Wendy Raquel Robinson is one of L.A.’s hidden jewels, who you could catch sweeping the grounds on a Friday afternoon in front of her passion child, Amazing Grace Conservatory (AGC). The multi-talented actress is in the midst of celebrating as AGC turns 20 years-old on November 5. The Sentinel sat down with Robinson, who spoke about her career, life for the Black actress in Hollywood and AGC’s 20th Anniversary.
A Los Angeles native, Robinson attended many schools, which included La Salle Avenue Elementary School, Hughes Junior High School, Byrd Junior High School and Horace Mann Junior High School. She also attended Hollywood High School but eventually graduated from Washington High School. Robinson is a graduate of Howard University, cum laude with a bachelor of fine arts in drama. Before the acting bug bit her, Robinson pursued another passion.
“I initially started as a dancer,” said Robinson. “I started as a dancer when I was seven-years-old.”
Small parts in minor productions and acting things out in her backyard would open her interest in acting. It wasn’t until high school that Robinson began thinking about what she wanted to do with her life—and acting was the ticket. Her first job would be a Crest toothpaste commercial, of which she remembers vividly.
“Oh, God, I still remember it, ‘six months ago, my dentist said, you have a serious tartar problem’… long story short, yes, yes it was a Crest commercial,” she said laughingly.
Robinson would go on to star in a theater production where she played the character Agnes in “Agnes of God” at Howard University. She describes that role as a break for her as it began to mature her as an actress. Robinson’s debut in television would come as a guest star role on “The New WKRP in Cincinnati”. She credits actor Mykelti Williamson for taking her under his wings and mentored her in the world of show business.
Her career would begin to gain momentum with guest starring roles on “Martin”, “Thea” and “The Sinbad Show”.
“That was the days of every Black sitcom’s on,” said Robinson. “I did my run of the mill and had a really good time with it.”
It was the iconic and memorable role as principal Regina “Piggy” Grier on television series “The Steve Harvey Show” that many were formerly introduced to the versatile actress. As Regina, Robinson combined stage presence with comedic drama to create a hilarious, endearing and slightly neurotic character that fans grew to love. She would also make guest appearances on other television shows such as “Minor Adjustments”, “The Parkers” and “Cedric the Entertainer Presents”.
Robinson’s later role as the sassy and in-your-face Tasha Mack on the popular television series “The Game” stands as a polar but equally iconic opposite to Regina Grier. As Tasha, Robinson was able to play a character, which she describes as a more ghetto and forward version of herself. As to which of the two were her favorite, Regina or Tasha, Robinson said they both hold a special place in her heart.
“You know Regina, the principal on Steve Harvey, that was one of the best because of the ensemble I was working with,” said Robinson. “I had so much fun—it wasn’t like going to work.”
Robinson continued, “Tasha Mack, because I was able to do [her] for so long, just walk in her shoes and see how she evolved, all of the flaws, layers and stuff, she was fun for different reasons.
“[Tasha] was a challenge.”
Television couldn’t contain Robinson for long as she jumped to the big screen in films such as “Miss Congeniality”, “Two Can Play That Game” and “Rebound” to name a few.
Robinson also took time to speak about what life for a Black actress in Hollywood looks like nowadays. She feels that the landscape is far more accepting and embracing for the Black actress now than ever.
“There are so many roles that have opened up between Viola [Davis], ‘How To Get Away With Murder’ and then you have ‘Empire’—it’s too much content out there, it is so much content,” said Robinson. “I feel like we’re in the middle of a renaissance.”
Robinson added that while both racism and ageism have played a part in blocking Black actresses in Hollywood, the winds are changing.
“You have Youtube, Netflix, HBO—there’s just so many different platforms that there is so much content to go into these platforms. I think right now is the best time to be an actress especially a woman of color.”
Robinson adds that knowing your craft plays a vital role to staying relevant in Hollywood. She noted that many personalities are becoming sensations overnight thanks to social media but the well-prepared stay the day.
“I look at those actresses that I love—everyone has a training, they have strong training, a background [like] theater,” said Robinson. “To not just come into this business and just think it’s fly-by-night.
“Study, train, develop your craft but do not be afraid to step outside of your box and out of your safe zone—and write, write, write, write and create your own content.”
In addition to now being a good time for Black actresses, it’s a double good time for Robinson because AGC will be celebrating 20 years come November 5.
In the early 90s, Robinson was asked by a good friend, Tracy Lamar Coley, to come and work with him at Marla Gibbs Performing Arts School in Leimert Park. When the school closed, they both had built such a clientele of youth that AGC was born.
Established in 1997 originally as All God’s Children, AGC is a nonprofit, 501(c) 3 founded by Robinson, Coley and a third partner as an answer for inner-city youth to explore the arts. Eventually the third partner left the project with Robinson and Coley continuing forward. Two decades later, AGC has grown with initially 75 students to serving over 300 students annually and thousands since its inception. Coley would unfortunately pass away in 2004 but Robinson happily continues the dream today.
“We change lives, we really do,” said Robinson about AGC. “I feel like it’s a ministry.”
The NAACP award-winning program teaches acting, voice, dance, spoken word, media arts and yoga to help youth realize their potential. AGC engages students in socially relevant material, which helps them find their voice. Robinsons says that AGC is mostly about healing through the arts.
“Our young people are going through so much from abuse to bullying, ostracized, criticized, belittled to a point where we build self-esteem through self-expression,” said Robinson. “I wish I could take the credit but I have a beast of a team where we all work together.”
Some of the alumni of AGC have gone on to achieve success in Hollywood including Issa Rae (“Insecure”, “Awkward Black Girl”), Aldis Hodge (“Underground”, “Leverage”) and Ashton Sanders (“Moonlight”) and Grammy-winner singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Elle Varner to name a few. AGC alumni have also gone on to be producers, lawyers and in politics. Now, going on 20 years, Robinson spoke on what 20 years means to her.
“When you look back over everything that has happened, all the thousands of lives that have come through, it’s pretty mind-blowing,” said Robinson.
“To know that we’re still here, still as passionate, still committed to the purpose and to the mission, it looks like 20 years wasn’t enough.”
When she’s not busy with her AGC kids, Robinson is on the set of ABC’s newest hit, “The Mayor” starring Brandon Micheal Hall, Yvette Nicole Brown and Lea Michele. Robinson plays Krystal, a friend to Brown’s character, Dina Rose, which both work at the post office on the show.
“Krystal’s very grounded,” said Robinson. “She’s out loud but she’d kind of ditzy, insecure, single, got two dogs and really trying to find herself.
“I’m the best friend—I’m the ultimate best friend.”
The Amazing Grace Conservatory exists for youth to find and realize their dreams. Robinson encourages the community to find out more about the school and to visit. The school has a nominal tuition but there are scholarships available as well.
“We are here, come by, support our programs and support the productions,” said Robinson.
Amazing Grace Conservatory is located at 2401 W. Washington Blvd in Los Angeles, CA 90018. For more information, please call (323) 732-4283 or send inquiries to [email protected]. Please visit the website at http://amazinggraceconservatory.org/.