Remembering Jordan Robinson

Jordan+Robinson+in+his+cherished+fraternity+letters

Jordan Robinson in his cherished fraternity letters

Amine Kassaoui, Feature Editor

Pace University student Jordan Robinson died on Feb. 13, 2022, after suffering a pulmonary embolism in Elm Hall. A beloved, caring, passionate, goal-oriented, funny, charismatic human being, Jordan was by all accounts a star who shined brightly for his all-too-brief 20 years on earth.

Jordan was born on May 7, 2001, to parents George and Tashaunda, their third and youngest child. Jordan possessed a uniquely unmistakable look: he was a 300+-pound, 6’6,’’ freckle-faced, African-American, ginger.

A native of Danbury, Connecticut, family was the major bedrock of Jordan’s life. When he was a youngster, the Robinsons routinely embarked on road trips, either just the immediate family, or oftentimes with extended family members.

“Those family trips were the best. We’d spend a lot of time playing board games, having adventures, and Jordan was always the one entertaining everybody,” said his mother, Tashaunda Watson. “He made us all laugh so much. Jordan was just a happy-go-lucky kid. He enjoyed life so much and doing the things he wanted to do.”

Despite his outgoing nature amongst the ones he loved, he was initially shy outside of family settings.

“Once he got older, Jordan broke out of his shell,” said his father, George Robinson. “In 6th grade he joined an after-school program, the Pathways Academy, and began to speak bible verses. It opened him up and also helped develop him into a leader.”

The Pathways program allowed Jordan and his older brother Darius to take part in Christian-based bible verse competitions. While Darius was a bit more bashful, Jordan’s newfound confidence propelled him to stand up and recite whatever was asked of him, loudly and proudly.

For the majority of their youth, Jordan and Darius shared a bedroom.

“They were best friends,” said Watson. “As children they wouldn’t leave the house very much, they just loved playing games and being together attached at the hip. It’s been hard for Darius to cope with the loss. They went on college tours together when they got older. Of course, they played flag football as kids.”

From the age five until approximately a year before his passing, football was another bedrock in Jordan’s life. Because he was always taller and weighed more than kids his age, Jordan played two or three levels up in youth football. His father coached him, and described Jordan the player as always attentive, reliable, and supremely coachable.

To say that Jordan Robinson was a highly decorated football player would be a massive understatement. After transferring out of Danbury High School to St. Luke’s Prep, Jordan was highly recruited by schools from all three collegiate divisions. Jordan was a high school All-Conference and All-State selection, as well as the winner of the Evergreen League MVP and Lineman of the Year awards. That was just the tip of the iceberg.

“My son was the only player in the northeast chosen to play in the Blue Grey All-Americans game,” said Robinson. “It was held in the Dallas Cowboys stadium in Texas. Our family and his high school head coach, we all made the trip. It was something special to see my son accomplish such an amazing feat.”

Jordan was on the Pace football team for one full season, the COVID 2020-21 non-season, but in the summer of 2021, he decided that football was no longer what fueled his passions.

“Jordan went to Pace for the love of football,” said Robinson. “He could’ve played Division I, but he wanted to have an effect on a lesser program. He stopped because his heart was in social justice, and football in and of itself did not outgrow his passion to help others, which was a big part of his growing up.”

While Jordan succeeded to the fullest on the field, what really ignited his engine, was civic justice and social engagement. He attended St. Luke’s, a small predominantly white private high school in Connecticut. He was one of the only black students there, and as a result, Jordan became a spokesperson for the black experience.

Only a teenager, Jordan travelled across the country for speaking engagements at different high schools and universities. He led important discussions on diversity, inclusion, and social justice in states from Tennessee to Connecticut to New York.

Jordan served on several leadership committees in high school, including honor council, student diversity leadership council, and he was President of the Black Student Union for two years. Jordan was the Master of Ceremonies for the Connecticut Student Diversity Leadership Conference, which had over 600 attendees from across the state.

Jordan even created a petition and online campaign demanding that Alabama issue a formal apology to Anthony Ray Hinton, an unjustly imprisoned black man who spent 28 years on death row before being released.

Jordan took trips to Georgia and Alabama where he retraced the same steps of civil rights leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The local Connecticut channel 12 television station in Danbury even interviewed Jordan about his activism. He was still only a teenager at this point.

“He went to speak to civic and congressional leaders. He met with people involved in legislation, which isn’t easy to do, because of how important it was to him,” said Robinson.

After putting football in his rear view mirror, the Pace Athletics department took away Jordan’s athletic scholarship. His parents made it clear to him that they couldn’t afford the full bill, but Jordan was not one to let setbacks set him back.

“We were on a trip to Wildwood, riding bikes, having a blast, and Jordan started smiling big all of a sudden,” said Watson. “I said ‘Jordan, what’s going on?’. He showed me an email on his phone. He had received the full scholarship he applied for after leaving the team, only this time it was an academic scholarship. He had a gpa which earned him that. Whenever he put his mind to things, he was going for it.

“That young man from time he was born to when he passed away, created a legacy no one can take away. When God designed a redheaded, freckled, black man with a size 18 shoe, that’s a whole design. No one can fulfill those shoes but him, and he did everything he was destined to do.”

The next bedrock in Jordan’s life began in the fall of 2021, when he decided to rush the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. Not only were there no brothers on the Pace campus at the time, but Jordan would be rushing solo, in a daunting test of Jordan’s will and tenacity to achieve excellence in the face of a strenuous journey.

Although he had older family members who were Alphas, Jordan still had to have a discussion with his mother about the hill he was about to climb.

“He said, ‘Mom I think I’m going to join Greek life,’ and I was like, ‘What Jordan?!,’” said Watson. “But he moved to his own beat. I said you shouldn’t but he said, ‘Mom, I’m doing it.’”

Jordan shared Alpha literature with his mother to help calm her concerns, but coincidentally, at the same time that Jordan was rushing Alpha Phi Alpha, his mother Tashaunda was trying to become a Jennie Bryant Temple daughter. As if by fate, mother and son would be forging these pursuits separately but together.

After eight grueling weeks of not knowing if he would be accepted or not, while juggling schoolwork and his job, Jordan successfully became an Alpha.

“I’ll never forget it, he called me at four in the morning after texting a picture of a shirt with his letters on it,” said Watson. “He was crying, he said, ‘I did it mom.’ We cried together; it was very emotional.

“It was such a pleasure to see his accomplishment the night of the unveiling of his membership. The room was packed. There were a lot of tears. We went to the bank and had the papers notarized together. He worked so hard, first losing weight, but then understanding the meaning of becoming an Alpha man.”

Although Jordan passed away not long after becoming an Alpha, the imprint he left on the organization in a few short months is phenomenal.

Jordan was already working on starting up informational pamphlets to get Pace students interested in the frat and was well on his way to reinvigorating the Kappa Zeta chapter on the Pleasantville campus.

“He was incredibly close with the brothers in his fraternity as well as the Sigma Gamma Rho sorority members,” said former dormmate Miranda Bouwmans.

Jordan also held a campus job as a Student Assistant in the Office of Multicultural Affairs.

“It was a delight to work with Jordan. I remember fondly the last zoom that we were on together during lockdown. The program was about black hair in professional spaces and Jordan was in the chat networking with the panelists. He was establishing connections for his business. He embodied Pace’s motto of Opportunitas and it is a great loss to not have him leading the charge for social justice. I’m so sad to not be able to work directly with him now,” said Rachel Simon, then Interim Director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs.

Jordan and his mother Tashaunda launched a design business together making customizable T-shirts, tumblers, key chains, and Greek life paddles.

“Jordan was an achiever,” said Bouwmans. “He could juggle running a business with his mom while being a student. He was so caring to the people he loved.

“I’d like him to be remembered for his kindness. He lifted his friends up alongside him. He wanted everyone to succeed. Jordan knew how to have fun while juggling a million and one things. He loved his family and his dogs. We lived together sophomore year. I miss him walking into Anji and I’s room to chat in the morning a lot.”

Jordan’s family is currently in the midst of forming a foundation in their son’s honor, which is tentatively going to be called the JMR Foundation. The goal is for the foundation to be operational sometime in 2023, with its mission focused on continuing the legacy Jordan started.

As a child, Jordan witnessed his parents put up families in their household who were having hard times. They also adopted families at Christmas time and were involved in after-school drives.

“In our family, we help until we can’t help no more,” said Watson. “Jordan embodied that. He was babysitting other kids as a kid.”

Jordan strove to make a difference in his life. Not only was he undertaking huge social justice missions, but he also did the little things to help his friends, little things that are now huge in hindsight.

“He was a great friend, absolutely phenomenal,” said Ariana Frattaroli, one of his closest Pace friends. “He would take the time out of any day to help you if you needed him. One time I was feeling very anxious at a get together in the townhouses, and I called him. He made the trek up the hill with Anji and they walked me home. He was laughing hysterically because a skunk had chased them up the hill.

“But he had a deep passion to give back and be welcoming. He would never leave anyone of his friends behind. I had to move dorms twice and both times he raced to my room with a bin, he helped me pack and carried my big ass refrigerator. He called it Big Bertha. He always helped a person in need. I was still texting him after he passed. I just missed him so much; I didn’t want to believe it. I would call and leave him messages.”

The Jordan Robinson Award is now awarded to the student at Jordan’s high school who exemplifies and embodies his traits, especially his work in social diversity, equity, and inclusion.

“One thing that is clear to me is the fact that you don’t have to be the best at anything, but you have to be able to answer the calling when you get it,” said Robinson. “Jordan answered the call to be a difference maker. The one thing I’ve learned from my son’s life is it’s not always the quantity of your interactions and what you do and how, it’s the quality that counts. That’s the biggest lesson taken from my son.”

“Jordan was not interested in crumbs, he was going for the whole cookie,” said Watson.

Tashaunda Watson fondly recalls her last date night with her son, during an Alpha celebration.

“We loved to take trips together. We went on cruises, road trips to Florida, and attended galas. Just me and him,” Watson remembers. “But that night, we were in Danbury, and we danced the night away.”

Jordan’s gregarious nature extended itself to song, as he loved karaoke and could confidently belt out a tune. He was a big fan of 1990’s R&B, his favorite artist being Mary J. Blige, and his favorite songs This Is Me from The Greatest Showman soundtrack and Fantasia’s When I See You.

“Whenever I hear that song, I think about seeing my baby again,” said Watson, fighting back tears.

Jordan was also a big fan of Marvel movies. He and his father bonded at the cinema.

“He was my movie buddy. He knew all the backstories,” said Robinson. “So he would talk me through them, saying this is what transpired before and whatnot.

“One of my favorite memories was when I was very lucky that he let me to escort him to his first Alpha conference. I was so pleased, honored actually. It was in Springfield, Massachusetts. Seeing him in that light was awesome.”

Anji Motta, a Pace junior, met Jordan on the second day of their freshman year, in the Alumni Hall lounge, and the two would be close friends for the rest of Jordan’s life.

“He was just hilarious that day,” said Motta with a smile. “I told myself that’s going to be my friend.

“He was my bestie. We had a lot in common, the same type of humor, same type of energy. Jordan was a very joyful person who would want you to do everything that you want to do in life. He would hate it that we are all crying. He was very cheerful and always spreading good vibes. He would light up the room,” said Motta, before laughingly adding, “And he wore his crocs everywhere, even on the most serious occasions.”

Evan Dutzer was Jordan’s suitemate at the time of his passing.

“We were like Frik and Frak,” said Dutzer. “Wherever he went I went, wherever I went he went. We made countless late night Kessel runs. Watched movies together. Music hangouts with everyone doing their work in the same room. When he had his car up here, we would go on late night drives to nowhere in particular, just shooting the shit. I miss that. It was bonding time, but we didn’t know it.

“He loved taking care of everyone. If it was a simple act like holding the door for somebody, he would hold the door for them. If somebody needed help lifting or moving something into another room, he would volunteer. Taking care of the wellbeing of others was one of his top priorities.”

One recurring theme that every single person interviewed brought up was Jordan’s amazing laugh and smile.

“He had a belly laugh, from deep down, and it was just so infectious,” said Watson. “When he laughed, you laughed.”

“My favorite laugh in life is Jordan’s,” said Pace student Genesis Abreu. “It’s a laugh you can feel in your bones.

“He was a ray of sunshine in everyone’s life. We all looked up to him. At such a young age he had such a great head on his shoulders. He knew what he wanted to do, and that’s what makes it really sad because we all knew the potential Jordan had. Still though, what he did already was so much, but so young he was just stopped. It was heartbreaking. He was an angel on earth. A friendly giant.”

“You will never hear a laugh the same as his from anyone ever,” said Frattaroli. “His laugh was so contagious. It made me whip my head around the first time I met him or heard him I should say. It gave me butterflies in my ear. I was like I’ve got to hear that laugh every day.”

“The first thing I noticed about him was his laugh,” chuckled Dutzer. “He had the biggest laugh, it was pretty loud and very hard to miss.”

Dutzer was with Jordan in their suite in the latter’s harrowing final moments.

“I can take you through it second by second. It was traumatizing. Still is to this day. I was furious, the ambulance took forever to arrive, I want to say over 30 minutes because Pace sucks at medical response times. Security wasn’t there. The RA wasn’t there. The RD wasn’t there. Nobody was there.”

“The loss of Jordan Robinson was a devastating tragedy for the entire Pace community, including the various members of our Residential Life staff who responded to the call and worked to support Jordan’s family and friends in the difficult aftermath of his loss,” said Vincent Birkenmeyer, Director of the Office of Residential Life. “The Residential Life team responded to the scene immediately when we were notified which included multiple levels of our on-call staff who then notified the appropriate emergency response personnel.”

“Upon further review, in evaluating the events of that evening, a cell phone called 9-1-1,” said Vincent Beatty, Director of Safety and Security at Pace University. “We need to make sure that all students are aware to call security first or if they do call 9-1-1, since we can’t stop them from doing that, they need to make a secondary call to security so we know police, EMS, or the fire department are responding.

“Because security wasn’t notified, we didn’t know anyone was coming until they showed up at Entrance 3, and a supervisor had to come down from another part of campus to allow them in which resulted in the delay.”

As a result of that night’s events, all Mount Pleasant Police patrol vehicles now have key fobs in them that allow access to all the Pace residence halls in Pleasantville, per Beatty.

After EMTs finally showed up and were let through the Pace campus security gates, they had to break a glass wall in Elm Hall to get to Jordan. Once there, they began attending to Jordan with CPR, and a defibrillator, according to Dutzer.

At this point, Evan called Watson to let her know her son was in danger.

“I was crushed explaining to her what was happening,” said Dutzer. “No mother wants to hear their child’s friend calling to say that their child is not okay. And because they had such a close relationship, this was her world, her baby. She asked me to facetime her while he was receiving CPR on our floor. She said, ‘Evan, let me see my baby right now!’ and I couldn’t be the one to stop a mother from seeing her son. No matter what condition.

“There is no event in my life like that night. I lost my best friend right in front of me.”

Dutzer is irate that Pace has not done more to honor the life of Jordan Robinson.

“Look at how they keep DJ Henry’s name alive. All they did for Jordan was to plant a tree, but the school refused to even give him a plaque with his name on it,” said Dutzer. “No one would know that tree is for him if they just walked by it. Pace want to slide his memory under the rug, they don’t want anyone to know a student died after an emergency on their campus. If anyone deserves to have their memory kept alive it’s that man.”

Jordan Robinson’s life may have been cut short, but his legacy supersedes his tragic early passing. In 20 years he accomplished more than many dream of. His family, friends, fraternity brothers, and all those who Jordan touched and inspired have undertaken to keep his memory going.

“The parents are supposed to pass the baton to their children, and say go forth,” said George Robinson. “But in our case our son has passed the baton on to us, and it’s our responsibility to keep his legacy alive. Forever.”