People Are Awesome: The Founder of Black Girls Vote Wants To See Every Woman At The Polls

“We’ll find you inside a strip club, we’ll find you inside a church. All women matter.”

Courtesy Nykidra Robinson

We’re relaunching a GOOD online series, “People Are Awesome,” where we feature good people doing great things—and seek their advice, inspiration, and ideas. This week’s Awesome Person: Nykidra Robinson.

It’s easy to roll your eyes at idioms about “making lemonade,” or that “a window opens when a door closes.” But sometimes you meet someone like Nykidra Robinson, and the cliches start to hold water. For Robinson, losing her job last spring may have been the best thing that ever happened to her.

A lifelong resident of Baltimore (born in the county, lives in the city), she was working last year at an appointed position with the State of Maryland Housing Department. When her appointment ended and Robinson found herself jobless, she pursued a bold dream. With modest savings and a whole lot of chutzpah, she pivoted her boundless energy into Black Girls Vote, a group that involves Baltimore’s young black women in the political process.

“Last April I was watching the Baltimore riots on TV,” she says. “Obviously it was bad, but you couldn’t ignore all the energy these young people had. They were tired of business as usual. They were fearless. I wanted to channel that energy into something good.”

Black Girls Vote launched on Shirley Chisholm’s birthday; growth has been exponential and impressive. The first goal is simple—register new voters. As such, Robinson and crew stage pop-ups in unlikely places: nail salons, restaurants, big box stores. They’re even tailgating at a huge concert this weekend. Robinson says they want to empower everyone through voting. “We’ll find you inside a strip club, we’ll find you inside a church,” she says. “All women matter.”

Once she gets people registered, Robinson tries to educate them on the issues that affect their lives—jobs, crime, education. Black Girls Vote has virtually no budget (donate here!) but they have far-reaching dreams. Its founder is charming and relentless; she has every intention of taking Black Girls Vote across the nation. “Why stop here?” Robinson asks. And she earnestly wants to know.

Robinson graciously carved time out of her busy day to share some stories and advice with GOOD—as well as extending an offer to show this writer all of Baltimore’s best crab joints. (He’d be a fool to refuse.)

Who is your hero?

I have a couple. One is my mom because I saw the sacrifices she made, each and every day. It was not a healthy household for me and my siblings, but she always put us first. She was taking care of us before herself. Now she comes to all our events and supports what I do! I have to say my grandfather too. He only had a grade-school education, but he instilled in me that you can do whatever you set your mind to. He’s gone now, but he was my best friend.

What book most inspired you?

A book called Make It Happen, by Kevin Liles, the former president of Def Jam Records. He's from Baltimore; the book tells the story of him going to intern at Def Jam at the age of 19, then rising up to become president a few years later. It’s just so great to read a success story like that, coming from here. You have to take advantage of the opportunities you’re presented with. That’s what he taught me. Kevin has become an actual mentor; he’s still helping guide my life.

What’s been the most inspiring news story from the last month?

That Kamala Harris is advancing towards the California Senate seat. I met her at the DNC in Colorado in 2008; what an inspiration! She was sharp, electrifying, poised—just a bad sister. It’s so important for our girls to see these opportunities to run for greatness.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve received?

“It’s nice to be important but more important to be nice.” My grandfather told me that. It’s like, I’m doing all these things, keeping busy, staying in the public eye. People have no idea that every day I'm crying over the honor it is to have this position. I never want to feel like I'm too important, bigger or better than anyone. I need to have humility.

How about the worst piece of advice?

That you'll always have time later. Every day is so precious, and you don't always have more time! Look at famous ballplayers and celebrities who were on top once, but don't get the same fame and requests that they once did. I really don't want to lose this moment. I just have to keep growing.

And what advice would you like to share with the world?

Trust God and your own process (whatever that god may be to you). It won’t steer you wrong. People said I was crazy when I talked about [Black Girls Vote]. Just look at us now! We’re going to change the world. I never say “Sky’s the limit.” The sky is just a starting point.

Center for American Progress Action Fund

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