Abie Robinson, former Indy Parks employee, dies at 77

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If you’ve known, worked with, or even met Abie Robinson, chances are you have a love rock.

Robinson was known for painting the stones with phrases or pictures to spread encouragement. He carried them in his pockets to hand out “as a little way to spread more love,” his son, Tariq Robinson, told IndyStar.

“That’s who he was,” Tariq said, “someone with the biggest heart and wanting to see others succeed.”

Robinson, a former Indy Parks employee and longtime Indianapolis resident, died Wednesday at the age of 77.

Robinson is survived by his wife of nearly 43 years, Linda, their children Tariq, Aliya and Cameron and their grandchildren Jeremiah and Joshua, as well as numerous nieces, nephews, friends and those with whom he was a father figure. along the way.

One thing he will remember from his father, Tariq said, was his ability to be present with who he was at the time, fully invested in their time together.

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“He was there for all the weddings, all the birthdays, all the things you want to look back on and reflect on who was there,” Tariq said, “and his face was always there.”

“Supernatural Power”

Abie Robinson was born on December 29, 1944 in Indianapolis. He was a middle child, the only boy, right in the middle of six sisters.

Robinson was a curious, inquisitive child who loved to read, Tariq said. He attended John Hope School No. 26, now Oaks Academy, and went to Arsenal Technical High School. After his studies, he enlisted in the navy. He fought in the Vietnam War and returned in 1967, according to a biography Robinson wrote in 2017 that was provided to IndyStar.

“(He) ended up traveling the world and seeing a lot of places he had read about, just questions,” Tariq said.

After returning, Robinson witnessed a major historical event. Robinson was 24 when he attended Senator Robert Kennedy’s speech in Indianapolis on April 4, 1968, the day Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.

Witnessing Kennedy’s speech, following a moving and tragic event, sparked a commitment to service in Robinson. That’s how he lived his life.

“That night, Senator Kennedy’s words sparked a wave of hope in him to love more, to show more compassion, empathy and understanding,” said Darryl Lockett, executive director of the Kennedy King Memorial Initiative.

It was a pivotal moment not only in the history of Indianapolis and the United States, but also in Robinson’s life.

“I believe it was a supernatural power, which led us not to react in anarchy, but to remain faithful to the principles and ideas of non-violence which were the benchmark of the legacy of Martin Luther King” , Robinson later wrote.

The speech, associated with King’s murder, stirred strong emotions.

“He talks about it saying, of course, he was angry,” Lockett said. “Of course he was upset. But as he listened to those words and looked back on his life, he needed to find something he could do to make the situation better.”

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A moment of “full turn”

Kennedy’s speech would go on to play an influential role in his life.

Robinson then attended what is now the Herron School of Art & Design at IUPUI.

He was a deacon at Eastern Star Church in Indianapolis, the church where he was baptized. He gave classes to young couples and new members of the church. Through Eastern Star, Robinson has been on missions in Liberia, sending everything from supplies and medicine to an old computer and traveling around the country.

Robinson worked in the printing industry for years before returning to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park as senior program coordinator for Indy Parks.

Prior to joining Indy Parks in 2007, he worked as the Homelessness Prevention Coordinator for Forest Manor Multi Service Center, where he partnered with Kennedy King Park Center, located at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park to provide programs. He retired from Indy Parks last year, said Ronnetta Spalding, the department’s communications manager.

Robinson’s return to the location where the speech took place, which now houses the Landmark for Peace, was a “full turn” moment for him, Lockett said.

Lockett said Robinson’s on-site testimony was invaluable. The two visited schools and libraries to share the story of the day.

“Abie has become kind of a gem or a resource for us to make this story real, to make this special moment in Indianapolis real, when it wasn’t included in the curriculum at our public or private schools,” Lockett said. .

In 2019, the Kennedy King Memorial Initiative received the $100,000 Change Maker Grant from Impact 100. Robinson was “the centerpiece” of the proposal, although he is not a board member or member of the paid staff, Lockett said.

With the money, the Kennedy King Park Center was renovated. A large hall inside the center of the park has become the cultural visitor center for the Kennedy King Memorial Initiative.

“It is intimately tied to the progress we have made as an organization, the Kennedy King Memorial Initiative, and our ability to share this history with future generations here in Indianapolis,” Lockett said.

Plant the seeds – literally

In addition to his work, he has also volunteered with the Harrison Center, helping with the center’s PreEnact Theater, which stages scenes of a neighborhood as it should be – fair, just and economically prosperous.

For theatre, Robinson helped set up a skating rink and taught children how to skate. That’s how Harrison Center executive director Joanna Taft sees it in her mind: roller skating.

“I just see him smiling and roller-skating and being such a nice, great leader in our neighborhood,” Taft said.

Robinson was also named Harrison Center Greatriarch, who are “people who help write the history of their neighborhood,” Taft said. He did this by inviting other people into the story and sharing his with them.

“We have to remember that Abie planted those seeds, and we have to nurture them and we have to keep sowing that joy and encouragement in the community,” Taft said.

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Robinson was selfless by nature, said former Indy Parks employee Ellery Manuel. Once, Robinson’s wife, Linda, asked Manuel to help her throw a surprise party.

“I kind of used Abie and his ambitions and selflessness to do whatever you would ask him to do to succeed, so I told him I was throwing a party for me,” Manuel said.

Robinson gave Manuel advice on party planning and even set up the party hall. When he later entered with his wife, his family and many close friends were there.

“The room was packed,” Manuel said. “He walked in and we gave him a big surprise. The look on his face, he was just overwhelmed.”

He also managed the mayor’s garden plots on North Tibbs Avenue, Spalding said, and grew his own produce there as well.

“He would be there several times a day, whether it was hoeing the ground, weeding or harvesting,” Tariq said. “It was his happy place.”

He often brought food to people, Tariq said, be it friends and neighbors or their optometrist, “just passing on the kindness.” Once he stopped at Lockett’s, overalls and all, with a sack of greens, spoils from work in the garden.

“We had so many extras,” Robinson told Lockett.

“The Positive Flow”

One of Robinson’s favorite phrases was “Stay in the positive flow”, which is to focus on the good and put the good in the world. That’s how he lived his life, says his son.

Tariq said his father believed strongly in the power of each person to make a difference.

“He always looked for the positive, always wanted to do good, to do good with people,” he said.

Even when he fell ill at the end of his life, Tariq said, he was still so generous. During one of his last doctor’s appointments, his father offered to carry boxes for someone who had trouble opening the door, even though he was in a wheelchair.

“He was always, always ready to help someone, even in their last moments,” Robinson said. “To say, it’s going to be fine, we’re going to do this together.”

Robinson was deeply focused on the idea that we only have a short time on this Earth, but his faith gave him strength, Tariq said.

“He was really one to make sure those he loved were taken care of, were okay, were going to be okay,” Tariq said.

His legacy and his love for others will live on through his family, friends and community, Tariq said. And of course, love rips.

“How many times do we just walk through rocks or throw rocks at ourselves, but only to put what he considered a simple expression of love in it and then pass it on to someone else,” said Lockett. “…He wanted to spread love and give love.”

IndyStar reporter Rachel Fradette contributed to this story.

Contact trending IndyStar reporter Claire Rafford at [email protected] or on Twitter @clairerafford.

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