Last Tuesday marked “International Women’s Day”—a day set aside to celebrate and recognize the many women who have made or making a difference in our world—both past and present. It is also a time—in my opinion to not just be grateful for those who are more “famous”, who have contributed much, but to see those who have made a difference in the quiet of our lives.
It was a cold and rainy night and the three of us traveled to Boone to hear this giant of a woman, Maya Angelou--Author. Poet. Civil-rights activists speak. And to say we were excited was an understatement. We walked into the crowded area and signs were posted everywhere—no cameras allowed. And first come—first serve to seating. Now sometimes signs don’t really mean—well, let’s just say my dear friend—she snuck that camera right under her arm and off she went, down toward the front of the auditorium. And we didn’t see her anymore until after the event.
Sylvia and I smiled at one another and moved our way through the crowd and found our seats. We whispered and laughed and talked until Maya Angelo took the stage and then the room quietened. A deathly quiet. Because we all wanted to hear this woman's wisdom and her story.
Little did I know until many years later she and I would share more than being Sisters-in-Christ and the love of Maya Angelo’s work and her story. We would be bonded as her diagnosis and mine would weave together into the “Sisterhood of Women who Wear the Pink Robes.”
And on that night the place was filled, but I don’t remember anyone sitting around us—except she and I and my other friend down front seeing Maya Angelo through the lens of her camera. I look back now and there I was sitting close to a giant in her own right—a woman who served greatly. A woman who suffered hard and brave. But never once did she let her disease stop her from seeing the needs of others or serving to make things better for someone else.
In 2015, I asked Sylvia Robinson if she would share her story with me and parts of her story was then published in the Wilkes Journal Patriot. She took one of her beloved scriptures, Ecclesiastes 3 and wrote her story of joy, inspiration, perseverance, suffering, and faith.
“A Time to be Born –
I was born in the 1950s in the Cairo community of Wilkes County, N.C. I was born in the home where I lived instead of a hospital because of segregation policies of the time. I remain the middle child and only daughter of my parents, blue-collar high school educated Christian people who were respected members of our community.
A Time to Learn –
I received my elementary and high school education at Lincoln Heights. Because of school consolidation, I graduated from Wilkes Central High School. I received a bachelor arts degree in history from North Carolina Central University in Durham. While at North Carolina Central, I met and became friends with many who are still my friends today and are an integral part of my health support team. North Carolina Central prepared me for a career as an educator by providing me with the knowledge and necessary skills to be successful in that noble profession.
A Time to Work –
After graduating college, I returned home to Wilkes and began teaching social studies at Wilkesboro Elementary School. Because I was young, healthy and energetic, the Wilkesboro years are my favorite years. The students were wonderful. Most were well-behaved students who were eager to learn and we enjoyed pleasant student-teacher relationships. Many of those students are my friends today and I continue to cherish the memories of our times together. As a beginning teacher, I was blessed to have Mr. E. J. Canter as my first principal, a man who was caring and not intimidating and made Wilkesboro a pleasant environment to work.
After eight years at Wilkesboro, I moved on to the newly established Woodward Junior High School where I continued to teach social studies and coached for twelve years. At Woodward, I met more staff members who worked well. Wayne Barker, Max Hamby and Coleen Bush strengthened me where I was weak in my professional growth.
When Wilkes Central invited ninth graders to return to their campus, ninth grade teachers returned as well. How great it was as an educator to have the elementary, junior high and high school experience. As a former athlete, I enjoyed my years of coaching basketball, softball, volleyball, cheerleading and the challenges that go with it. Today, those athletes are my greatest supporters. In 2000, I was named Wilkes Central’s “Millennium Teacher of the Year.” Regretfully, my mom passed in April 1999 and was not there physically as I accepted that honor. I retired from teaching in 2004 with 32.444 years. I will never regret my career path.
A Time to Serve –
I learned the importance of service from my mother. My mom was often chosen to serve on religious, civic, and social boards. She took those assignments seriously and taught me that it meant more than just having your name listed as a member. She taught me that service meant actually serving and providing what God-given talents you were blessed to have. I presently serve as Christian education director at Rickard’s Chapel A.M.E. Zion church, board chair of Wilkes Literacy, planning and program chair of the Wilkes Community College Board of Trustees, board member of Care Net of Wilkes, and Wilkes Community Partnership for Children. There are a few occasions when health issues haven’t allowed me to give 100 percent but I have been able to attend and participate at most meetings and organization functions.
A Time to Love and be Loved –
In the words of the old Negro spiritual, “I Wouldn’t Take Nothing for my Journey Now.” This life-threatening journey has taught me much about myself and the people with whom I am surrounded. November 2006 was a month that placed me on a fast track toward racing for a cure. A diagnosis of stage III breast cancer made me more aware of how much I loved life and how much family and friends loved me.
After six years of remission, I was faced in 2012 with not only a recurrence of breast cancer but a broken right ankle. This definitely made me dependent of other people. Friends were willing to drive me, walk my dog, Maddy, sit with me at chemo treatments, clean my house, bring food….you name it--they wanted to do it. Many of these helping hands were students who I met in my classrooms many, many, years ago. They seemed eager for an opportunity to be of service to me, and to give support via Facebook, text, phone calls or visits.
I often tell young teachers the importance of being kind to their students…you never know in what profession you will meet them again. Several of my students today are my health professionals. I know they are giving me extra special care and they do not hesitate to tell me what I need to know about my illness.
I never have to wait days for results of lab tests or scans. I get the results as soon as they do which lessens my anxiety. Now I am facing a third health challenge, a third recurrence of breast cancer. Surgically, I am cancer free but my health team advocates preventive treatment which leads me once again through chemotherapy and radiation.
A time to be healed-
Because of my overwhelming faith in God and my belief that there is hope for a cure, I am positive that I will see another season of my life.”
And five years after she shared her story, Sylvia Robinson passed away on June 4, 2020.
*Parts of this story and photos were first published in the Wilkes Journal Patriot on April 1, 2015.