Love Through Generations of Mothers and Children


By Priscilla Robinson Ndiaye


From left to right: Sherrie Williams (Shirley’s baby daughter), Bessie Robinson Sherard (Shirley’s 90-year-old-mother) holding Jameryah Collins (Shatika’s daugther), Shirley Robinson Austin (standing), and Shatika Williams (Sherrie’s daughter).

From left to right: Sherrie Williams (Shirley’s baby daughter), Bessie Robinson Sherard (Shirley’s 90-year-old-mother) holding Jameryah Collins (Shatika’s daugther), Shirley Robinson Austin (standing), and Shatika Williams (Sherrie’s daughter).

The people who have inspired me most are Harriet Tubman, who freed those in bondage; Maya Angelou who overcame life’s adversity through movement; my grandmother Bessie Mae Robinson; my parents Shirley Robinson and father, James “Fix-It-Man” Finley; and my sons. All are very special to me and have encouraged me greatly and have been the wind beneath my wings in loving, forgiving, and helping others. That is our purpose in life and the path that I choose to take. My grandmother, Bessie Mae Robinson, I address as “momma.” I was raised in the home with my grandparents, four aunts, and my mother, and adapted to what I heard around me daily. Momma is the root of my being and instilled in me some very heart-to-heart and good old-fashioned teachings—ones that have aided me in being the woman I am today. Momma fed all who came to her in hunger and she provided warmth for those whom were cold. The house was always full with neighborhood children.


My birth mother, Bessie’s daughter, Shirley Robinson Austin, is a walking miracle with a big heart. She is my greatest inspiration and I strive to be half the woman she is. A mother at the early age of 14 years old, she has always provided the best for her children and grandchildren. I recall my mother always with a job until her surgery. While cleaning hotels rooms, she would sometimes take me to work with her.


In her late 20’s, Shirley had an aneurysm and required emergency brain surgery. Given only a 10% chance of living—and told she would never walk or talk again—she proved the doctors wrong. Shirley did learn to walk and talk all over again. As the oldest child, I recall having to attend rehabilitation appointments with her so that I could provide therapy at home. It was a long, rocky road, but Shirley was strong-willed and didn’t give up or in. Determined to drive again, she frantically searched for her car keys, which I had hidden in the kitchen cabinet. After standing in the chair to look in the top cabinets, she fell. My first reaction was to help her up. However, not to enable her … and a little of “now you see what happens when you do that,” I didn’t come to her aide. Well, she showed me. Shirley got up from the floor. The only thing I could do was to give her the car keys. What a soldier!


Shirley went on to raise her children, grandchildren, and now is helping to raise great-grandchildren. If you happen to be anywhere nearby, you are likely to hear many address her as “Grandma Shirley” even when all are not her grandchildren. She and her husband, John Henry, adopted and raised two young boys. They didn’t stop there. They also became therapeutic foster parents and took in other youth. Shirley is forever taking in people with no place to stay. She also feeds the hungry. Officially retired, she works from sunup and past the midnight hour. She is the local community taxi—making sure those in need are able to get to school or work, pay their bills, get to doctor appointments, and purchase groceries. Shirley probably replaces brakes and tires annually as much as she travels the streets of Asheville. She is no stranger at local fast food shops—and you just may find her sitting at one or other of them drinking her senior citizen cup of coffee after dropping off someone in need at their destination.


Family-oriented, annual family functions are held at her home, but open to all. Shirley, the oldest daughter of Mrs. Bessie Mae Robinson, takes great care of her mother and is there whenever her siblings need her. My birth mother is my hero and all that I am I owe to her. The driving force behind me is her love, her teachings, her strictness—it’s all the wind beneath my wings. I thank God for Momma and Shirley. If I had it to do all over again, I would not change a thing. Happy Mother’s Day Momma and Shirley!



A believer that God is always in control, Priscilla Robinson Ndiaye is a wife, mother of two adult sons and grandmother of nine, two of whom she and her husband are raising. She is a native of Asheville, NC, has lived in Hawaii, California, Washington State, and traveled to Senegal, West Africa.


Priscilla is a Federal government employee for over 20 years. She is a 2010 Certified Facilitator for Real Colors with a mission to help others to discover their personal strengths. 2009 graduate of Montreat College with a Master of Science in Management and Leadership. She is also a 1999 graduate of Shaw University with a Bachelor in Business Administration/Management and a 1983 graduate of Blanton Business College with an Associate Degree in Accounting. Priscilla has been involved with Specialized Training of Military Parents (STOMP), served as a Military Family Support Group Leader and Federal Women’s Program Manager, Union Steward, and is a trained Parent-to-Parent Facilitator.


Active in her Asheville community, she serves as the Chair of Southside Community Advisory Board and is Project Manager for a National Big Data Project, which focuses on preserving the African-American history in Asheville. A heart for parents and children, she has also served as a Licensed Therapeutic Foster Parent and previous North Carolina Guardian ad Litem, where she was voted sleuth of the year. In 1998, she was nominated for the Excellence in Public Service Award through the Greater Asheville Public Service Awards Program. Priscilla previously established a parent support group, Parents of Wounded Encouraged Risers (POWER) and co-facilitated the Back to Basics Parent Support Group. Priscilla is also the published author of A Mother’s Cry-He’s Still My Child.

Sandi Tomlin-Sutker
Written by Sandi Tomlin-Sutker