TANGIPAHOA — For Trashica Robinson, Dec. 10, 2016, is a day that will forever stand out in her memory. It was on that day when she accomplished a feat that few, if any, will every experience: graduation from college and election as the mayor of her hometown.
Robinson remembers that she went from graduation ceremonies at Southeastern Louisiana University, where she had just been awarded a bachelor’s degree in marketing, to her home in the Village of Tangipahoa to await the results of the runoff for mayor. When all the returns were in, Robinson learned that she had pulled off a major political victory that few expected.
“It was a life-changing experience for me. When I decided to run for mayor, no one gave me a chance, she said. "I was running against the incumbent mayor, Brenda Nevels, and Michael Jackson, a former National League Football player.
"I was just a local girl. … I had no family and no financial backing. All I had was my desire to become mayor of Tangipahoa and find ways to improve my hometown,” she said.
The newly elected mayor said she also credits college for inspiring her to run for office, with one instructor in particular.
“One of my instructors, Anna Bass, always shared a ‘quote of the day’ with the class before getting started. One in particular stood out to me,” Robinson said. “It was something like ‘Every day we should stop and appreciate everything around us.’ One day, I did that in my community, and I decided to make the wrong things right and make the right things better."
“I was so impressed when Ms. Robinson brought up in a class discussion in my business strategy class that she was running for mayor of her hometown,” said David Wyld, professor of management and business administration, in a news release from Southeastern. “We talk so much about getting young people involved in the political process and in making real change happen in our communities, and she’s a wonderful exemplar of this.
"I’d like to think that some of what she learned in my class — how to better communicate, how to think more strategically and how to effectively lead change in organizations — will serve her well in office," Wyld said. "All of us at Southeastern should be so proud of her and use her story as an example for future students on how to take what they have learned here and work to make a difference.”
Robinson said that as graduation approached she had resigned herself to whatever the outcome of the mayor’s race might be.
“When I started thinking about running for mayor, I wasn’t sure if that was for me," she said. "I would have been content to take my degree and enter the corporate world. But my desire to help my hometown kept driving me on. The odds were against me, but I trusted in God and I prayed that he would elevate me for a special time in my life like this one.”
The Village of Tangipahoa, located just south of Kentwood on U.S. 51, counts an official population of 748 residents. Robinson said about 60 percent of the registered voters cast ballots and that she won in the runoff against Jackson with 58.7 percent of the votes.
A college degree and the position of mayor are crowning points in Robinson’s life. The mayor, 37, and the mother of a 19-year-old daughter, Bianca Robinson, said that her life has not always been easy.
Trashica Robinson's mother, Bernadine Robinson, was killed when struck by a vehicle when Trashica Robinson was only 13 years old. Her father, Ralph Coleman, who lived in New Orleans, died recently.
Trashica Robinson, who was reared in Tangipahoa by her grandparents, attended O.W. Dillon Elementary and Kentwood High School and said she yearned to earn a college degree at some point in her life. She has worked for five years for the Southeast Advocates for Family Empowerment, in Hammond and said the directors and staff of that agency supported her plan to earn a college degree. That support has continued since her tenure as mayor began in January, she added.
“Over and over again, the same thoughts keep coming back to me. … I want to give back to my community. I decided to stay home, in this village, so that I can make a difference for my people. Tangipahoa is a special place. We are all family. … We all know each other, and we all need to support each other. I want to be a part of making this a better community,” she explained.
Trashica Robinson said she knows she faces challenges ahead. The position of mayor of Tangipahoa is a part-time one, but she said she has had to work full time to try and accomplish all the needs of her village.
The new mayor said she has reached out and solicited the support of members of the town council, including Sheila Martin, Ricky Coleman and Debra Cyprien, in an effort to resolve a multitude of challenges faced by Tangipahoa.
“I tell everyone that this is going to be a team effort. I can’t do this job alone. I need everyone’s help to accomplish the things that need to get done. I am going to emphasize the work team during my time as mayor,” she said.
She said that her first task is to bring Tangipahoa “into the 21st century.” She said she is working to organize the village’s management system so she and the few city employees can better serve the village’s residents.
The most important need, at this time, is finding help for Tangipahoa’s only police officer, Chief Darrell Martin.
“We have got to find a way to get the chief some help. He is on call 24 hours a day, and he just cannot do this alone. He can’t keep going on without some much needed help,” she said.
Trashica Robinson said two unsolved murders are on the village’s books and that the illegal use of drugs is becoming a problem.
“I have a special care for people with addictions. If I had a million dollars, I would build a detox and treatment center for those with addictions. My mother had a drinking problem but she still helped me and she loved me. She did not intend to become an alcoholic. I treat those with addictions the same way I would treat CEOs of a major corporation. We are all God’s children, some of us just need extra help and care,” she said.
A major challenge facing Trashica Robinson is a lack of finances. The village is supported by a small sales tax and does have an ad valorem, or property taxes, to support its activities. Tangipahoa owns and maintains its own water and sewer systems, but Trashica Robinson said many residents are in arrears in payment for water and sewer services and so she is working on a plan so residents can catch up on their overdue bills.
"We have only two village workers, and they are responsible for the water and sewer system. I have already heard that the village is not cutting the grass. …How can just two workers keep our water and sewer system going and do all the other things people want? My priority is to provide clean water and a safe sewer system. Again, we need more help in our maintenance department,” she said.
The Village of Tangipahoa was one of the hardest hit communities in the August flooding, and Trashica Robinson said about 50 percent of the permanent population is now living in temporary mobile homes in Hammond and elsewhere. The new mayor wants to bring those residents back to the village.
“I want to bring my people home…this is where they belong. If we can get the people back, maybe out financial situation will improve and we can start to accomplish the things I want to accomplish,” she said.
Trashica Robinson also wishes that more employment opportunities were available in Tangipahoa. “People tell me, ‘I need a job…help me find a job.’ I wish I could find more jobs locally but that will take some time. Most people who live here have to go elsewhere to find employment,” she said.
She said she wants to tackle the problem of blighted housing and buildings in the village and provide better recreational opportunities for the village’s young people. Tangipahoa has no school and local children attend the schools in Kentwood.
But despite the many problems and challenges, Trashica Robinson said she is optimistic about the future.
“If nothing else, I want to create a sense of pride in our community. I was raised by my grandparents and we were poor … but we had a sense of pride and a sense of love that meant more than riches," she said. "We must come together as a family; it’s going to take all of us. But I believe that we can do this. I get up early every morning and either walk or drive through our neighborhoods and I see the possibility if we all work together. I’m optimistic, I’m full of hope, I have a passion and a dream and I want to share that with my people that I love."
Trashica Robinson said she has been blessed to have the services of Lakeishia Briggs, who was the owner of a local beauty salon but who has dedicated her services to the village as clerk and office manager.
She said that one source of strength in Tangipahoa is the churches. “We have five churches in our corporate limits and they are the backbone of the community. We look to the leadership that is provided by the churches to help us remedy our problems. We are in a dark place right now, but I’m hoping that things will turn around and that we will come together the way that we should. I pray every day and I meditate and ask God to give me the strength I need. I pray that I can just be an instrument of positive change…just a member of the team that it will take to make our home a better place for all,” she said.
Trashica Robinson said that when a visitor comes to Tangipahoa, she tells them, “ride around and take a look at where we live … and then I want you to promise to come back a year from now and ride around again and took at our village. I guarantee you that it will look better a year from now. That’s my pledge, and I’m going to do all I can to see that I life up to that pledge.”