Morris “Dino” Robinson Jr. announced Monday he is stepping back from his role as executive director at Shorefront Legacy Center.
To honor the organization’s founder, Mayor Daniel Biss proclaimed Nov. 28 Morris “Dino” Robinson Day in the City of Evanston at the start of Monday’s City Council meeting.
And later in the meeting, Fifth Ward Council Member Bobby Burns announced plans to call for an amendment to the city’s budget at the next council meeting seeking city support for Shorefront.
“I think it is a long time coming that we get behind Shorefront in a real way,” Burns said.
Robinson responded with humility, gave a presentation of the organization’s history and made an announcement of his own.
“This is a wonderful, wonderful honor,” he said. “I hope that I just did right by serving our community of Evanston in a way that is beneficial to all.”
Robinson said that Evanston Rules podcast host Laurice Bell will be taking his position in the new year. Bell has served on Shorefront’s advisory board for the past year and been involved in the nonprofit for nearly six years.
“I feel honored to follow in Dino’s footsteps and the footsteps of the two prior directors Debi Chess Mabie and Joi-Anissa Russell,” Bell said. “It’s an extraordinary honor and challenge, a good challenge.”
Robinson said he knew Bell was the right fit for the position because of the way she cared for the nonprofit, for example calling Robinson with unique fundraising ideas. “She exhibits the passion, the know-how and brings these really cool ideas,” Robinson said in an interview with the RoundTable.
Bell said she became interested in Shorefront through her childhood friend Doria Dee Johnson, an historian who spoke highly of Robinson. Johnson’s research – some of which was done at Shorefront – and service on the United States Senate Steering Committee for the Apology on Lynching led to a 2005 U.S. Senate apology for lynching. Johnson passed away in 2018.
Robinson, who had to attend the meeting via Zoom because he was out of town at a meeting, beamed as Biss thanked him for his 25 years of transformational service and founding of what is now a nationally recognized archive. His mother, Margo Robinson, who is also on the Shorefront board, accepted the award for her son.
Robinson has made history
Since 1995 Robinson pieced together more than 500 linear feet of African American history stretching across the North Shore.
His efforts shaped the historical and legal foundation of Evanston’s reparations program. Shorefront has been the impetus for federal legislation and is recognized as a cultural contributor by the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Biss made the proclamation to recognize Robinson’s legacy in Evanston “which has forever changed our community for the better.”
The Shorefront Legacy Center had small beginnings. The nonprofit began recording and studying African American presence on the North Shore from Robinson’s dining room table with funding out of his own pocket.
A $7,500 grant in 1997 from the Evanston Cultural Fund kick-started the organization, Robinson said during his acceptance speech.
Over the years, the organization has grown tremendously. Shorefront’s budget went from a few thousand dollars to $73,186 in 2021.
Robinson has traced African American history since he was 13 years old. He explained that his grandmother sparked his interest in history.
Robinson moved to the city in the eighth grade and studied at Nichols Middle School.
Although Robinson is stepping down as executive director, he said he has no intention of stepping away from Shorefront. This isn’t the first time Robisnon stepped down as executive director either. Debi Chess Mabie served as executive director from 2004 to 2008, and Joi-Anissa Russell was in the position from 2008 to 2013.
Robinson took on the role as interim executive director from 2013 to 2018 when he became the official executive director.
Robinson looking south
Robinson said his next chapter will be in Georgia, where he plans to devote time to African American history there, particularly documenting the people who moved from Georgia to Evanston and back.
There’s a large group of people who moved down to Georgia from Evanston, he said in an interview with the RoundTable. For the past 20 to 30 years, the group has met annually to celebrate their connection to Evanston.
The most rewarding part of Robinson’s 25 years of work in Evanston isn’t just the recognition he received from the city. It was also the national recognition he was able to bring to the city.
“When I first started, if you Google-searched ‘Evanston Black history,’ we might have three mentions on the first page,” Robinson said. “Now, if you do it, we fill up the first few pages of any Google search. So putting Evanston and the North Shore on the historical map of Black history that’s outside of the South Side of Chicago, I think was the most rewarding thing.”
“These stories need to be told,” Bell said. “These items need to be collected, and that doesn’t happen for free. I want the Black community to know that their items we are collecting are our items, and they’re treated with respect and honor. I want the white community to understand that our history being told is their history being told correctly.”