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SBJ Editor Eric Olson, right, interviews local NAACP President Toni Robinson on diversity and inclusion efforts underway in the business and civic communities.
SBJ photo by Jessica Rosa
SBJ Editor Eric Olson, right, interviews local NAACP President Toni Robinson on diversity and inclusion efforts underway in the business and civic communities.

NAACP president promotes young professional leadership

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Editor's note: Springfield Business Journal livestreamed this month's 12 People You Need to Know event in response to the coronavirus recommendations on group events. The interview with Springfield NAACP President Toni Robinson can be viewed here.

Springfield NAACP President Toni Robinson this morning encouraged young professionals to become more engaged in bringing greater diversity and inclusion to the area's business and civic communities.

Robinson spoke this morning for Springfield Business Journal's monthly 12 People You Need to Know live interview series, which was livestreamed via Facebook.

Robinson said young professionals and older business and civic leaders must work together on efforts that impact the community, noting "intergenerational work" and "leaning on" older professionals is important to help young people establish themselves.

"For young folks, we have to put ourselves out there," Robinson said. "It's intimidating, is what it comes down to."

Organizations such as the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce are leading those efforts, Robinson said, through such programs as The Network group for young professionals.

"I don't think that Springfield as a whole is doing the same work," Robinson said of the chamber’s efforts.

Robinson encouraged businesses and other groups to invite young professionals to the table through board positions, networking or other opportunities.

The 27-year-old St. Louis native moved to Springfield to attend Evangel University and chose to stay after graduating in late 2016. Robinson was sworn into the Springfield NAACP volunteer leadership post at the age of 25.

"There are a lot of holes to fill," Robinson said. "There's a huge need and I am able to make a difference and do something about it. That's the biggest pull for me to stay here."

Robinson works full time as a residential caregiver for The Arc of the Ozarks.

Recruitment and retainment have been key issues among employers, and Robinson suggests tapping into the culture that already exists in the area and working to boost it in order to better diversify the community and retain local talent.

"We need to do a better job of articulating who we are and what we stand for," Robinson said.

Robinson was unsure how long it would take for the makeup of Springfield to become more diverse, when asked by a livestream viewer.

"Being here for seven-plus years, I've been able to see the growth," Robinson said. "Keep having the conversations that we're having. Keep being intentional about this being our last work and everyday practice."

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