April 15, 2006
Carrying herself with statuesque style and grace, Robin Roberts, co-anchor of Good Morning America, totally engaged an audience of 800 on May 8 at Abilene Christian University as part of the school's Centennial Speaker Series.
Roberts emphasized the importance of positioning yourself for success, which was taught to her by her parents.
"Proximity is power," she said. "You have the ability and must do the things necessary to position yourself for great things to happen."
Roberts gave the audience a glimpse into her life as she told stories of the necessary sacrifices she made that eventually led her to the places she wanted to be. Through all the sacrifices, she said she never lost sight of the big picture.
One of the sacrifices she described was taking a job in sports news that she really wanted, but the caveat was she would also have to work odd shifts as a deejay for a country-music radio station also owned by the company. But, it was a stepping stone to one of her goals -- working for popular sports network ESPN. She finally achieved that goal, and it was her work at ESPN that producers at Good Morning America noticed, ultimately resulting in an invitation to be a co-anchor for the popular ABC news show.
Roberts big picture vision was grounded in her parents' firm admonishments. She shared what she believes is the secret of her success: her parents' focus on the three "D's": discipline, determination and "De Lord."
She considers her mother and father as role models in her life. Her mother was the first in her family to go to college at Howard University, and her father, who passed away in 2004, dreamed of flying airplanes when he was a boy during the Depression. He made his dream come true as an adult as a Tuskegee airman. The Tuskegee Airmen was the popular name of a group of African American pilots who flew for the United States Army Air Corps during World War II.
"That's what is was in my house," she said as the audience roared with approval. "Discipline, determination and 'de Lord!'"
While the members of the audience laughed, they also cried as Roberts recounted her experience covering Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, which she considers a pivotal moment in her career and had a remarkable impact on her family.
Roberts was keeping track of the storms while working in New York, periodically checking in with her family. Even though Roberts urged her mother to leave their family home, her mother made the decision to stay, telling Roberts, "I need you to be okay with this."
For her mother's sake, Roberts said "she got okay with it."
Eventually, telephone service was lost, but Roberts said that was not unusual in storm situations. Still with a close eye on the storms, Roberts continued to work. Her Good Morning America family monitored the situation as well with a keen eye for Roberts' family.
Roberts said she had a dinner to attend and turned her cell phone off for the event. After the dinner, her cell phone had logged call after call. The Good Morning America producers were telling her she had to go home now. They said if she could cover the story for work, they would fly her down in a corporate jet. That would be the quickest way to check on her family.
"That's all I needed," Roberts said. "If they were going to fly me home, I was gone. I'd cover the story, but I was really going to find my momma."
Flying to her hometown of Pass Christian, Miss., meant literally flying into the eye of the hurricane. The closest the plane could get was Baton Rouge, La.
Once on the ground, Roberts and her crew set out for Pass Christian on the road. She said the closer she got to home, the more it looked like a war zone. They finally reached the point where they couldn't drive any further. She told her crew to make camp, but she was going on. A police officer who knew her family said he would get her home.
"My home town, the place where I grew up, was gone," she said.
By the time she got to the neighborhood where she grew up, she was on foot. "Nothing was going to stop me from getting to my momma," she said.
House after house was destroyed. But thankfully, when her home came into sight, it was intact. It was damaged, but it was intact. Running through dark and the rain with the officer's flashlight lighting her way, Roberts said she got to the front door of her mother's home, pounding on the door in the rain.
She heard voices, and her sister threw open the door, shielding her eyes from the officer's flashlight, shouting, "Please, no TV cameras. Please!"
With rain pouring through the damaged roof, Roberts found her mother huddled in a blanket, cold, wet and frail, but with a defiant, faithful smile on her face.
"I knew you'd come," her mother said. "I just knew you'd come."
After locating her family, Roberts continued on her assignment for Good Morning America. She kept her emotions in check as she reported about devastation, as she stood on bare ground where the school once stood that she attended as a child, and where countless people where now homeless. She said she was doing just fine until her co-anchor and friend, Charlie Gibson, questioning her from New York on a live TV remote, said, "Now Robin, what about your family. How are they? How is your mother?"
At that point on national TV, Roberts said her emotions overcame her. All of the emotions she had been holding back while searching for her mother finally came to the surface with Gibson's question.
Roberts couldn't answer the question. She just waved her hand towards the camera and choked back a word or two. Gibson took the commentary from there.
"I thought that would be the end of my career," Roberts said. "But it wasn't. People saw that I was human."
Her hometown was more than 80 percent destroyed, but the Good Morning America family adopted Roberts' hometown to help rebuild it.
"You don't know what's in store for you," Roberts said. She explained if she hadn't placed herself in a position to work at Good Morning America, those friends wouldn't have been there to help her find her family and use their resources to help rebuild her hometown.
"You don't know the difference you can make," she said.
If you are a member of the media who would like more information about this release, please contact ACU's Public Relations Office.