Stephanie Robinson is very clear on her next mission.
“It’s giving a voice to the voiceless,” she says.
That’s the goal she hopes to achieve by becoming the next commentator on the “Tom Joyner Morning Show.”
A lecturer on law at Harvard Law School, Robinson is one of eight finalists competing to be the biweekly commentator on the popular syndicated radio talk show. The winner would replace talk show host Tavis Smiley, who is leaving the post to focus on his own PBS and National Public Radio programs.
“What I would want to bring is something to connect with the listeners — to have them believe in me, and me believe in them,” she says.
The slot could be seen as a natural role for a woman who has spent her career promoting social justice and creating opportunities for the disenfranchised.
Robinson, a Harvard-educated attorney, grew into this role after serving six years as chief legal counsel for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass. While working for the senator, she watched who had access to him on Capitol Hill, and how that access netted so much influence.
“One of the things I realized quite quickly, I saw how pronounced it was and endemic. There were not a lot of new voices, specifically voices of color,” she remembers. “I felt there was a gap that needed to be filled.”
Later, she would recall discussions that her husband, noted civil rights attorney Ronald S. Sullivan, had with his buddies from Morehouse College who wanted to create an outlet for young professionals of color to discuss change.
“I knew a lot of young brothers and sisters who wanted to contribute something back,” she explains.
For a year and a half, she traveled the country and talked to people about improvements they wanted to see in their own communities. She spoke to young professionals from various cultural backgrounds, working in a range of different fields. The goal: Develop a space where people could exchange ideas.
Out of the research grew The Jamestown Project, an “action-oriented think tank” comprised of scholars, activists and community leaders. Since its founding three years ago, the project has become a go-to resource for new voices and fresh ideas, received national recognition — and garnered the attention of Tavis Smiley.
Smiley’s 2006 book, “The Covenant with Black America,” offered a critique of black America’s status, as well as a road map to improve its condition. Robinson says that roadmap is aligned with her message, and that The Jamestown Project is like “a tool kit” to implement those messages.
While Robinson has not appeared on Smiley’s show before, she has sat on a number of panels with him. From those interactions, as well as Robinson’s mission, Smiley suggested her to Tom Joyner.
“I got a call from Joyner’s folks,” she recalls, “and they said, ‘You come highly recommended to us, and we would like you to be a participant in this search for the next commentator.’”
Robinson says the opportunity would be exciting, and says she believes it could give her the chance to showcase The Jamestown Project’s mission even further, ultimately empowering people to make change.
“It’s a wonderful, wonderful platform and [Smiley] has done a great job of keeping it real,” she says. “The show is not just a commentary, but a movement. It works with our mission of how to make democracy real.”
Robinson says she can’t quite breathe easy yet, as listeners will have the final say in who will replace Smiley. Each finalist will be given the opportunity to deliver their commentary on air; Robinson will be on the show July 10. After the commentaries air, audience members will be able to call in or log on to the show’s Web site at www.blackamericaweb.com to vote. The site includes a list of the other finalists, and when they will appear.