Shaun Robinson does it all. An inspiring advocate for girls, Shaun is an author, an Emmy-award winning journalist, an anchor for Access Hollywood and Girl Rising’s newest Global Champion. Shaun was awarded the Dove Real Beauty Award in 2011 for her work promoting girls’ self esteem, particularly through her book EXACTLY AS I AM: Celebrated Women Share Candid Advice with Today’s Girls on What It Takes to Believe in Yourself. I had the pleasure of speaking with Shaun about her career, her work with girls’ empowerment, and her own inspirations and role models.
Girl Rising (GR [which can also stand for Gabriella Runnels!]): First of all, I just want to say that I really admire the way that you’ve used your public platform to promote girls’ issues. We are so excited to have you as our newest Global Champion at Girl Rising.
Shaun Robinson (SR): Well thank you, it’s quite an honor. Ever since I saw Girl Rising, I wanted to be a part of this movement. It’s so important to educate people about what’s going on around the world. A lot of times, we are so centered on what’s happening in our immediate vicinity, but it’s really important to find out about how girls in other places are challenged with getting access to education—even just basic education.
GR: You have had such an incredible career in the world of news and entertainment. What would you say has been the most rewarding part of your work in the media business?
SR: Throughout my career, I have really valued bringing information to people. I used to be a medical reporter, and I loved that job because it allowed me to teach people about different health issues that really impacted their lives. When had my talk show (I started a talk show in my hometown, Detroit), it was a great opportunity to talk to community leaders about issues affecting people in the community. And even being at Access Hollywood: one of my favorite stories was going to South Africa to interview Oprah Winfrey about her leadership academy for girls. That was one of the highlights of my career. So I’ve had different parts of my career, some of which a lot of people don’t know about, and they’ve all been rewarding in different ways.
GR: You have been an advocate for girls and women from the beginning. Tell us a little about your involvement with girls’ issues and what has inspired you to take action.
SR: I wrote a book about three years ago called Exactly As I Am that gives advice to young girls on believing in themselves and dreaming big. In the book, I interviewed many influential women like Oprah Winfrey, Celine Dion, Kelly Clarkson, and Jennifer Hudson on where true self esteem comes from. One of the reasons I did the book is because I’ve had so many young girls email me and ask me about the stars that I interview on TV and whether they’re as beautiful in person as they are on magazine covers or in movies. A lot of young girls gain their value from how they look, and how popular they are, and whether boys like them. I wanted to use my access to interview celebrities and talk to girls about where self esteem actually comes from. The response has been so wonderful; so many girls have said they’ve been inspired by the book, and they’ve learned how to feel good about themselves without comparing themselves to other people.
GR: You mentioned that for your book, you interviewed young girls as well as famous women about developing positive self esteem. Who are the role models in your life that have inspired you to speak out on behalf of girls?
SR: Definitely my mother and my grandmother. I come from a family of very strong women, and they have always told me that I can do anything I put my mind to. So fortunately, I have those role models in my life who are very close to me. Also, there have been women throughout the years that I have looked at on television. There was a woman by the name of Beverly Payne. I used to watch her on television when I was little. She was the only African-American woman on television doing the news in my hometown of Detroit, and I remember just looking at her and thinking it would be so cool to do what she does. So there have been different women throughout my life who have inspired me in one way or the other, and I’ve just been fortunate that two of those role models were actually in my own family.
GR: You are a part of another great girl-focused organization, Girls Inc. Tell us about this awesome organization and your involvement with them.
SR: I sit on the national board of Girls, Inc. They are a wonderful organization with roots dating back to the 1800s, and they teach girls to be “strong, smart and bold.” They give scholarships, a lot of times to girls who are the first ones in their families to go to college. I’ve been very fortunate to serve on the board for the past several years.
GR: What is the next big initiative you are most excited about?
SR: I’m so excited to be a Global Champion for Girl Rising and help more people see the film and learn about the issues surrounding girls around the world. There are a few other projects that I’m working on, and while it’s a little bit early to share details, I want to keep using my platform to inspire other people and to inspire girls.
GR: You are Girl Rising’s newest Global Champion doing amazing work for girls’ and women’s empowerment. How have you been involved with Girl Rising so far, and what is next for you with this global movement for girls’ education?
SR: One of the things I hope to do now that I have this position is to talk about how I can use my platform to spread the message. I gave a screening of Girl Rising a couple of months ago, back in May. It was really wonderful, and so many people said that they just loved the movie, and they wanted to know how they can help. The position is new for me, and I’m just trying to find out how I can use it and use the platform that I have to help.
GR: You promote positive self esteem and encourage girls to dream big. How does your passion for these issues relate to the message of Girl Rising?
SR: One of the things that stood out to me about Girl Rising is that these young ladies in the movie held education as a top priority and would do anything they could to make sure they got that education. And education is of course tied to your own self esteem because when you have education, you can achieve the goals that you set for yourself. I think a lot of times here in the States, we take the access that we have to education for granted. I think this film really helps girls realize that there are so many things that are much more important than how you look, how popular you are, what the latest clothes are. It’s about prioritizing and understanding what’s really important—and what’s important is helping others, and helping to educate others. Girls in this country don’t have any idea about what it’s like not being able to go to school. Here, it is the law of the land that you have to educate your children, and in many other countries, as Girl Rising shows, it’s not like that. Not only is it not like that, it’s the law of the land in certain places that girls cannot be educated! That is an important message to get out there. We have to help girls understand that they can use their voices to help these other girls around the world.
GR: What is your advice to girls facing seemingly insurmountable obstacles?
SR: Everybody has challenges. You have to believe you can succeed no matter what. We live in the greatest country in the entire world. It allows us to become anything that we want to become. You just have to put your mind to it and not listen to any naysayers. If you work hard, you can achieve anything. So that would be my advice: work hard, and believe that you can succeed.
Shaun Robinson is a true Global Champion for girls. Shaun founded the One Girl, One Voice movement “of socially responsible teen girls pledging to use their voice for positive change.” She also recently released an original video called “Why I Bully You”, which creatively tells the story of bullying from the bully’s perspective. We are so impressed with and inspired by Shaun, and Girl Rising is thrilled to have Shaun’s support in the global movement for girls’ education.