On May 19, 2012, Willie Andrew Robinson III, departed this life.
Family and friends gathered on June 2, 2012 at Faithful Central Bible Church, Inglewood, CA to celebrate his life. Many thanks and testimonies were shared about his guidance that advanced personal, local, state and national interests. More importantly the family to which he was the patron proudly attested his impact on their lives.
At death, Big Willie’s life spoke loudest of two devotions. Devotion to his wife, Tomika, and to the organization he founded: the National and International Brotherhood of Street Racers (INBSR). Through this organization, Big Willie attained fame as a visionary and a peacemaker. Throughout its existence, Big Willie had been its only president and patron.
I attended the service. These are my reactions to the events of the celebration.
in 1960 Willie Andrew Robinson and I graduated from Walter Louis Cohen High School in New Orleans, Louisiana.
In high school he had two obvious passions: devotion to a long time girl friend and street racing a fully primed but never painted 1957 Olds. Which had the strong pull on him I could not determine.
After graduation, I did not see Big Willie until we attended the closing luncheon of our 50th high school class reunion in 2010.
In 2004 I had the opportunity to converse with Big Willie. I was visiting cousin, another Cohen graduate, when he called to keep in touch. We shared a few moments. He spoke with great enthusiasm about street racing and his organization.
In 2006 I receive a surprise phone call from Willie bless a speedy recovery from my tumor extraction. Then he mused about the possibility of bringing racing to Sacramento.
The closing program of Cohen High School 50th class reunion was the next crossing of our paths. Willie and I shared an eight person round. To me he looked frail and appeared to be spiritually depleted – unlike the Willie I remembered from high school or my telephone chats.
Our exchange was minimum.
I was scheduled to deliver a few thoughts to the class. Before speaking, my practice is to go into myself and orchestrate how I will deliver this presentation to this audience. After the program, he briefly talked. He described a breakdown in route to the reunion.
May 19, 2012
I arrived at the church two hours before the celebration began. Peoples of all races, genders and ages began to arrive as early as 11:00 am. Ages spanned from twenty years to sixty plus years. Many were clad in a colorful black leather vest or a well-worn jacket.
The rear of the vests showed a large picture of a car frantically trying to outrun a pursuing a police cruiser. The phrase, STREET RACERS INTERNATIONAL, encircled the picture.
On the rear of the jackets, the picture showed a police cruiser chasing a car that had been modified for racing. STREET RACERS INTERNATIONAL encircled this chase.
The jacket owners, the old breed, were the older members of the brotherhood. While those wearing vests had less than 35 years membership, the new breed.
On the right side of the church’s dais stood a wreath bearing the message:
Rest Big Willie
You are with
To the right of the wreath was a collection of awards, memorabilia, and event photos documenting important highlights of Willie Andrew Robinson racing leadership. Below is a small sample of the many awards:
Outstanding Citizen of the Year
American Body Building Coordination Committee
leadership and service to the community.
Willie had taken 6th place in the American Body Building contest. He proclaimed himself the strongest street racer in world.
Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition
Big Willie Andrew III
Outstanding and Invaluable Service to the Community
Signed Steve Horn
Member of Congress
38th District of California
Tomika also received the same proclamation.
City of Los Angeles
Los Angeles Human Relation Commission
Certificate of Appreciation for Special Services
Bill and Tomika Robinson
Signed Ivan Houston
Los Angeles Police Department
Southeast Community Police District
Certificate of Appreciation
Support “We Do Care Picnic”
September 9, 1995
Signed Kenneth Small, Captain
City of Los Angeles
Certificate of Appreciation
Mr. and Mrs. Big Willie Robinson
The National and International Brotherhood of Street Racers
Signed Rudy Svorinic
Council Member 15th District
I asked everyone whom I interviewed the following questions.
- What was your life situation when you met Big Willie?
- What is your present life situation?
- Why was Willie important to you?
- What are you doing now to carry on his ideals?
All respondents spoke of the positive effect Willie had on their lives.
Galaz was the first I interviewed. He bore the title of Lieutenant in the International and National Brotherhood of Street Racers.
I asked him to explain the functions of Lieutenant. He gave me the Senior Hierarchy: President, executive Vice President, Captain, Lieutenant, Sergeant-At-Arms, Public Relations Officer, Racing Control. Then he said that non-senior positions exist and he explained that the organization functioned in paramilitary style.
Galaz: On Life before meeting Big Willie.
I had an serious problem. In 1993, I learned about the racing on Terminal Island. I went to observe and I listened to Big Willie speaking to the racers. He had a positive outlook. One, (an outlook) other than gangs and drugs. He spoke about reaching your full potential.
I interjected, “How was his message different from the message your parents?” He said,:
I never listened to my parents. Big Willie spoke my language. He spoke with heart, earnest … his words pierced my heart.
I asked, “How have you used what Willie has given to you?”
I fell back into the same problem. I sort out Big Willie again. He advised me to man up. Now I’m active in the organization. I am all right now. I know where I am going. I make a living restoring classic cars of the 30′s to 60′s. I have a garage. I park some of my restored cars outside. The young guys come by and ask what going on? I talk to them like Big Willie talked to me.
At this point, Galaz insisted that I meet Angel. Angel is one of the first member of the organization.
Angel identified himself as a member since high school. He began:
it was 1968, the beginning of the organization. I had a passion for racing. The message Big Willie delivered attracted me. He preached elimination of race and he fostered racers are a brotherhood.
In those days, Big Willie wore a derby. The derby and his positive messages attracted me. He became my father figure.
“What now?” I asked.
He responded without hesitation:
We continue the fight for legal street racing in a supervised environment. The formula is not changed.
John is a member of 12 years. He is one whom Angel calls the new breed. John summarized my questions with the phrases:
I love racing, Big Willie had heart and that captured me. Big Willie thought it important to bring all people together. His messages stressed peace and happiness. Willie’s goals were my goals also.
Final Call Tyrone was standing alone. He is also one of the new breed. His vest designates that he is a Vice President.
I asked Tyrone the same questions. He eulogized:
Big Willie was a good happy soul, a happy heart, always had open arms, willing to lend a hand to solve a problem.
Final Call Tyrone
The phrase ‘Safe Racing Control’ caught my attention. It was on the vest of a young racer. I asked him to explain the phrase. He said:
I inform the neighborhood that a race was about to begin. Do not back out of your driveway. I watch for stray youth and I promote a safe racing environment.
Suddenly the church sound system blasted:
I smell smoke in the auditorium.
Charlie Brown . . ..
Charlie Brown was the first song of a medley of old tunes. It was the beginning of the celebration program. The music enlivened the church. People began to circulate and the chatter became louder. The second song was, Why do fools fall in love?
Most of the tunes were popular during our high school days.
The Celebration Service
During a repeat of Why Do Fools Fall In Love, the sound system went silent and the procession entered the church.
Rev. Jordan Allen, the minister-charge,followed by the coffin bearing the body, the family and selected officials of the Brotherhood.
The procession: The coffin enters the church
Dr.Jean Davis, Big Willie’s youngest sibling, welcomed everyone to the family’s celebration of Big Willie’s life.
Following an emotional moment, she began to share her oldest brother value to her life; and sharing his spirit and his life’s mission.
The value to her life: She described a caring, protective and ever-encouraging brother. Always proud of her accomplishments as a physician and we was a good person.” He lifted me up in all my endeavors.”
Describing his spirit, she told of his gentleness, his large arm of protection around his extended family members, and his desire for peace and reduction in crime.
Of his love for his wife: She spoke of his loyalty and love for her as unquestionable. As if to offer proof she said, Willie changed his birthday to Tomika’s to celebrate their marriage was the beginning of “the two becoming one.”
Of Willie’s altruistic spirit, she gave his short-term goal to eliminate race in the racing environment and of his long-term goal he long to bring all peoples together in Los Angeles.
Of Tomika value to him she said in health, they were always together. And he directs all references to his success to her, the source of his strength. The young physician described her brother as a giant drawing strength from his wife.
When Tomika suffered the stroke, Davis described how Willie meticulously cared for her and struggled to give his strength for recovery. Successful in many things, he was unsuccessful in this attempt.
Dr.Dee , the multi-ranged lyrical vocalist Diane White-Clayton, followed a reading of John 14:1 – 6. Her selection, “You raised me up to be more that I can be…” explained the source Willie Robinson’s earthly success. Obedience to this spirit quieted him and enabled him – to preach brotherhood and to teach peace. The John 14:2 scripture grants him a claim to the promised room.
James T. Butts , Mayor of Inglewood, CA: Said of Willie Robinson:
Very few will be fortunate enough to do something that changes the life of someone. You are one.
Other family member spoke about things Willie told only to them. All emphasized the effect he had on their lives.
A Congressional Delegation from the Office of Janice Hahn, U.S. House of Representatives, California 36th District read the Congressional Recognition and Service to the Community honoring Willie Andrew Robinson III as a Peace Keeper.
Representative Hahn ‘s speech on the House floor labeled Willie Andrew Robinson III as an American Hero. The flag that had flown over the U.S. House of Representatives on the day of her speech and the Congressional Recognition were presented to the family.
Fabian Arroyo, a Sergeant of Sheriff Patrol overcome by resurging emotion from the death of his friend and father figure, told of Willie’s guidance in early days of the Brotherhood. He detailed how their relationship developed into more than friendship.
Steve Sokoroff, the newly appointed Harbor Commissioner told that he was warned to expect Big Willie at his meetings. Willie and supporters attended Sokoroff’s first Harbor Commission meeting.
Sokoroff described this meeting:
Big Willie told us his vision to allow street racers to use Terminal Island for racing. He touted themes of public safety and the need to provide a place for this marginalized group to meet and to pursue their passion. He asserted that permitting street racers to use Terminal Island would be a means through which brotherhood would be developed. I(the commissioner) left the meeting completely in support of his vision for Terminal Island.
Politics delayed the vision for two years. But it came.
During the racing days on Terminal Island, no property was destroyed or damaged. None of the predicted riots materialized. And racers of every ethnic background treated each other as brothers.
The commissioner held up his gold shield and said:
Willie, you were the commissioner. then he presented his shield to the family.
Dr.Dee closed the speaking segment with an emotional Amazing Grace. The color of her voice was sweet, my spirit bathe in it and it was enlivened. When she ended, I could hear other spirits responding,Yes Lord and Amen.
Rev. Allen eulogized Big Willie as the right person for Los Angeles at that time. His efforts help to dismantled the racial and physical barriers between Los Angeles’ peoples. Inglewood began to accept blacks. East Los Angeles was no longer the only haven for people of Mexican descent and the city prospered.
A U.S. Army Honor Guardled by Lt. O. Estrada, ceremonially played taps. The guard folded the American flag that draped the coffin and respectfully present the folded flag to the family. They saluted the deceased for his service to the country.
Taps for Big Willie
When I read the email announcing Willie’s death, an unexplainable need grew within me to attend his dismissal services. Except for the two chance phone calls and the short visit at the reunion, our lives barely intersected. I could not explain the need to drive 380 plus mile to attend Big Willie’s dismissal service.
Making the trip was a good decision. First my attendance reminded me of an important life principle. Second I learned the answer to a question I asked myself in high school.
The testimonies I heard reminded me that a good life is one devoted to helping others overcome barriers that denies full potential. Second, having seen Big Willie’s accomplishments and his response to Tomika’s death, I feel the most important thing in his life was life partner. Loosing her began a downward spiral into frail health and a depleted spirit – that not even the brotherhood could arrest.
Rest in Peace
Willie Andrew Robinson, III
American Hero and Peacemaker
In this site see the video on the rise of street racing in Los Angeles.
Big Willie Speaking at the reunion
Angel and Galaz: Old and New Breed in agreement
In the church vestibule: A poster of Big Willie Exhorting Peace
Big Willie’s Vest and belt
RIP Big Willie