By Diondai Brown-Whitfield

Over the weekend, residents in Austin welcomed back our hometown hero, Robert Townsend. Townsend left Chicago to pursue his career. Yet, he never forgot about his family, friends and the Austin community. He had taken the time, once again, to assist Chicagoland communities. This was one of the most, all inclusive, thought provoking, mentoring initiatives that I’ve ever experienced.

Townsend is known as an award winning actor, hollywood producer, screenwriter, filmmaker, philanthropist and a multi talented pioneer in the entertainment industry.

Adele Givens once said, “In 1987, Robert Townsend came back to the community to give back […] I’m really feeling gratitude to you, Robert!” He had helped her and many other entertainers over the years. And even though Townsend returned many times before, this time was really special. In light of all of the violence, in our home town he decided to return on a mission. He decided to give back by taking a stand against violence.

This included working with everyone.

He partnered with the Westside NAACP under the direction of his friend, Karl Brinson, to raise money for scholarships, youth programming and summer jobs. He also returned to guide the talent of local Chicagoans to network and develop their own skills.

The “Robert Townsend’s Man Up Mentorship Initiative” was a great success. He hosted community discussions, which gave the invited guests the opportunity to have a voice. The interactive sessions involved the Juvenile Detention Center and Cook County jail inmates. He held an interactive workshop at Columbia College on what’s really needed to break into the film industry. Artists who attended the workshop were able to network, ask questions and perform their monologues. Everyone was given the opportunity at some point to be heard.

Townsend made it clear, though, that he did not come back to be taken advantage of.

“As actors, you’ve got to be in your body.” He said.

As he prepared the actors for their scenes, he calmly settled the audience down, with these words, “Here we go, settle, settle, action”. He paused at times to give them tips on how to improve upon their skills. He asked all of us to network with one another to assist with various projects. Mr. Richard Gallion agreed to allow us to attend the rehearsals as he prepared for his next play. Townsend also said,” What good is a diamond that nobody else can see?”

He also gave us more suggestions.

“Acting is an illusion…It’s all about breathing!”

The final event was held at Whitney Young High School. It included a full reception,Janeicia Williams and Paige Evans delivered the spoken word performances, comedian Mr. Cody Wilkins entertained the audience with laughter,and Marzette Griffin performed a musical salute toTownsend. The event continued with a special Five Heartbeats musical tribute, toTownsend by Kim Stratton & Terrance Chatman. The evening concluded with a special tribute by Karl Brinson and a humble thanks from Townsend.

We were honored to be in attendance with a true, local hero and legend. He has given our youth, adults and the incarcerated a voice. Townsend continues to be a philanthropist from Austin. He is humble, honorable and a great person. Hollywood hasn’t changed his reasons for giving back.