Bishop William J. Robinson was deeply involved in gospel music for his entire life, but no matter how loud he sang, nothing speaks louder than a street now named after him in dedication for the work he did.
On Saturday, March 26, Washington Avenue between E. Tremont Avenue and E. 176th Street also became known as “Bishop William J. Robinson Place” after Councilman Joel Rivera unveiled the new street sign.
Robinson was president of the Bronx Shepherds Restoration Corporation, which is located on the street now named after him, and aimed to assist people in finding affordable housing. Robinson, who had been in the clergy nearly all his life and also toured the world with Gospel acts, died at age 71 in 2004.He was born in New Rochelle in 1933 and was the second youngest of ten children.
“They were saying that even before he was born, it was prophesized that he was going to be a blessed one,” said his sister Ida Smith, who was the youngest sibling and the only one still living.
Robinson was licensed as a minister by the time he was 12 years old and his spiritual leanings came mainly from his mother, who Smith described as “very much a praying woman.”
Robinson began his career as a deacon in Westchester and in 1962, he started preaching in the Bronx at the Boston Road Ballroom. Later that year, he organized the Garden of Prayer Pentecostal Church, which was initially based out of a space on Third Avenue and East 171st Street.
By the mid 1960s, Robinson had his own radio prayer program on WADO and in 1970, he was awarded a Doctor of Canon Law Degree, as well as a Doctor of Divinity Degree.
In April 1976, Robinson moved his church onto the block that is now named after him. He began working out of the building on 1874 Washington Avenue, which used to be the Winter Garden of New York. The building was abandoned but Robinson began preaching in the basement with designs on renovating the entire structure.
“The whole upstairs, the main sanctuary, was in a state of disrepair,” said long-time friend Ted Jefferson, currently CEO of Bronx Shepherds Restoration Corporation. “It took a long time to renovate. It’s really a huge building, It’s still being worked on, truth be told.”
Robinson and Jefferson launched the Bronx Shepherds Restoration Corporation out of that space, as a way to rebuild the Bronx and advocate for its residents.
“He was a man of great faith,” said Robinson. “He really believed that if you had faith; the Lord would do the rest. One of his favorite expressions was ‘I have because I give, I give because I have, and therefore I’m never without.’