By Cheryl Robinson
For many celebrities, fame is more than being on the big screen or performing on a stage or scoring a game-winning goal. It’s about using their likeness to bring awareness to different social justice topics or rare medical conditions or assisting underserved communities. From NBA champion LeBron James to best-selling author J.K. Rowling, celebrities have donated time, money and resources to charitable causes. Candid reported in 2019 that giving by foundations increased 2.5%, to an estimated $75 billion. For the past two years, foundations have represented 17% of total giving.
Holly Robinson Peete, actress and philanthropist, uses her platform to bring awareness and resources to the autism community and helps the community find jobs and leadership positions.
Robinson Peete and the HollyRod Foundation have partnered with Delivering Jobs, a campaign creating pathways to one million employment and leadership opportunities for people with autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and other intellectual and developmental differences by 2025. It’s building a foundation of sustainability for inclusive workplaces through consumer awareness and community activation, skills development and job preparedness, and workforce commitment and readiness. The Campaign’s founding partners consists of Autism Speaks, Best Buddies and Special Olympics, in partnership with the Entertainment Industry Foundation (EIF).
“My son has a job with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the World Series Champions,” Robinson Peete explains. “We are so blessed to be able to have this job. It has given this boy purpose and a paycheck and self-worth and friends. He never had friends growing up and now he has a whole family. That’s all you want for your kid with autism; you want them to feel included and be able to self-advocate. This program [Delivering Jobs] is so exciting to be able to talk to and advocate to organizations and big corporations to try to encourage them to hire these young people. The unemployment rate hovers around 9% in this community. This is where our main focus is right now. And we have something called R.J.’s Place where we’re training some of these young people for the jobs so that they’ll be ready when they get their meaningful employment opportunity.”
Robinson Peete’s acting career blossomed at the age of six. She landed a role in Sesame Street’s first episode alongside her father, Matt Robinson, who played the original Gordon. She then cast for 21 Jump Street.
“I just graduated from college,” she reminisces. “I was broke looking for a job. I remember going out for this job opposite of two other girls, who I just thought were so much prettier and more talented and had bigger resumes than me. I remember driving my Honda with no brakes to the audition…I ended up getting that part. It was the best feeling. It was such an eye-opening, game-changing moment.”
Landing the role on 21 Jump Street made her a staple actress within the industry, booking television roles, including Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper and Mike & Molly. She learned from an early age the importance of developing and fostering relationships. She credits that as part of her success for her longevity in the industry for over 40 years.
“Treat people nicely,” she shares. “Let them have a great memory of you…The secret to longevity and ability to continue to work over the age of 50 as a black actress is a big deal. I don’t take it for granted. I’m still constantly collecting data and information from people. I’ve learned to listen as I’ve gotten older. All those are things that continue to make people want to be around you and work with you.”
In 2015, she became a part of the Hallmark Channel family. This month she played the lead actress in the Channel’s The Christmas Doctor. In addition to starring in the movie, she also executive produced the production. “When you’re an actress, and you’re just not showing up and saying your lines, and you really have an investment in the movie, it makes you that much more invested and connected to it,” Robinson Peete explains about producing the show. Her upcoming Hallmark movie scheduled to run early next month, Christmas in Evergreen: The bells are ringing, is the fourth installment of the Channel’s series Christmas in Evergreen.
In 1997, Robinson Peete, along with her husband, Rodney Peete, former NFL player, started the HollyRod Foundation. Initially, the Foundation was inspired by Robinson Peete’s father, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. After it was confirmed that their son was autistic, the HollyRod Foundation expanded their efforts to assist the autism community.
As Robinson Peete and the HollyRod Foundation continue to champion those who cannot advocate for themselves, she shares how corporations can support the community:
- Donate to charities and foundations that are supporting programs like the Delivering Jobs Campaign. There are programs that provide training and resources to help individuals of the community find a role that best suits their abilities.
- Set a quota to hire. Making a conscious effort to recognize and then hire from the community is a major milestone.
- Don’t think of a hire from the community as a charity case. In some instances, these workers will turn out to be your best employees.
“In my 20s,” Robinson Peete concludes, “I cared about every single thing anybody said. I had to address every issue. Now that I’m in my 50s, I am able to let stuff slide…No one is going to agree with everything you do. The thicker you can get that skin early on, the more quality of life you’ll be able to develop.”