It’s typical to call Black children by their middle name – especially when there’s a lot of kids and their parents are from the South. Clara Robin Wilkerson (called Robin and Robbie by family and close friends) grew up in Northwest Detroit with three sisters and one brother. She was the middle child with two older siblings and two younger.
The one older sister, Linda Gale Wilkerson (called Gale), shared almost the same birthday – just one year and a day later. They grew up as “twins” because they were in the same grade. Sadly, Gale died two years ago from cancer.
Clara R. Wilkerson grew up in a close-knit, middle-class family. Her father was a hard-working baker and an Army Vet and her mother was a schoolteacher in Highland Park. As a child of the 1960s, Wilkerson saw Blacks successful in politics, entertainment, education, media and business.
“Seeing people like Mayor Coleman Young – and the entire city government as well watching Black news anchors like Beverly Payne and Doris Bisco shaped my vision and fueled my ambition in the journalism field,” said Wilkerson.
Her professional career after graduation from Wayne State University began at WDIV-TV (Channel 4) in Detroit as a production assistant. Next, she landed a job as special projects producer at WJBK-TV. There, she was mentored by iconic Detroit anchors and reporters, Sherry Margolis, Al Allen and Kay Lowry. These award-winning journalists encouraged Wilkerson to try her skills in front of the camera.
Armed with an Emmy and UPI award for her work as a producer, she decided to head to Lansing where she could fulfill her dream of becoming an anchor and political reporter. Next Wilkerson landed anchor positions in West Palm Beach, Florida for the ABC and CBS stations.
After several successful years as an anchor, she moved to Washington, DC and launched her own television production company – where she won the prestigious international America Medical Association FREDDIE film award. Documentaries she produced have aired on Discovery Channel and PBS. Excerpts from one of her programs on breast cancer aired on the Oprah Winfrey show.
“Coming from Detroit, I saw Black excellence in the media. I saw Black people running things like Verna Green at WJLB [and] Sam Logan at the Michigan Chronicle and owning things like a Don Barden at Barden Cablevision– and I believe that gave me an advantage because I truly knew anything was possible – regardless of race.”
Wilkerson has won many awards over her career and worked with major Fortune 500 clients and government agencies like the American Cancer Society, the American Medical Association, AstraZeneca, Bank of America, the CDC, Comerica Bank, the Department of Defense, Edelman PR, Kodak, the National Medical Association, the US Treasury and many more.
Wilkerson’s current frontier is dominating the digital streaming space. She said, “Ownership was always the goal. It never seemed out of reach. From seeing Black suppliers to Ford, GM and Chrysler to Black-owned car dealerships, to Motown Records, Detroit cradled me, grounded me and ignited my entrepreneurial spirit. I am blessed, grateful and proud that I grew up in Detroit. I was surrounded by real-life examples of excellence that looked like me and inspired [me] to make a difference in lives that I touch.”
Pam Perry is a freelance writer and met Clara R. Wilkerson at Cass Tech over 40 years ago and later they met up again at Wayne State and have been friends ever since.