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By Jonathan Camargo
Pictured: CREATE at Catapult, Gillian Fazio
For many of us, Lakeland is the home we look forward to above all else. The comfy bed after a long trip away, or the relaxing recliner where our worries and troubles simply seem to fade.
Yet, there are plenty here still trying to find their footing amid the challenges of growing up in our world today. In helping the next generation of Lakelanders envision a life worth living with passion and poise, there’s Virginia and Lorenzo Robinson – our July 2019 Lakeland CityMakers!
A Life in Lakeland
It’s hard to imagine settling into a new city with a child on the way, but life doesn’t seem to abide by any set standards. Such was the case when the Robinsons first came to Lakeland some 46 years ago, just two years after they married.
“At the time, there was no housing for people of color in Winter Haven,” Virginia explained. “In Lakeland, we heard of a new community being developed called Golden Northgate, on the ‘black’ side of town.”
It was here that Virginia would begin her professional career in Polk County as the burgeoning neighborhood’s development secretary. Lorenzo would follow his own professional passions, going on to serve as a math teacher in the Polk County school system for over 15 years.
Together, their passions would inevitably intertwine in a way that our community is thankful for to this very day.
Your Neighbor, My Neighbor
Lorenzo has led the Paul A. Diggs Neighborhood Association as its president for more than twenty years with Virginia by his side. The pair have fought for the betterment of their community with a focus on the youth since the group’s inception. After all, it’s the youth that need our help the most.
As of five years ago, the association established its primary initiative: the Save Our Children Campaign. Designed to holistically support our community’s youngest members, the campaign operates via assessments of needs that determine what a given family lacks in order to better empower its household.
“By helping the family, we help the child,” Virginia explained.
Once the organization knows what’s needed, they’re able to connect the family with resources readily available in our community. If they can’t find the resources to help, then they become the resource themselves.
For the last couple of years, the Save Our Children Campaign has put on a number of programs and activities designed to educate and involve the community at large however means possible. One stand-out activity they host is that of Story Time in the Park. Here, the group invites its community members to gather around with pull-out chairs and blankets as they read to the children, eat snacks, and complete arts and crafts projects all in the name of communal betterment.
“It’s for literacy enhancement, and bonding as well,” Virginia said. “So fantastic to experience.”
Some other events the group does include the Walk-Run event, touted by Lorenzo as being a “4-hour event [that] can’t help but make you feel good,” as well as their recognition banquet for those community members that consistently go above and beyond the call of duty.
The Paul A. Diggs Neighborhood Association collaborates with other community partners, such as LakelandPD, to promote the great morals and values that our community collectively holds. We’re stronger together, and it shows.
Deep History, Greater Community
The neighborhood in which the organization is based is named after Paul Diggs, a social worker renowned for his progressive efforts to better our community from the 1930s to the 1950s. During this time, he helped introduce many of Lakeland’s most impressionable youth to the Boy Scouts of America, ultimately shaping their views on what it means to be a leader, as well as an up-class citizen.
Yet, his accolades are so much more than just that. Diggs also served as a prominent figure among the March of Dimes movement, helped to open and organize both a library and recreational center, and lobbied for fair rental prices as he “didn’t want to see his community taken advantage of”. It’s only apt that the community named after him has flourished so wonderfully with these principles in mind.
“By helping the family, we help the child”
“By helping the family, we help the child”
Situated between Florida Avenue on the east, Lincoln Avenue on the west, Modest Street to the north, and Memorial Boulevard to the south, the Paul A. Diggs neighborhood is now home to Rochelle School of the Arts, a testament to a community where belief in a better tomorrow makes all the difference. Diggs’ contributions in setting an example for the future have laid the framework from which Lorenzo and his neighborhood association have been able to run.
Meet the Robinsons
In present day, the Robinsons have retired, but only on paper. Lorenzo maintains his role as the president of the Paul A. Diggs Neighborhood Association, while also serving as a board member on both the Lakeland Police Athletics/Activities League and the Lakeland Housing Authority, where he advocates on behalf of community members city-wide.
Virginia hasn’t slowed down by any means either. Among the myriad of her many roles, she’s an adjunct professor at Polk State College within their Early Childhood Education program as well as a lead master teacher for the United Way of Central Florida program. She also serves as the Child Care Center Director in Public Housing, the assistant director at Publix Child Care, and the Vice President of Central Agency for Child Care Services.
Their collective talents seem to center around the family, of which theirs is incredibly strong. Both Lorenzo and Virginia now work “full time” at their daughter’s psychology practice, where they serve as an office manager and an office clerk respectively.
Their lives have been made full by the selflessness of their character, and our community is so grateful to have them.
“People come to me and they remember much of what I’ve forgotten and they credit me and call it a life changer,” Virginia said. “Amazing grace!”
A More Involved Lakeland
Although they’ve been here nearly five decades, the appeal of Lakeland is as strong now as it ever was.
“My favorite thing about Lakeland is its beauty and the small town feel,” Virginia said.
Her words echo the very sentiment of what our town is and what it strives to be. In their efforts to help just “one individual or one situation at a time,” they’re doing the work that makes our community better for all, encompassing all aspects of education, economics, and environmental health in the process.
For Lorenzo, paving the way to a brighter tomorrow begins with work at the ground level.
“Lakeland’s form of governing, not a strong mayor system, makes it easy for me to talk and ‘air my points of view’ to the city officials,” he said.
Akin to Paul Diggs in this regards, this regular representation before our elected officials is what inspires progress where our collective community needs it most.
“If we come together, not concerned as to who gets the credit, great things for our city can happen,” said Virginia.
Because of both Virginia and Lorenzo, those great things become a little closer to reality each and every day. Thank you both for your tireless commitment to the betterment of Lakeland and its people.