Despite reports of snow, WomenSource drew its largest crowd to date at Thursday’s Brown Bag luncheon featuring Atlanta hostage hero Ashley Smith Robinson.
More than 200 people came to hear how Robinson, who now lives in Gainesville, turned a traumatic event into positive change.
Robinson was thrust into the public eye in 2005, when she was held hostage in her home by Brian Nichols after he killed four people in a Fulton County courthouse.
But Robinson feels it was the choices she made in her life that led her to that point.
When she started high school, Robinson was a focused student and athlete whose ultimate goal was to get a college scholarship to play basketball.
She fell in with a bad crowd and, by her senior year, was using drugs and alcohol and skipped school often.
“My life slowly began to go downhill,” Robinson said.
Robinson’s family disapproved of her choices and kicked her out of the house. She became pregnant and moved in with her boyfriend, who was later stabbed to death. With her life in shambles, her drug addiction worsened.
She started using methamphetamine and gave custody of her daughter to her aunt.
“My answer, until 2005, with guilt and shame and fear was drugs,” Robinson said. “There was still a tiny little piece of me that was saying it won’t always be like this.”
She tried going to rehab, moving and going back to school but still couldn’t kick her drug habit.
“I had a little tiny bit of faith left,” Robinson said. “I visited my aunt’s church (in Augusta), and I picked up a book called ‘The Purpose Driven Life.’”
She had no idea then the book could save her life.
After moving to Atlanta, Robinson spent the evening unpacking her boxes. It was the day Nichols had gone on his deadly shooting spree and was still on the loose.
She left her apartment late that night after she finished unpacking her boxes to buy cigarettes. When she returned from the convenience store, Nichols was waiting with a gun in front of her apartment.
“He tied me up and began to talk to me,” Robinson said. “I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that God was there with me.”
Scared for her life and upset by the poor choices she had made, she pleaded with Nichols to let her go, if only for her daughter’s sake.
Nichols asked Robinson to use meth with him, but she refused.
“It was a clarifying moment for me,” Robinson said, recalling how she felt knowing at the time that she could die at any minute.
“I’m not going to be a drug addict for the next 30 minutes.”
Instead, she read Nichols passages from “The Purpose Driven Life” and talked to him about how his life could be better, too, if he turned himself in.
“He realized he may have a chance, too,” Robinson said. “My life has been completely changed since then.”
In the years that followed that fateful night, Robinson has stuck to her word.
She has stopped using drugs completely, gotten married and regained custody of her daughter. She has shared her story in a best-selling book and has become active at Blackshear Place Baptist Church.
“My answer was God. He gets all the credit for changing my life,” Robinson said.
WomenSource chairwoman Elisabeth Baldwin said Robinson’s inspirational story was a perfect way to start out a new year.
“It’s a very positive message that everybody can take away,” Baldwin said. “We certainly want to highlight special women in our area.”
WomenSource is a nonprofit founded in 2008 as a resource for women in the community. Its main programming effort has been the monthly Brown Bag Lunch Series, which feature speakers on relevant topics such as raising children and legal issues facing women.