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Color of Change’s Rashad Robinson wears–and buys–many, many hats

The civil rights activist shares what keeps him focused on his world-changing mission.

Color of Change’s Rashad Robinson wears–and buys–many, many hats
[Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images]

Under President Rashad Robinson, Color of Change has become a leading civil rights organization by leveraging the internet to pursue racial and social justice. His organization campaigned to get The O’Reilly Factor canceled in 2017 by rallying employees of Fox and the show’s advertisers to take a stand against on social media. Last summer, it used online petitions to push companies like MasterCard, PayPal, and American Express to stop processing payments connected to hate groups. More recently, it mobilized black voters to turn out for Democratic district attorneys in the midterm elections.

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Here, Robinson reveals his tips and tools for getting the most out of every day.

What’s your On Switch?

On my best days, I start with exercise, which gets me going and helps me think through the day ahead, including how I am going to approach each part of it. I often start by thinking about what I’m going to wear. It’s another way of plotting my course through the day, mentally dressing myself for each part: What I need to do, who I need to be, how I can achieve what I need to achieve.

My days require constant engagement with a wide range of people, in-person and across several digital channels, and this moment alone helps me establish a quick, controllable win for myself. It offers a clear beginning, middle, and end that sets my pattern and energy for the day, when I will face so many variables I cannot control.

It really is like training, starting with the simplest actions, the fundamentals, to prepare oneself for the unexpected conditions that will require more complex and intuitive improvisation. Sometimes training for complex performances comes down to grounding oneself in the most basic, simple, contained practices of mind, body, and spirit.

What’s your Off Switch?

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On big work days, I’ll look at poll information and other research; process the news cycle from the day and figure out what that means for potential opportunities the next day; and review metrics from our campaigns (like action and engagement rates) and so on. I love to process lots of different information, fitting different pieces into the larger puzzle of strategy I’m working on across different projects.

But on other days, I like to just catch up with the culture, especially TV, which is another way to understand a big part of the world that people are living inside in: [I’ll watch] Queen Sugar and Love Is..., both on OWN and led by Black women creative powerhouses; and Billions, High Maintenance, and Atlanta, to name a few.

What books are on your nightstand?

No Ashes in the Fire: Coming of Age Black & Free in America, by Darnell Moore. [Moore] came of age as a gay, Black man in Camden, New Jersey, when that was supposed to mean that he wasn’t going to build a life of freedom or self-realization or value. But [he found] a way to create a new character in the story of Camden and beyond, and a new role in society that made him more and more relevant and influential.

When They Call You A Terrorist: A Black Live Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele

When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir, by Patrisse Cullors. The title alone says so much about what you’ll find in the book: someone daring enough to name the terms of struggle for her freedom, namely, the very unresolved question in this country about who is the real threat and who is the real future. Patrisse is a friend and collaborator whose work opens up so many opportunities for all of us.

The Barefoot Contessa, by Ina Garten. She’s someone I’m a little bit obsessed with, get lots of ideas from, and would love to be able to cook with some day. I grew up on eastern Long Island, very aware of the fresh seafood and produce that came through our area. That, and my mom’s garden, influenced my whole sense of what I could make and eat, and also always reminded me to keep food simple, even as it became a passion for me.

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The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, by Isabel Wilkerson. A breakout and definitive history of the multi-decade migration of Black people from the American South to the American North, this is one of my very favorite books. I can see my family’s own story so clearly in it: The migration of each of my parent’s families in the 1920s and 30s from the farms of southern Virginia to the farms of eastern Long Island.

A.L.T.: A Memoir, by Andre Leon Talley. I loved looking at this book again, following the documentary dedicated to him that came out this year. The interplay between fashion, character, and race is a constant stimulus for me.

Dear America, Notes of an Undocumented Citizen, by Jose Antonio Vargas. He is a friend and collaborator whom I admire for helping to usher an entire segment of Americans–a whole American identity–into the light. He is also bravely tying very difficult aspects of his own personal story to that larger story, for the very first time, which is inspiring to see in print and is a story that is un-ignorable.

Is there a service or tool you can’t live without?

Video conferencing. In a world in which I’m so often not in the room with the people I am working with most closely, seeing people’s faces and their reactions–and having people see mine–makes such a big difference.

What do you do with the time when you have a free…

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Five minutes: Check the news for cultural (rather than political) developments.
Hour: Find out what then people I love are doing: friends, family, movement collaborators.
Day: Sleep some, then cook.

[Photo: courtesy of Tito’s Handmade Vodka]
What’s your necessary vice?

Too many hats from Goorin Bros and Tito’s on the rocks with lemon.

Which app do you look at…

Once a day: Yelp and my music app.
Once an hour: My news app.
Far too often: Twitter.

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About the author

Melissa Locker is a writer and world renowned fish telepathist.

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