Julie Robinson Honored for ‘Above and Beyond’ Work With Refugee, Immigrant Communities

The English-Speaking Union of Kansas City congratulates long-time ESU member, Julie Robinson, for her commitment and support of immigrant communities as part of her position with the Kansas City Public Library as Manager of Refugee and Immigrant Services Empowerment.

In April 2023, the Library’s Julie Robinson looked on proudly as 198 people became U.S. citizens during the latest in a series of naturalization ceremonies at the downtown Central Library. For a few moments amid a day-long celebration of World Refugee Day at the Library’s North-East Branch on June 17, the spotlight belonged to Robinson. Lauding her “ongoing commitment to serving and supporting marginalized communities including refugees, immigrants and indigenous peoples,” the local Baraza African Cultures Center accorded her its Community Service Award. 

The two events underscored Robinson’s long devotion to the city’s refugee and immigrant populations and the impact of her work as manager of the Library’s Refugee & Immigrant Services & Empowerment (RISE) outreach. 

She has served in the position for nearly nine years. 

“She goes above and beyond, and it comes not from an obligation or to seek the limelight,” says Andrea Smith, the Baraza Center’s COO and chief education officer, who presented the Community Service Award. “It’s very much wanting to do the right thing, coming from the heart. That’s part of who Julie is.” 

Robinson was gratified by the recognition. “It was World Refugee Day, and just about every agency I work with was there,” she says. “When the heads of places like JVS (the Jewish Vocational Service) and Della Lamb (Community Services) come up and say ‘you so deserve this,’ it really means a lot. 

“I couldn’t do it by myself, trust me.” 

The Kansas City Public Library became one of the first public libraries in the U.S. to devote a full-time manager to serving refugee and immigrant populations when it appointed Robinson to oversee RISE in September 2014. She was manager of the Library’s westside Irene H. Ruiz Branch before that and has spent more than 20 years overall with KCPL, dating to early 2003. 

RISE offers a range of services including English Language Learning (ELL) courses and preparation for naturalization. RISE also supports the English-Speaking Union’s English in Action program which is a one-on-one program to improve immigrants’ communication skills. With Robinson’s assistance, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri has made the Library a frequent location for naturalization ceremonies; 12 have been held at the Central Library since 2016, with the next scheduled for November 2023. 

Robinson also has spearheaded World Refugee Day activities at the North-East Branch the past three years, working with a variety of partners including the Baraza African Cultures Center. 

“When World Refugee Day kind of went through a transition in who was heading it, a lot of committee members were emailing each other and saying, ‘Hey, shouldn’t we be meeting and planning this thing?’” Smith recalls. “Julie really took the reins and said, ‘We’re doing this. We have a location at the Library. Let’s make this happen.’ Nobody asked her to do it. She saw the need, and she stepped up. 

“I don’t know where it would have been if she hadn’t done that.” 

The Baraza Center made her its first Community Service Award recipient in four years. “We really needed to recognize everything she has done and let other people see it, too,” Smith says. 

Robinson also serves as co-chair of Welcoming KC, a local government, business, and nonprofit partnership working through the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce to make the city more inclusive. It has set its sights on making Kansas City a certified welcoming city, a formal designation by the national nonprofit Welcoming America for cities and counties that have created policies and programs demonstrating a commitment to immigrant inclusion.