Ed Robinson ’86
As a sophomore, I was elected president of the Bucknell Student Government, a role that placed me on the 11-person presidential search committee that brought former President Gary and Sandy Sojka to Bucknell.

Through these two foundational experiences I found my “voice” in the Bucknell community and earned the moniker “Easy Ed,” for my laid-back demeanor and a proclivity for persuasion over confrontation. These roles also served as catalysts for building my confidence and nurturing deep personal relationships across a wide spectrum of students, faculty, staff, administrators, trustees, alumni and parents. Whether the people I met during this critical juncture remained in my life for several decades or only intersected briefly, these bonds have influenced who I am and how I experience others.

One of my friends back then was Jim Replogle ’26, a widower who graduated 60 years before me. Jim was an active emeritus Bucknell trustee and a graduate brother and periodic visitor at our fraternity. He was from Pittsburgh, my hometown, and moved back to Lewisburg after his wife’s death. Despite worldview and generational differences, we were friends until his passing in 1992.
Ed Robinson '86
Photo: Bryan Edward
Ed Robinson ’86 says he has often lived in two worlds simultaneously.
Over dinner one evening my junior year, Jim reminisced about his days as a student and young professional during Prohibition. Jim talked about the obstacles to socializing openly and the ingenuity required to find discreet alternatives. He described “speakeasies” — establishments in Lewisburg and throughout the country masquerading as soda shops, businesses or social clubs, where the privileged found sanctuary to eat, drink and enjoy good music.

They were called speakeasies because guests needed to whisper or speak “easy” to gain entrance and were invited back only if deemed discreet and trustworthy. The authorities simply turned a blind eye so long as “good people” were patronizing these places and their activities did not draw undue attention.

Today I reflect on the lessons I learned from that conversation. COVID-19 and other recent societal issues have created meaningful disruptions to normal social patterns and illuminated the unequal economic effects of systemic racism in our country. Through the metaphor of the speakeasy — be discreet, don’t draw attention — I recognize how much damage can be done when people remain silent, turn a blind eye, or worse, denigrate as disruptive or unreasonable the efforts of others to protest obvious injustices.

As a Black man who is frequently mistaken for white, I have lived in two worlds, often simultaneously. I know too many people, including some longtime friends, who are hard-pressed to heed their own better angels and call out or publicly separate themselves from the ill-informed or narrow views of others. Staying in fellowship with them while maintaining my own emotional equilibrium is an exhausting exercise to balance feelings ranging from happiness to betrayal.

Another ongoing struggle is reconciling how others view me, as a consummate, nonthreatening insider who sometimes occupies the most prominent seat at the table, with my personal identity as a perpetual outsider. Sometimes, my insider status and relationships have allowed me to influence wonderful outcomes for diversity and greater understanding, but these “successes” don’t make the struggle easier.

And in spite of these rewarding moments of progress, I still wonder whether my speak “easy” nature and “white” identity have enabled too many white friends to remain complacent or even to regress in their racial awareness. Friends with the endurance to climb corporate ladders, build businesses, run marathons or skydive lack the stamina or willpower to travel a mile in someone else’s shoes and recognize that the advantages they enjoy are elusive to others.
“I want to continue to use the voice I found so many years ago at Bucknell to make a difference.”
Long-standing discriminatory obstacles still hinder too many Black Americans and other people of color from attaining the American Dream. We will remove these obstacles only when we amplify all voices and elevate our collective consciousness, when good people emerge from their physical and virtual speakeasies to participate in honest, open — and yes, awkward — conversations about race and equality. Although I have felt let down (and have let down others) too many times in the past, I want to continue to use the voice I found so many years ago at Bucknell to make a difference.

Ed Robinson ’86, a sales/business development professional, majored in English and was the first recipient of the University’s Young Alumni Award. He has been a Bucknell trustee, member of the Bucknell University Alumni Association board and the founding chairperson of the Black Alumni Association.