By Cheyenne Brown
It was a typical Tuesday afternoon as Caliya Robinson was in her Marietta home, with her family watching Love and Hip Hop Atlanta waiting for her mother to arrive.
Unable to reach her mother after several calls and texts, she decided to head off for Amateur Athletic Union basketball practice.
During the car ride, Robinson’s cousin, Tay Grant, told Robinson that her mother became ill, coughed up blood and was being rushed to the hospital. Robinson immediately wanted to go see her mother, but her coach at the time, Chris Henderson, convinced her to stay at practice.
“He told me there was nothing I could do for my mother at the time and practice would ease my mind,” Robinson said.
At practice Robinson was not herself. It was clear that her mother was weighing heavily on her heart; she was not grabbing rebounds and her jump shots were off.
Immediately after practice Robinson’s aunt took her to see her mother.
“When I walked in the room and I saw her, I just started crying and I couldn’t stop,” Robinson said. “It scared me, she looked like she was dead.”
Her mother, Chemeka Johnson, had been diagnosed with lupus. This illness came from a routine flu shot. Johnson, unable to breathe on her own, relied on the hospital machines to stay alive.
After that day, Robinson said she could not bear to go back to the hospital. She did not want to see her mother in that state. This series of in-and-out of the hospital scares lasted for years.
Regardless of her hardships, which proved to be the mantra of her life, Robinson had to keep moving forward.
Now a third-year forward for the University of Georgia’s Women’s Basketball team, Robinson is one of the top rebounders and shot blockers in the Southern Conference. She ranks fifth on the SEC’s career active blocked shots chart with 117. She also is one of four Lady Bulldogs since 2000 with at least three 20-point, 10-rebound games.
“When Caliya is challenged, I have never seen her let it get the best of her,” said Jada Lewis, a Georgia State sophomore guard and former teammate of Robinson.
In August 1997, when Robinson was four months old, her father, Ricardo Robinson, was killed by a gunshot to the neck. Robinson does not have a single memory of him. All Robinson has are the memories her family creates for her.
“She asks a lot of questions about him,” Johnson said. “Since he used to play (high school) basketball, she will ask questions like, ‘what would he do in the situation or what would he say?’”
Robinson wears the number 4 for her father; he wore number 24 in high school. She said that because her father was never able to finish what he started in basketball, that she
wants to take on his dream and be successful for him and her mother.
Robinson’s mission in life is to help her mother.
“I hate seeing her struggle. I just want to be the person to change that,” Robinson said.
Robinson began ninth grade at Kell High School, but because of grade and behavior issues she transferred to McEachern High School to finish her final two years. Robinson needed a male figure in her life, not one to fill her father’s shoes, but to assist her mother, who was unable to raise her children due to her illness. That is where Omar Cooper came in. He was Robinson’s former AAU coach, who adopted her as her legal guardian during her time at McEachern.
“She needed to come along to get the proper support and learn how to deal with adversity better,” Cooper said.
Cooper, being a positive male influence in Robinson’s life, gave her that push she needed to become successful on and off the court.
As time passed, Robinson seemed to find peace.
“With everything that she has been through, she has to know how to handle adversity well,” former high school Coach Phyllis Arthur said.
Once Robinson understood that she was unable to control the situations that occurred in her life everything began to fall into place. The energy she would use worrying about her mother she learned to use that on the court.
“Caliya is a huge asset to the team. She just has to learn how to use her experiences to help her be a leader,” former teammate Shanae Armbrister said.
Robinson has persevered through this emotionally tumultuous period. She said she knows she has to be successful in her books and on the court for her mother and her family and continue to press on.