shared their time and insights with me. I had an opportunity to be mentored by the late Chancellor Julius Chambers, the former executive director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

We stayed in contact even after I graduated. One of my proudest moments in my career was being invited to join the NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s Board of Directors in 2013. I am proud to carry on the work of Thurgood Marshall, Constance Baker Motley and Julius Chambers as we continue to keep our focus on equality in America.

NCCU gave me my foundation.

NCCU gave me dreams, aspirations, high expectations, gifts for survival, and a strong sense of self.

I know who I am and because I am anchored in the strength of that, I can lead in corporate America, in the legal profession, and in my community. 

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