Women’s History Spotlight: Robin Hickman-Winfield

Rondo CLT
April 29, 2024
Rondo staff with the Liberated Land Trust Tour delegation
Rondo staff with the Liberated Land Trust Tour delegation

A storyteller and artist. An entrepreneur and educator. A wife and woman of faith. Robin Hickman-Winfield is a local leader with many interests and accomplishments. But, at the core of everything she does, Robin is a proud and principled continuation of her family lineage—one with deep roots in Rondo and branches of influence across the globe.

It’s easy to believe Robin when she says, “It’s my time.” Right now, you can see her beaming from the cover of Insight News, reflecting on the artistic legacy and current exhibit of her great uncle — and greatest teacher — Gordon Parks. The owner of SoulTouch Productions, she’s working on a film project that’s so exciting she can’t disclose the details and is about to publish her first art book documenting her innovative work with dolls.

So, with Women’s History Month in March, it seemed like the perfect time to connect with Robin—a leaseholder with the Rondo Community Land Trust—to learn more about her work as a narrative historian and community educator. But, even when she’s invited to reflect on her genius, Hickman-Winfield immediately turns the lens back to Rondo.  

“I’m a Selby/Dale girl,” she says within the first few sentences of a recent interview. “I was born in Rondo shortly before the freeway took it out and we moved to Summit-University. I often lift up the Mexican proverb — They thought they buried us, but didn’t know we were seeds — because I feel strongly about that. I grew up south of the destruction, but I celebrate the fact that the spirit of Rondo lived on. I grew up in a community where Black people lived and set up businesses on Selby and cultural centers on Selby and educational institutions on Selby.”

“I remember our mother walking down Selby to go to the Black doctor’s office,” she says. “I remember going to JJ Hill and sneaking across the street to the Black grocery store and going down to Inner City Youth League with my friends. Those are narratives that I’m committed to telling, because I lived in that glory. If we forget that narrative, it’s like another bulldozer coming down.”

Her family was an integral part of that narrative, and her life trajectory has been a product of that upbringing.

“My mother and father were activists and community servant leaders,” she says. “My father was one of the co-founders of the Inner City Youth League, a cultural arts center where children and community members could be engaged in history, culture, media arts and social change. My mother was a business owner with a home childcare service.  She was very much part of the village education and early childhood development of Black children. So entrepreneurship, education, knowing of our history — I was very engaged in the legacy of all that.”

And, of course, her great uncle was the ground-breaking and iconic photographer and filmmaker Gordon Parks. His mentorship was essential to her career path and approach to telling stories.

“At a young age, I was very inspired by my great uncle,” she says. “I started at 12 years old doing documentaries, and, by 15, I was working at a TV station. I loved it. I always loved it. But I was a media maker following in the footsteps of my great uncle, who taught me the importance of storytelling — that it’s not only what you do, but how you do it. I was timid letting people know I was a grandniece of Gordon Parker, but my uncle said, ‘Tell them you learned from the master, that you’re a  protege of the master. That’s a different tone.’”

Robin Hickman-Winfield of St. Paul with Gordon Parks, her great-uncle.

Her list of accolades is long, but she’s most proud of her role producing Half Past Autumn, an Emmy-nominated documentary about Gordon Parks’ life and work that ran on HBO, and co-creating Don’t Believe the Hype, a public television program that puts young people of color in front of and behind the camera. She’s also generous in sharing her knowledge, pouring into students at Gordon Parks High School by teaching them about her uncle’s life and training them to walk in his  footsteps. But her road hasn’t been without challenges.

“As a woman and as a Black woman, it’s not been easy,” she says. “People tend to look at my family legacy in nonprofits and put me in a box. But, as a business owner, I’ve been very intentional that SoulTouch Productions is a for-profit entity. I’m in the business of touching souls—and been doing it for 23 years strong now.”

That work has been strengthened by the support of the Rondo Community Land Trust, and its dedicated leaders.  

“Having my new office at Selby and Victoria — across the street from where my father’s Inner City Youth League used to be — it’s so meaningful to me,” she says. “I can feel the spirit of my father. I can’t emphasize enough how important it feels to be part of an avenue that is the renaissance of what was destroyed — and to have the tangible support of the CLT and their fearless leader, Mikeya Griffin. To be back on Selby is everything. Everything.”

Because this Selby/Dale girl is still making history.

“My legacy has been making meaningful media that matters,” she says. “It’s preparing young people for extraordinary opportunities. It’s walking out the wisdom of my mother who raised us to take our rightful place in the world and walk with others to take their rightful place in the world. And it’s making an impact with the love of my life, my husband Steve Winfield, who also represents a Black, Saint Paul legacy family.”  

“I have paid my own dues,” she adds. ”I just turned 61 years old. Turning 60 was symbolic and celebratory. Now it’s like next level. It’s a different level of courage to have my say about what we need to do.”

She can’t say much about it, but don’t be surprised when Hickman-Winfield makes headlines for her next film.

“Y’all better be ready,” she says with a laugh. “This project I’ve been entrusted with shepherding will heal not only Minnesota, but the world—for such a time as this.”