Twenty-one years into the 21st century, Valencia D. Robinson’s book The Sheroes Who Look Like Us: Black, Brown, and Variations Thereof is a notable contribution to efforts to archive voices of Black women martial artists. This compilation of essays, reflections and narratives is believed to be the first book of its kind.
Robinson is the founder and lead consultant of her own personal-protection company Safety Experts Group. She’s also the co-founder and executive officer of Mu Alpha Sigma, a nonprofit female martial arts sorority. A student of self-defense since 1998, she holds a fifth-degree black belt in combat kuntao and has certifications in Filipino boxing and Chinese chin-na. Robinson is also certified in law-enforcement training, firearms and compliance-and-control tactics. She said she felt compelled to write a book about Black women who serve their communities using the martial arts. Sheroes, her 16th book, was released in September 2021.
What kind of feedback have you received since the book was published?
The main thing I’ve noticed is there are a lot of people who are not martial artists who are amazed at the longevity and backgrounds of the women in the book and how long we’ve been engaged in the martial arts. The feedback I am getting is that it has opened their eyes to the significance of women in the martial arts, introducing other women to the martial arts, and that this book should have been written a long time ago — or they thank me for taking the lead.
I’m feeling the excitement on social media. People have been very supportive — and not just people of color. What sticks out in your mind?
Well, there is support for the book beyond the obvious audience of people of color. I’m surprised and grateful because when I read some of the comments, it has been an eye-opener not only for the women but surprisingly for men and people from all walks of life.
This project appears to have been a large undertaking. Were there any aspects of your martial arts training that you relied on to complete it?
Just stepping out with the confidence to navigate and not allow anything to be an excuse because like anything, when I get frustrated, you know, I could’ve just walked away. I kept saying to myself, “Just keep pushing, persevere, get it done, stay focused.” It’s not only about the physical skills that I’ve gotten out of training but the mental skills, as well.
Photos Courtesy of Valencia D. Robinson
How easy or difficult was it using social media to research this project?
I took to every platform that I could think of, [including] search engines and speaking to people. It was very difficult to find these women. Social media was critical because it gave me access to some of those names that led me to a lot of those names — somebody who knew somebody, who mentioned someone who started to connect the dots. I initially thought it was going to be an easy project. I had a lot of information, figuring out who was who. We’re out there, but getting to us via any type of media wasn’t easy.
Who are some of the jewels you discovered in your research?
In terms of significance in the martial arts and what they’ve done, [there was] Lynnette Love, a two-time taekwondo Olympian — I had never heard of her — and Fredia Gibbs, the first Black kickboxing champion. I had just seen her on YouTube. [And there was] kyoshi Gloria DuBissette of DC Gentle East, professor Veronica Walker and hanshi Elba “Cookie” Melendez. I wanted to recognize those who have paved the way. When I saw Chris Bournea’s Lady Wrestler about Black women wrestlers, it just kind of hit me — these sisters really stood out from that era and brought it forward. They were the ones who stuck out the most. I wanted to give light to anyone who was out there and didn’t get recognition.
What are some of the take-aways that you hope people get from your book?
Oh, my gracious, that as women of color, there is nothing in history that we have not done and that we cannot do today. That there is nothing that a woman, just like a man, puts her mind to that she can’t do to elevate their value, to stop accepting what other people say and to raise the bar like they’ve never raised it before. I want our stories to inspire women and girls [regarding] the benefits of at least engaging in a martial art and giving back. I want someone to look at us and say, “Wow, she looks like me!” and believe that they can do it, too.
The author wishes to thank Valencia D. Robinson for the time she spent on her labor of love and for unearthing, collecting and publishing the stories of Black women in the martial arts. “She blazed a trail that not only will inspire more women to consider the benefits of martial arts training but also will encourage others to archive and preserve their ‘herstory,’” Gerry Chisolm said.
To follow Valencia D. Robinson on Facebook, search for Robinson Valencia. On Instagram, she can be found at GuroVee. For more information or to order her book, visit safetyexpertsgroup.com.