Friday, November 17, 2017
Craig Robinson Helped Elect a President
By Janet Alston Jackson (Contributing Writer)
Published May 13, 2010


For One Man Family Values Builds Lasting Character

Robinson is the family’s historian, the keeper of the family lore … He is deeply respected, especially by the First Lady for his achievements, integrity, and wisdom.

Craig Robinson Helped Elect a President


By Janet Alston Jackson
Contributing Writer

If anyone wonders how the First Lady can appear so strong, poised, and intelligent, yet down-to earth, you only have to read the heart-warming, new book, “A Game of Character: A Family Journey from Chicago’s Southside to the Ivy League and Beyond,” to learn of her family’s incredible support system and a special bond with her big brother.      

Craig Robinson, Oregon State’s Basketball coach, Michelle Obama’s brother, also known as the “first brother-in-law,” beautifully chronicles their years growing up on the Southside of Chicago to hard-working, dedicated parents, telling of poignant moments that shaped their characters with strong values. Robinson is the family’s historian, the keeper of the family lore.

Most American’s first met the handsome, charismatic Robinson when he introduced his younger sister, at the 2008 Democratic Convention. Within minutes, he won the hearts of the nation by sharing highlights of their childhood. In “A Game of Character,” Robinson, delves deeper into their childhood, taking the reader by the hand on a delightful journey sharing how Marian and Fraser Robinson taught their children how to believe in themselves and live their lives with conviction through love, discipline, and respect.

Having a sister as the First Lady of the United States, would seemingly cast a shadow on any sibling. However, Robinson, who is his sister’s biggest champion, exudes a deep inner strength and confidence, a reflection of the success he has achieved in his own right.

Fraser Robinson worked swing shifts for the city of Chicago, tending the boilers at a water-filtration plant. Marian Robinson was home full-time until her children were in high school, then worked in a bank.

There is no question, Robinson is deeply respected, especially by the First Lady, for his achievements, integrity, and wisdom. He radiates a quiet strength, and it’s clear, he doesn’t take a back seat to anyone.

In “The Game of Character,” there are several pivotal moments where his highly valued opinion given to Mrs. Obama, could have changed the world’s history.    The New York Times says, “He helped elect a President.” However, talking with the self-effacing Robinson, he attributes his character and success to how his parents raised him and his sister.

Robinson played basketball for Princeton University where he was a two-time “Ivy League Player of the Year.” He then played professionally in Europe before entering the competitive field of finance.  With his MBA in Finance from the University of Chicago, he made a meteoric rise on Wall Street working for Morgan Stanley Dean Witter. Proving to be a talented trader, Robinson worked his way up to vice president of sales and trading in the seven years in New York. In 1999, he moved back to Chicago and became managing director at Loop Capital Markets, an African American boutique firm. He was making seven figures and had a six-bedroom house, with luxury cars, but he wasn’t happy. 

When Robinson received a call to become an assistant coach at Northwestern University, it changed his life. Basketball was the one thing that made him truly happy, and he jumped at the opportunity even though he would be earning less than one-tenth what he was making as a bond trader. The First Lady made a similar choice, switching from a big-time law firm to public service after a few years as an attorney.

After six years at Northwestern, Robinson was offered a job as head coach of the basketball team at Brown University. In his second season, he led Brown to record 19 wins. When a job opened at Oregon State, a Pac-10 school, Robinson inquired. The team was then called the cellar-dweller of the conference. Oregon State had five straight coaches who left the school with losing records and didn’t win a single conference game in the 2007-2008 season. Robinson was hired on the spot. When he reversed the spiralling downward direction of the team, it was declared to be one of the nation’s best single turnabouts.

Sentinel:  When you were thinking of walking away from a lucrative career in finance to become a coach, you said the First Lady convinced you to leave Corporate America. And, when Senator Obama was thinking of running for President, you used the same reasoning on Ms. Obama. This was a pivotal moment in history.

Robinson: The family is a team, and Barack is one of the best team players I know.  He didn’t want to embark on this journey to become President without having everybody on board, and to have the family know what they were in for.  He knew the two toughest people to sell would be Michelle and my mom. He asked me if I would sort of feel them out on it. I was so excited for him, I said,” Sure, I’ll talk to them.” Basically, what I did was use the same strategy on them, which they did on me when I was thinking about leaving the banking world to go into coaching.  They said, “Do what you feel what you should be doing.  Don’t worry what other people are thinking if it is something you want to do.” Once I put it to them that way, they could really appreciate what Barack, was doing.  He had an opportunity to do something great, and once they were all on board it was full steam ahead. 

Sentinel:  You are the family historian, and as you say, ” the keeper of the family lore,” which was what your father did before he passed away from complications of Multiple Sclerosis. Why is family history, which you wrote about in your book so important?

Robinson:: My dad was the guy everyone circled around on holidays to hear him talk about stories of his grandparents, and also the lessons he learned.  It was something that we all looked forward to. When he died prematurely 19 years ago, I thought somebody has got to start to chronicle this and keep these stories going.

I wanted to share them with my kids as they got older, so I thought to myself, I have got to write this stuff this down. And it wasn’t until I was backstage, and I introduced my sister at the National Democratic Convention 2008, that I was thinking to myself, “Boy what would my dad think?”  He would be so proud of his kids right now. That is when I said, I have got to write this book. Because, if I don’t, I won’t. That was the beginning of “A Game of Character.” 

Not everyone is going to get raised like Fraser and Marian raised us, but it’s just as important for families to share those values, and lessons because, you’ll realize,  “I’m going through the same things my parents went through, and my kids are doing the same thing I did.”  Those family stories are a fine way to pass along values and ideals, and knowledge.

Sentinel: In your book you mentioned how your parents used “teachable moments”, especially when a classmate called you rich, even though you weren’t.  At one time you lived in the projects in one of the poorer areas of Chicago. You later moved into a small bungalow house living above your great uncle and aunt.

Robinson: Yes, that’s right. My mom and dad both were patient with their children. My dad thought about what I said when I asked him if we were rich. He then asked me, “Do you think we are rich?” I said “Well, I have clothes on my back, and we go out to the movies, and we do a lot of things, maybe we are rich. He said, “Ok, Friday when I get paid, I’ll talk to you about it.” Friday comes along, he cashes his check instead of depositing it. He takes all the money and spreads it out on the bed. I’m thinking to myself, ‘Man, we are rich.’  Then he pulls out all of the bills with envelopes.   He said, “We have to take some for the electric bill, some for the phone bill, and this for the gas bill, then there’s the rent.” He went down all of these expenses putting money in separate envelopes. When he was done, he only had 20 dollars left.  Being a kid I thought, 20 dollars is a lot  of money.  But he said, “Now wait a minute, you like to eat out, so there is pizza money,” and he went through several other things.   By the time he was done, there was no money left. That was a wonderful lesson to learn, not only as a Black man, but just how to manage your money.

Sentinel: You grew up in a gang area, and your father also taught you about the streets.

Robinson: My father didn’t go to college, but he was street-wise. He was my first teacher of the ways of the world. He would tell me, “You should always have enough money on you to get home.”  So he would tell me how to hide my money, to keep a few dollars in my pocket, and if anyone was going to jump me, I could just give them that, but the other money is hidden away somewhere else on my body.

He would take me to the barbershop and I would hear the men talk about life, politics, women, and a wealth of other things. He remains my hero.

Sentinel: He taught you the importance of being on time, a good character trait.

Robinson: My dad had Multiple Sclerosis. It took him a whole lot longer to get ready than everyone else, so he had to start out early. Because of him, one of my pet peeves is being late. I can also count on one hand in the 32 years that he didn’t go to work. Those values of hard work, and being relentless in life really helped shape me.

Sentinel: Your mother Marian is a strong lady with high integrity.  I love the bike story. Robinson: I was stopped by a policeman who accused me of stealing a bike, which I hadn’t. I tried to convince him that I didn’t steal the bike. He brought me and the bike home and was going to tell my mom that I had stolen the bike. 

She stood on the porch and gave him the same look she would give me when I was in trouble and addressed him for about 45 minutes. She later went down to the station to report him. She let everybody know that he had made a mistake. She put them on notice saying her kids were good kids, and that they should be out there catching some criminals. That policeman came back the next day to apologize.  It was an important lesson.  It taught me just because someone is of the same background or race as you (the officer was Black) doesn’t mean that they can’t be prejudiced toward you. That was especially important for me to see as a young Black man, you have to always be on your guard. The second thing was more important to see the love and concern for me, and the strength she had to go up and stand up for her kid, which is something we all need to do for our children. That gives kids self-esteem, which is one of the most important character traits you can have.

Sentinel: Your parents believed in the importance of education, and they were creative helping you and the First Lady learn, which is no mystery why you and the First Lady both have Ivy League educations. 

Robinson: Growing up we played all types of games, Scrabble, and Password. My parents made these games contests. We looked forward to winning, not realizing then that we were learning. It made us unafraid of these subjects in school.

” A Game of Character,” is a wonderful, feel-good family story with humorous moments paying tribute to Robinson’s beautiful relationship with a sister, and the guidance of his parents, teachers, coaches, and other mentors who have contributed to his ongoing mission to keep building a good character. Today he is passing these lessons on to his three children, and to his players, emphasizing the importance of family. 

“It is absolutely imperative for me to keep grounded and to keep my family around me,” says Robinson. “As long as I have my family, I can keep a lot of balls in the air.  My job enables me to see my family a lot. It’s a hard job and being in the national spotlight it keeps you busy, but when you have the blessing and the backing of your family, you can handle a lot on your shoulders.”

Janet Alston Jackson Listen to the entire interview Online, visit


Categories: Family

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