April Robbin-Bobyn of ARB Consulting - One Size Doesn't Fit All

By Gloria Dulan-Wilson

Hello All:

Once in a while, I highlight a brother or sister who is doing something positive that we should know about.  April Robbin-Bobyn is one such person - this is a combination interview and conversation.  It turns out that we had so many things and acquaintances in common, it was almost as though we were running in concentric circles.  April is doing so many wonderful things, it would take a compendium to adequately cover the scope of her abilities - especially since she continues to grow and broaden her capacity. 

April Robbin-Bobyn, founder of ARB Consulting Group, LLC  has enjoyed over 20 years of success in the as an event planner, fund raiser, and program consultant. Takes a lot to be an entrepreneur – especially a successful one.  Most of us -  especially yours truly - needed our 9 to 5 dailies.  So April Robbin-Bobyn is to be highly commended, especially working in an highly competitive industry that is so people oriented, and subject to whims and trends. 

But she doesn't see her choice to start her own business as an either/or situation, saying, “It's interesting because it all kind of blends together.  Every project that I've done, every person that I've worked with has actually been a stepping stone; definitely a benefit,  an addition to my skill sets and my resources for today. It's been a very interesting ride. And it's afforded me to meet so many different people. And, in general, it's scary, no doubt. Gotta eat, gotta live. But it's empowering when you're working under your own steam.”

She attributes her success to her love of production. “I love the art of putting things together!” she stated, ethusiasticaly. “I was immersed in the advertising business. Started with Lockhard and Pettus. During the time I was there I started various projects and became very interested and enthused with the projects they gave me. I got all this latitude to be creative, and really started creating projects for them.  One of the more famous was KID'S WITNESS NEWS, where kids had to create news, and we showed who was going to win the contests." That was over 20 years ago when there was still Phil Donahue, Montel Williams, Sally Jesse Raphael and Joan Rivers talk shows. "KID WITNESS NEWS was so brilliant. They created children's books at the early stage, which drew me to it. I was also working with Black Expo USA, started by Jerry Roebuck and Jesse Bozeman. The whole structure of their format in business was very unique, but has served as a template for Circle of Sisters – also held at the piers – and many others." 

After several years on hiatus, Black Expo USA is actually starting up again. The first revamped exposition was recently held in Atlanta, GA.  "The Black Expo USA was definitely a jumping point and a marketing tool for so many. The year I started with them, Reggie Hudlin had just finished HOUSE PARTY. And he and his brother, Warrington (of the Hudlin Brothers Productions), bought a booth and were literally showing trailers of HOUSE PARTY. When you look at how many people utilized it, and where they are now, you look at the fact that where they started is the Black Expo. It's amazing!"
ARB Consulting Group also worked with New York State Governor David Paterson. 
“I knew David when he was a NYS State Senator. I produced his inauguration at Riverside Church when he became the Democratic leader. I miss Basil (Paterson) he was an amazing man.  I spoke to him three weeks ago. He's good, actually. He's doing some good things.”
While ARB's clientele and resources range from corporate to political,  the company has the flexibility and capacity to innovate new protocols to meet new demands.   When I asked her to tell me about some of the activities that don't appear on her brochure, she took a deep breath, and responded: "Oh my goodness!!!   Concert productions, such as the concert at Carnegie Hall with famed African artist, Youssou Ndour  (which she is producing in conjunction with concert Impressario, Sparkie Martin). My favorite was the HALO Awards, to which for the last six years I took 50 plus children (HALO = Helping And Leading Others, started in 2009, was created and chaired by Nick Cannon, where celebrities give out awards to youth who sacrificed themselves to better the lives of others). This year (2018) is the first year that we didn't have the HALO Awards.” 

April is quite disappointed  that the awards have been canceled – they have been a major inspiration – especially to African American children. After contacting Nickelodeon to find out why she had not been informed about the cancellation of the November 2018 production, they informed her: “What happened was....Until six or seven years ago, it had only been in New York. Nickelodeon also had the HALO Awards in California. Last year, because I had such a great relationships with them, they actually gave me a Coach Bus to bring the children. So, when I reached out, because I hadn't heard from them, and they told me that they weren't doing it this year, I was like, 'What?? Why?' And she said, 'I think there's a new CEO trying to make significant change, and it's not on their radar. She sent me an email saying “I hope you find another event to take the children to that will give them what the HALO Awards did.' So, in my head I'm always thinking if I don't find it, I'm going to try to think about ways of how to create it.” 

Which leads to yet another hallmark of the ARB Consulting Group, innovation. No doubt, whatever April comes up to replace the HALO Awards, she's not only up to the challenge, but it will be inspirational, educational, engaging, memorable, and fun. 

Accordingly, ARB Consulting and producer Sparkie Martin have also collaborated on a myriad of projects, and there are more yet to come:  "Well you know that Sparkie has like 100 irons in the fire; and then he'll have his own stuff burning with 100 irons in that pot too. One of the things we're working on in terms of music is expanding and making Afro beats more mainstream. Giving it a platform here. It's only a few artists who have gotten to a certain level in terms of just people knowing who they are. But the music from the Continent is beautiful and we're working on that.  I'm working with him coordinating the African artists that are with him."   She personally assisting him with the Youssou NDour  show at Carnegie Hall, which was an amazing performance. " I can't remember the last time Youssou Ndour was in New York. We're working on January, we're going to be touring Seon Kuti, Fela's son  who will be coming to Philly. We're also going to be doing an Afro-Cubana Tour with a group called the Havana Maestros. I'm the point person for that tour."

April continued, thoughtfully, “I thrive on causes. I thrive on there being a cause connected; and being able to connect the two is awesome. They say when you do what you love, you will never work a day in you life. I've had the good fortune of doing the things that I love and being able to make a living on top is the icing and cherry on the top. I didn't see a lot of people doing it that looked like me. And I had the opportunity.”

Her initiation into the realm of advertisement via Lockhart and Pettus, not only gave her the opportunity to grow and expand her skill sets, the blueprint for her own firm. “I wanted to be able to have a company not only that I could address and work with huge causes, but also smaller causes. The smaller causes - the quiet person who needed to raise money, but didn't have hundreds of thousands of dollars to underwrite it. No huge budget.” 

Her penchant for looking out for the little person, as well as those with deep pockets, has become another hallmark of her company, and makes her in high demand on all levels. “I did an event for a woman whose daughter suffered from cerebral palsy and was restricted to a wheel chair. She had found in her research that there was a facility in Austria where astronauts literally went when they came from out of space for muscle reconstruction. because being no gravity, their muscles atrophy from weightlessness. So they go to this facility in order to rehabilitate. It was opened to anyone who could afford it. But she couldn't afford it. She was trying different things to raise the money. She wanted her daughter to have it enough to better mobility – you know how some people may be quadriplegic, but they still have the ability in their hands to use a motorized wheel chair, even if it was limited. Her daughter would never be able to walk, as she was told by medical experts – but she wanted to give her a fighting chance to have some quality of life. So I did fund raisers for her.” The fundraising campaign was so successful that the Mom was able to afford the $10,000 per visit fee twice a year over the period of time, making it possible for her daughter to maneuver her own electronic wheel chair, and later, a specially equipped vehicle.

ARB Consulting has an international flair, as well, leading her to Africa, where she has connections and followings in Nigeria  and for starters, where she toured through several states. “I loved it! It was amazing – absolutely amazing, which actually fuels why I would like to utilize my company to be able to expose more of Africa to the public, and make it all inclusive, because there is a general perception – granted physically we were disconnected during the Atlantic Slave trade, but a mistruth that African Americans weren't liked by Africans. Nothing could be further from the truth. I've met Africans from all parts of the Continent – Angola, Mali, Kenya Ethiopia, Senegal, and they love us – we're like long lost cousins – Where've you been?“

She is especially proud of her affiliation with Queen Diambi Kabatusulia (Kah-bah-tu-soo-lee-ah) of the Kasai (kah-sigh) Kingdom of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “I met the Queen through a mutual friend, and she's a beautiful human being.” April explained that the Queen is really a “King” in traditional Congolese culture. “She had actually calls herself the “queen” for our westernized understanding, but technically she's a king. In the Congo, they don't recognize gender. They only recognize the position. She accepts the title of queen, because that's something that we all understand as female in that role. But in the Congo, and in Africa, she's actually a king. She's a female king. And she is championing unification. She's championing living, peace and all those things that strongly resonate with me. She's hosting a fund raiser in New Orleans that to assist orphans in the Congo. It's all about positivity, empowerment, unification. She's striving to be in your best self. It's also being yourself – especially in this day and time.” The Queen of Hearts Jubilee Gala Fundraiser is scheduled for November 10, 2018 in Baton Rouge, LA , and is sponsored by Friends of the Congo. One of the honorees is Dr. Cordell Y. Parris, a cardiologist affiliated with multiple hospitals in Baton Rouge. 

In a recent conversation with Queen Kabatsusula, they talked about the necessity for traditional African Culture and how it applied in the US.    April stated, "When you have traditions there – they call it traditions for a reason - It's a lifestyle. It's not something they're learning in school, what they've learned from home – respecting elders and, ancestral reverence for people who came before us. We actually had this conversation the last time she was here.  We were snatched from every part of Africa there was. What we get from our traditional African culture is that we were snatched, but we survived – we made it through and we did what we had to do, and surpassed in a lot of ways. People are fighting for our progress, growth, involvement, success, existence, and they are doing it in so many different ways.  We are responsible for others, not just ourselves; and we have to make sure that we keep the lights on, not just in our homes but in ourselves." 

April's vision is to “Take my company and use it as a vehicle to be a culture creator between Africans and African Americans. When I work with the school systems, I want to be an example, because I think that, more than anything else, to be an example that everybody sees, doing something positive is extremely important.  ARB Consulting Group can help bridge the gap in interaction between the two cultures.  There are certain areas you can't just go without the appropriate permits. Certain regions like Nigeria, you can't go – just like the US. There are certain governmental protocols you have to follow before you come into their countries – even if it's a passport. I just think that we don't get to see the beauty that is Africa that others do. And they see it, know it and experience it. For Blacks, if you are African American, Puerto Rican, Caribbean, South American, people of color Brazilian – Africa is our home.”
I asked her about Ghana's open door policy for African Americans, and whether that new trend had any traction, she responded, "Yes, but you still need a passport. But for Black people, generally, we don't know what we need to go – if we choose to go back.   It's not in our thought processes,  even when we talk about vacations.  When we get ready to go someplace – last thing on their mind – and passports are the one thing they don't have.   If we are to understand more of the world, we need to experience more of the world. So I think everybody should have a passport – period.  We don't need to overlook the opportunities."    ARB Consulting is always thinking way ahead of the program - there's a lot of synchronicity. It's changing, definitely, it's changing. 
When I cited a NYTimes shows article showing Ghana as the most prolific economy  of the 21st century, which meant all eyes are on Africa, while we are on the late show, she stated, "We have a tendency to overlook the opportunities, I think that we as a people need to be more globally minded. And that's with anything."
Circling back to how ARB Consulting works with people with lower budgets, I asked her how it was dealing with regular people, who have no real funds; how would she did her outreach – most people who participate in fundraisers are doing it for prestige, and publicity. Some do have a sympathetic heart but what methods did she use in  soliciting people or motivating people who lack the compassion?
She responded, "Well for one, everything always starts with what are you trying to accomplish? What's your goal? What's your end game? What is it that you want to do. And based on what that end game is, that kind of directs you into what direction you should go. If somebody wants to raise money, and it's not a lot of money, the process may be to not necessarily have an event, per se, but to have a drive. Or to have them look at what resources they may have that they may have overlooked. Because people, when they're looking at something, they'll look at the bigger picture, and that's what makes it look so impossible or difficult. Instead of when they start chipping away at it, what's possible, what can be done here – what's your goal. Now let's break this up into pieces. Those pieces then become manageable. They become more digestible, and you say, “Oh yeah, I can do that. Do you know 10 people who will be volunteers? Yeah, I know that. Those ten people that would be volunteers, can those ten people contact ten people? And what can those ten people do? Who do those ten people know? And because those are things that we don't think of, we're so entrenched in what we are trying to accomplish, sometimes t takes someone from the outside to say look at this; let's create a plan. Let's talk about when you want to do it. Let's talk about what it's going to take to get this done. Let's break this up into manageable pieces. And you start looking at discovering that you have more resources than you know. Sometimes it's not that we don't know where the resources are, sometimes we're afraid to ask. We're afraid to ask, because we don't want people to tell us no. And sometimes it's aright to get told no – it's okay! It's okay to be told no. You can't do this?? So, maybe what we initially may have wanted them to do isn't plausible for whatever reasons. But, what can you do? Because, typically, it's never – especially when you've made an ask, it's never “I can't do anything.” It's usually, I can't do that, but maybe I can do this. And you say, you know what, that's good enough. Thank you! Thank you for that, now I can build on it and go forward. So that's part of the consultation I was telling you about. And part of the approach in understanding what it is that they want to do. The when, the why and the need."  Understanding that there is more than one way to 'skin a cat' is why ARB Consulting is in high demand.

Another innovative event, THE DAY OF THE AFRICAN CHILD, that had been sponsored at the UN, was abruptly canceled, eliminating an opportunity for African and African American children to learn about and interact with each other.  ARB Consulting has sought to find innovative means of establishing similar program through their interaction with a variety of organizations.  "Those things are reflections of their sense of power, and things like that. If I see somebody who looks like me, and they're doing something like changing their community, and I say, if they can do it, I can do it too. That person is like me. So I was definitely saddened when I found out that they weren't doing it any more. So we're definitely going to think about doing that. You know, they say if isn't there, you got to make it. Necessity is the mother of invention"

Of the things of which she is most proud over her 20 plus years as an entrepreneur: "What I'm most proud of on a personal, personal note, I'm most proud of my five daughters. They are all doing well. They're smart, intelligent and compassionate women. And I'm proud that I have he great fortune and ability to be in the company of some beautiful and dynamic sisters. And that we have worked collaboratively on so many things; people in the political community and for them to look at me as a resource, I'm humbled by that. And I think that, like we were talking before, there's still more changes to come."
The other is her friendship with the legendary Goddess, Lena Horne, which she graphically recalls as if it had happened yesterday:  "I started at LaGuardia and graduated from Hunter College. My aunt tried to get me to go to Bennett College – she said that I looked like a Bennett Belle. But I decided that I would get more of what I wanted if I went to school in NYC. And I don't think I would have met the people I met – but being in New York, and I was fearless. That's how I met Lena Horne in school. We were doing a celebration of Black History Month, and at that time she was on Broadway. And friend called me to go to see the play after school. And we went, and we had exited out and we were walking past the theatre alley, when we see all these people emptying out, crowding around; and I said, what are they doing, giving out free cheese over here? So, being nosy teenagers, we go to see what all the hoopla is about. And the exit she was coming out of after the show and we were the only Black faces there. So when she came out, she gravitated to us. Oddly enough, Marie, the friend who told me to come with her and I were doing a parody of TO TELL THE TRUTH, where you pretend to be somebody, and my role was to be Lena Horne. So she said you were going to be her, so let's go see her! So when she came out, and there was this whole sea of pink, and there we were, not just chocolate faces – but young, she gravitated to us. And the security people were like “don't kiss Ms. Horne, don't hug her.” And when she came to us, she gave to us the biggest hug and kiss to us. And she spoke to us – and it turned out her hair dresser was a professor at my school. She said, “I know that you're too young to know about the movie, PINKY. She gave me his name and his number, and said, “ tell him I said I want him to give you my info. I want to stay in contact with you.” And she talked to us and talked to us and then she left. And the other people were looking at us and thinking who the hell are they. It didn't even resonate with them that she was connecting with her people. They must be somebody's kids or something that she's talking to them like that. And we stayed in contact until she died. And so many people did not know how pro-Black she was. It was the best kept secret. People had no idea how pro-Black she was, even though she wrote it in her book, but they still overlooked it."  We both reminisced over how gracious and beautiful she was well into her 90s.  Always the activist, always caring, always on the front line."

Summing up her career and  accomplishments, April stated, "I have had the good fortune of meeting all kinds of people of different places and spaces, being able to maintain relationships with them and it's been amazing!"  

If you're interested in more information about the services ARB Consulting provides, log onto her website, www.arbconsultinggroup.com 

Stay Blessed &