Leshundra Robinson's driving force can be accessed through a question: "If we don't give back to where we came from, then who will?"
The president and co-founder of the non-profit youth mentoring organization UCAN Memphis, Robinson recently netted the S.I.S. (Surviving in Silence) Award from Walking Into a New Life, Inc. during the organization's 4th annual S.I.S. event at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library.
"We are a product of our own community. ... Who knows our community better than we do? Giving back to my community is extremely important because I want to help my community grow," Robinson said.
The May 3rd event, which was co-hosted by Successful Single Moms Memphis, was created to "celebrate and honor strong single mothers who give back to the community and set the bar for what it means to survive and thrive."
"In addition to individuals, we acknowledge organizations that represent and embody support for survivors of abuse as well as single motherhood," said Joyce Parkinson, executive director of Walking Into a New Life Inc., which has hosted the S.I.S. awards since 2011 and has been in existence since 2010. "Leshundra's commitment to teens and anti-bullying, her status as a single mother, and her strength and dedication in leading UCAN in community service played the biggest part in selecting her for the award."
Founded in Memphis in 2005 by Robinson and Richardetta Kight, UCAN Memphis aims to impact adolescents through mentoring, personal development and education to foster positive growth in the community, according to its website. Robinson has been president since 2006.
"What inspired me to start UCAN was I had a young lady who was lost in the world, and her mom didn't know exactly how to handle it," Robinson said. "She was a teenager and she didn't know where to go and what to do. Through the process of talking to her, I realized that she just wanted attention and wanted to have someone to understand her. She was tired of moving from place to place with her family, and she needed someone who could listen to her."
A single mother of three, Robinson came to realize that her kids don't always talk to her about everything, which spotlighted the need for mentors.
"Having a mentor gives them the opportunity to open up and discuss things more than what they would actually discuss with me. So, it wouldn't be an issue of whether or not they're being bullied or they're having low self-esteem because someone will be able to help them and talk to them about what's going on in their lives," Robinson said.
UCAN provides programs in the core areas of community involvement, which includes tutoring and mentoring programs; image development, which includes etiquette, professional attire and health awareness; college planning; and career workshops. The organization is also an anti-bullying advocate and hosted a play titled "You Can't Hold Me Down" at The LeMoyne-Owen College on March 8th to illustrate the harm of bullying and examine why people bully.
Robinson said programs such as UCAN are important to the Memphis community because thousands of students don't have anyone to talk to, which can lead to low self-esteem, poor grades, and high drop-out rates.
"If you don't have a mentor with you, then there is at least a 90 percent chance that you're not able to succeed, because you don't have anyone there to really assist you in moving to the right direction," Robinson said. "We want to be able to encourage and inspire them to be the person we know that they can (be)."
According to Robinson, there are 30 students involved in UCAN, and the organization is always looking for volunteers, such as ambassadors who can help promote and take part in the participants' success.
(For more information, visit www.ucanofmemphis.org or call 901-262-8642.)