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A key part of life

A piano would get an 11-year-old closer to her dreams of stardom.

By ALEXANDRA ZAYAS, Times Staff Writer
Published December 7, 2007

Gayle Robinson helps her granddaughter, Shakale Jackson, 11, open a bottle of soda before dinner. Shakale, who lives with her grandparents, hopes to get a piano.
[Chris Zuppa | Times]
Gayle Robinson remembers when she found her 3-year-old granddaughter Shakale Jackson toddling up the street of her apartment complex on a chilly day - nose running, half-dressed, barefoot.

"What'd you eat today?" the grandmother asked.

"Potato chips and bread," the toddler answered.

For Robinson, only one question could follow: "Do you want to go to grandma's house?"

The situation was too complicated for such a simple solution. Shakale's mother was young and overwhelmed with other children. Her father was in and out of jail. The baby born with a bad heart was stuck in a back-and-forth between the two.

Grandparents Gayle and Avery Robinson provided early stability. Eventually - after doctors called her grandparents saying Shakale had missed her heart checkups, after she had to repeat the first grade because she missed so much class, after her dad left for Atlanta to further his career as a rapper - the grandparents gained custody.

These days, they can afford the basics, but getting by is a struggle. At 56, Avery Robinson jokes that he'll be working as a miller at the ConAgra Foods factory downtown years from now in a wheelchair.

The Robinsons want to give Shakale the things she dreams about as an 11-year-old kid, but at least one wish, to keep playing the piano, they can't afford.

- - -

Gayle Robinson is a former nurse for the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office on disability after a 1989 neck injury. She works less than 15 hours a week for the Kinship Care program, organizing events for grandparents who adopted their grandchildren.

Avery Robinson has worked as a miller for more than three decades, but he isn't as fit for 60 to 70 weekly hours of physical labor as he used to be.

Three years ago, an abscess on his liver put him out of work for three months.

That year, he got a phone call from Miami: his 81-year-old mother had fallen and hit her head. Upon arrival, they learned Avery's 84-year-old father had tumors and Alzheimer's disease.

The Robinsons would have to move everyone to Tampa, plus Avery's severely mentally challenged brother who lived with his parents.

Avery sold his company stock to place his brother and mother in separate nursing homes. The following year, Avery's knee gave out and he had to miss more work. Money was dwindling.

Avery's father died in 2006. His mother died in 2007. State funding came through for the brother's care. But the Robinsons still face a financial hangover.

Shakale's school grades dropped during the rough financial period, but she is in tutoring to bring them back up.

"Meanwhile," her grandmother said, "we're trying to keep Shakale busy."

- - -

Try to keep up as Shakale shows you around her room at the Robinsons', splashed with the 11-year-old's favorite color. "Pink," she says. "Not necessarily pink - it's specific. Hot pink."

See her picture frames? "That's my hall of fame," she says. "Me, me, me, me, my mom, my dad, my grandma." A poster of her father, Joplin Jackson, hangs above her bed.

Jackson admits he was too immature to handle being a father when she was born, but says he has straightened out his life in Atlanta. Shakale's grandmother wants to adopt her, but Jackson doesn't want to terminate his parental rights. He would like to take care of Shakale one day, he said. Her mother did not return a message left by the Times.

Admire Shakale's trophies, for cheerleading, bench pressing and running with the Boys & Girls Clubs. And for coming in fifth place in her council for selling the most Girl Scout cookies this year.

Now, check out the old Casio keyboard, decorated with years worth of stickers, with hearts on all the keys. On it, she practiced the song she played at a piano competition this year that won her the "Superior" title.

Her grandmother is proud of the way she raised Shakale. The girl says "please" and "thank you." She has lots of shoes, warm clothes, medical care. And she has goals - big ones.

"I want to be Alicia Keys," she says. You know, the piano-playing R&B singer, songwriter, record producer and actress who won nine Grammy Awards.

First, she'll need a piano; the Robinsons have had one on layaway for two years. And she needs a teacher since hers moved away last month, and all the others are charging more than the Robinsons can afford.

But a girl can dream.

She clicks on MTV, and Alicia Keys plays No One on her piano. Shakale bops her head to the beat as her idol croons.

Through the days and nights, I don't worry 'cause everything's gonna be all right.


Her wish

Shakale Jackson says, "I want to be Alicia Keys," and she's got skills to back that up, but her grandparents can't afford to continue her piano lessons. They've also had a Clavinova piano on layaway for two years. Until then, Shakale practices on her old Casio keyboard, with hearts on the keys.

To give: Contact Jennie Pearson Yingling at the Boys & Girls Club, 404-4796.

About Holiday Hopes

Holiday Hopes is a series profiling people in need and their wishes this holiday season. City Times will update readers if and when wishes are granted. To read other Holiday Hopes stories go to


[Last modified December 7, 2007, 07:16:17]

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