Take my word for it, Leon Esko Robinson, Jr., was a genius. He died at 51 recently after a long, upbeat and courageous battle against serious illness.
Through his mother, retired educator Betty Robinson, Leon was of the Cooper clan – the black pioneer family from the Bahamas that co-founded St. Christopher Episcopal Church in Fort Lauderdale and gave us his aunt, Dr. Kathleen Wright, Broward County’s first black school board chairperson.
I met Leon Robinson, as he always introduced himself, in 1980 while doing some political public relations work in Miami-Dade County. He was only 22 and already an official in the Reagan/Bush Florida presidential campaign, in charge of getting out the black vote state-wide.
Leon, as he insisted you call him once he had met you, was known by black and white Republican politicos from the Panhandle to Key West, and he was so kind, caring and knowledgeable about issues that other people, including black Democrats and independents, respected and liked him. The young man literally lit up any room he entered.
It didn’t take me long to find out that this young man with a high school education and a few college courses had an addiction for TV news and public affairs, including programs about investing and other business issues. He also watched religious programs; nothing else. And, family members say, Leon had been doing this since adolescence.
When the great jazz musician, Lionel Hampton, and his orchestra came to the now-defunct Bubba’s jazz club on East Sunrise Blvd. in Fort Lauderdale, Leon showed up with a dozen roses for Hampton. In between sets, Leon and Hamp talked politics the whole night.
You see, Lionel Hampton was a key fund raiser for the Republican Party, and was dearly loved by both Ronald and Nancy Reagan, and the Bush family. President Nixon gave Hampton the wherewithal to build the Lionel Hampton Houses in Harlem, New York City. Hamp’s development group also did projects in other areas of the country.
Leon was well aware of Hamp’s pedigree. The next day, Leon insisted that I accompany him to a detailed sit down with Hamp and his manager. We laid out a plan called “The Politics of Access” to get blacks into the mainstream of American politics and economics through the Republican Party. We accused the Democratic Party of “The Politics of Containment.” Hamp was enthralled and committed to help however Leon directed.
Our current president’s father, George H. W. Bush, had been elected vice president with President Ronald Reagan, and Leon got official word out of Washington that Bush would be making a speech at the Omni Hotel in downtown Miami. Leon got Lionel Hampton to personally ask Bush to meet with us privately in Miami.
And, just like that, the Secret Service cleared us, told us where to be and when, and it happened, in the Omni’s penthouse, a private half-hour meeting with Vice President Bush, about “The Politics of Access.”
Florida Republican Party Chair Jean Austin gave Leon an office in the party’s Tallahassee building to shape the program state-wide as a model for the nation. Unfortunately, certain recalcitrant negroes with advanced degrees and pseudo-important positions became jealous and, in effect, self-destructive, and the thrust ended when Leon stepped down.
Leon became one of a handful of young, bright African Americans chosen from around the country to study in a fast-paced Wall Street program to become stock brokers. While there is any number of now very wealthy white people, right here in South Florida, who failed the stock brokers examination two to four times, Leon Esko Robinson Jr., scored an 89 on his first and only try.
As a licensed stock broker, he worked at Merrill Lynch and Dean Witter in 1980s South Florida, where he caught hell from white nationalists who finally drove him away. No matter what,
Leon would always emerge with a positive outlook and move on. But, I think, notwithstanding his multitude of experiences since being a stock broker, that period was a great disappointment in his life.
There are more black geniuses out there. Some of them can be found under the shade trees, others are just underemployed and trying to keep their sanity. They are mostly invisible to us. We have prepared no place for them.
Al Calloway • Al_Calloway@Verizon.net