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Inspiring Conversations with Leshundra Robinson of UCAN of Memphis

Today we’d like to introduce you to Leshundra Robinson.

Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
I started UCAN of Memphis with my best friend in 2005. We sat on the bed and pondered “how can we help more youth in expressing their feelings without being intimidated and aggressive?” Both our boys played basketball and there was one boy who was very disrespectful to his team and coach. When we actually talked to him, we realized he didn’t have any support or family members who attended. He was disappointed, bitter, hurt, and angry to see everyone else with loving support and he didn’t. We took it upon ourselves to be his support system. He became a better team player and received the Most Improved award at the end of the season. We knew then we were on the right track.

While mentoring in the school system, individuals, and volunteering with other organizations, my life as the co-founder took a turn. I got a divorce and my mom had passed from heart failure in 2009 then two years later my brother had committed suicide from a mental breakdown of being bullied since middle school and overall life. He was in his last year of residence at the University of Missouri. I’ve included the obituary for your viewing.

He left me a letter stating he would have considered it early but because of his niece and nephews (my kids), he didn’t. Then he stated “I know this act was selfish so please don’t blame yourself. It’s better and I don’t have to be concerned anymore. Promise me you will tell other people to get help when they need it. I didn’t ask for help and thought I could handle it.” This was extremely painful to the point I didn’t want to live me either. I was not in a healthy place, but thank God for God and my family that that didn’t let me give up on my life.

A year later, I kept that promise and started researching bullying awareness. I wanted to understand the dynamics, the mental state, the causes; everything I needed to know to help others. I joined Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, program and began to tell my story on how to help others. It was painful and every time I cried (I’m crying now as I write this). The following year UCAN of Memphis added bullying prevention in the mission and created a curriculum for middle and high school students. I became an ambassador for and a trainer for the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program in Tennessee.

Now 7 years later, we continue to build upon the bullying prevention program by creating workshops, being guest speakers, and hosting an annual Dare 2 Dream conference in honor of Dr. Norman Paul Nolen II; my brother. We continue to work with middle and high school students on leadership development, career exploration, and bullying awareness. We have impacted over 3,500 students, parents, and leaders discussing bullying prevention.

It’s sad to hear so many elementary students state they have been bullied and attempted suicide. But it brings me joy to hear them say they had support and after listing to me and knowing my story, they know how to stand up and speak out when they see it. Now that’s a testimony!

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
It’s never a smooth ride as a nonprofit leader, a mother, and a mentor. My youngest child told her father and I thought about committing suicide because she too had been bullied for 3 years. Imagine hearing your daughter say that after your brother had committed suicide. I was speechless, crying, hurt, angry, and wondering why I didn’t see it.

One thing she said that made sense and I preach this to many parents; she didn’t want to say anything because she knew I was going to be angry at the school and in her mind embarrass her. She was scared to tell me because of how I would react. That change my perspective on how I respond to whatever she tells me and I tell parents the same thing now.

Being a nonprofit leader is even tougher. UCAN of Memphis is a small but mighty organization that helps individuals deal with bullying situations. The problem is we can help so many more if we had more funding. I am the Executive Director and my duties include securing funding while working with the Blazer and Pearls students.

Blazer and Pearls program is for middle and high school students focusing on leadership and character development. Finding funding and having the time to complete grants can be challenging. Each year is a challenge but I’m thankful to say we are still here!

Great, so let’s talk business. Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
The mission of UCAN of Memphis is to impact young adolescents through mentoring, workforce readiness, and bullying awareness which will bring forth positive growth in the community. The Blazers and Pearls program offers low-income students ages 12-19 the opportunity to expand their horizons by empowering them to build positive self-respect through group mentoring in the Mid-South. Our focus is social-emotional learning, mental awareness, conflict resolution, and preparation for college and career readiness.

Our program includes workshops with alumni from Shelby County Schools, local city officials, Fortune 500 Companies, and entrepreneurial that help us mentor students, focus on goal setting, bullying prevention, job readiness skills including interviewing techniques, dress for success, resume building, college application preparation, and sustaining employment through leadership.

Our programs were successfully implemented in 6 local middle and high schools. Participating students are selected by counselors who determine that students meet all of the requirements: Must maintain a cumulative minimum 2.5 GPA scale and no serious disciplinary sanctions at their current school in the past 365 days.

Expected outcomes are improved academics, better school attendance rates, confidence in skills achieved provided by school staff, internships and/or job placement, and the building of positive relationships.

How can people work with you, collaborate with you, or support you?
We love collaboration and support.

During the Blazer and Pearls program, we invite community leaders to come and speak to our students on specific topics that are in the curriculum. It gives the students the opportunity to see more of others and what they do versus hearing me talk all the time. They enjoy it and the community leaders get the chance to make a difference in a youth’s life.

People can always support us by referrals, donations, volunteering as a board member or intern, and most importantly sharing our information to others who may need our guidance or who can help financially.

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