Ken Robinson grew up on Chicago’s West Side. He was educated in public schools and attended Loop Junior College. As a general agent/broker for Columbian Life Insurance Company, Robinson has a office in the Austin community, located at 5963 W. Madison.

AWN: How did you get started in the insurance business?

Robinson: I started in the 1980s with Supreme Life Insurance Co. The home office was located at 35th & King Drive. It was owned at that time by John H. Johnson [Johnson Publishing Co.]. Prior to him selling it to United Insurance Co., I went with Commonwealth Life Accident Insurance Company, which is now Monumental Life. I was regional manager at large with them, which simply means I was able to travel around the country managing districts, troubleshooting, so to speak, turning businesses around. I went on the road with Monumental Life for 13 years. I’ve lived in 12 different states over that period of time. In 2001, my wife and I returned to Chicago from Cleveland, Ohio. We had been in Cleveland one year, prior to that we were in Baltimore, Md., prior to that Miami, then Cincinnati and so on.

When we returned to Chicago, I decided to get out of the insurance business, and we opened a Dollar Store. Being in the insurance business and having the kind of freedom and independence that I’ve enjoyed all my life in the sales industry, it was kind of catastrophic being left in one spot. Although I enjoyed ownership of the store, I didn’t really relish what I felt was the loss of my freedom.

It was located on 5th Avenue in Maywood. It was called D&K Dollar Store. In 2004 we closed the store, and I came back into the insurance business, and I’ve been independent since that time. I decided to open a business on the West Side because I feel the services I provide could benefit those in need. When I say that, I’m just not speaking of selling policies that would simply be used for final expenses. I’m speaking of selling policies that would empower people to provide the necessary funds for an adequate education for their children; policies that would provide paid homes in case of loss to the primary bread-winner for the balance of the family, be it the mother, father or children; policies that would empower people in the community to retain ownership and dignity when there is a loss, as opposed to giving final expenses to funeral directors. I have no problem with funeral directors being wealthy, but when that wealth comes from the resources of the survivors, that becomes problematic. It has been that way for years in our community. Our people need to understand that there is more after death. We need to become more aware that we can provide for our loved ones. One of the worst things I hear people saying is, “Let them scuffle like I scuffled.” We don’t look at leaving a legacy. We look at leaving debt-that is a sad commentary. All the debt that we’ve accumulated on behalf of those we love while we’re here, let’s learn to liquidate that debt and love them as we loved them when we were here.

AWN: So part of your insurance business is not so much about after death, but how to live a financially productive life while here on earth?

Robinson: Exactly, and passing that on. One of the misperceptions about life insurance is in our minds we look at it as death insurance. Life insurance is for the living. It provides provisions for those who survives us.

Education is an essential part of us realizing that we can do better. We are empowered to do better, but we don’t take that power. One of the things I’m trying to do is to visit organizations, churches-where groups gather-so that I can do presentations. Not sales presentations but economic presentations to the community, the education we sorely lack in terms of economic empowerment and looking at us as a people who can [be empowered] is very rewarding. I’m looking at a people who can reach beyond the here and now.

Robinson is among several Austin community members profiled in the 2007 Austin Community Guide. The guide publishes next Thursday, Feb. 15.