Reginald Robinson learned to love the land while growing up at his grandfather’s farm. That, along with a childhood in a family that cooked, developed Robinson’s unadulterated love for food.
After years of working in a variety of positions in education and as executive director of the Botanical Research Institute of Texas, Robinson now is taking his passion for food and teaching to the FunkyTown Food Project.
The nonprofit aims to increase food access in Fort Worth and works with young people as part of a youth leadership program. Robinson said his job is to create pathways for youth to do meaningful work in their community on the nonprofit’s farm.
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FunkyTown Food Project offers six-week paid internships during which students learn the ins and outs of working on a farm and growing food. About 25% of the harvests get donated to agencies such as Funky Town Fridge, Tarrant Area Food Bank and The Art of Living. The rest is sold at local farmers markets.
On Fridays, Robinson cooks a meal with students with ingredients from the farm. Robinson, who’s also a chef and co-owns Lil’ Boy Blue BBQ with his brother, Cedric, said he doesn’t take the value of a good meal lightly.
“All the dreams that you have in your life cannot be actualized unless you sustain yourself, unless there’s nourishment,” Robinson said. “At a very fundamental level, I take food that seriously, that it is the very vehicle that’s going to help you reach your dreams.”
Robinson also connects the farm to what students are learning in the classroom. His teaching background helps him relate subjects students study at school to the farm.
“The difference is that we’re not going to page 368,” he said. “We’re going to this raised bed right here, and I’m saying ‘OK, you see the reason this is happening is because of the phosphorus in the soil.’”
Kent Bradshaw, chief operating officer of FunkyTown Food Project, said Robinson has a sense of empathy that allows him to connect with people of any age.
“Reggie has the ability — not only the experience but the empathy — to see every youth or individual, depending on who he’s dealing with, as a unique person,” Bradshaw said. “And he cares enough to put in the time to do what’s best for them and their circumstances. It’s a learned gift, I guess you could call it.”
Sharla Horton, a consultant and strategist, met Robinson when they were assistant principals at Crowley ISD. She described him as a generous person with a large heart, which makes people trust him. Horton also said he has an “arrogant humility.”
“Reggie knows what he knows,” Horton said. “But he also leans into everything he does with this sense of humility, like what else do I need to know, what do I not know? I think that’s another thing that makes him an amazing leader.”
Thinking about Fort Worth, Robinson said he hopes the city is a place to raise the next government leaders and a city that embraces people from all backgrounds. Horton said Robinson’s leadership has already made an impact in Fort Worth.
“When you make people better, you make places better,” Horton said.
Looking at the city’s future, Robinson thinks the city is getting the right people in the right positions to create change. Robinson compares his love of Fort Worth to the Dallas Cowboys: It has ups and downs.
“There are times where I’m really high on it,” Robinson said. “And then there’s times where we lose games that we shouldn’t lose. There’s times where we make decisions that we shouldn’t make.”
When not working, Robinson might be found cooking tacos or tending to his garden. By the time he cooks, he’s already made and plated the meal a hundred times in his head.
“It’s not thinking, it really is an obsession.”
Reginald Robinson bio:
Birthplace: Anchorage, Alaska
Moved to Fort Worth: Early ’90s
Family: Father and Mother, Clyde and Rosetta Robinson. Little brother, Cedric. Wife, Holli. Three daughters (my pride and joy), Zoei, Xolani, Areli
Education: Bachelor of Science in biology/pre-medical studies at the University of Texas at Arlington. Master of Education in educational leadership at Texas Christian University circa 2015
Work experience: Learning and development coordinator, Tarrant County College (present); sous chef, The Potter’s House Dallas (present);
executive director, FunkyTown Food Project (2021-present); partner, Collective Leadership Strategies (2022-present); co-founder and fire philosopher, Lil’ Boy Blue BBQ (2018-present); freelance DEIB consultant (2017-present); dean, assistant principal, specialist, department chair, teacher, Crowley ISD and Fort Worth ISD (2009-2021); executive director, Green Revolution-Botanical Research Institute of Texas (2016-2018)
Volunteer experience: Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival board; The Reading League of Texas board; food bank, Grace Temple SDA, BRIDGE; president, Beta Tau Lambda chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha
First job: Two answers: grass cutting and Kumon Math and Reading
Advice for someone learning to be a leader: “First of all, be a servant of all.”
Best advice ever received: “My grandfather used to say, ‘At all times, preach the gospel. Whenever you have to, use words.’”
Seth Bodine is a business and economic development reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at email@example.com and follow on Twitter @sbodine120.
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