The Tragic Truth Of Michelle Obama's Brother Craig Robinson

Michelle Obama's brother, Craig Robinson, may not be as well-known as his sister, but he is just as successful. Like Michelle, Craig is a Princeton University grad. He was a successful basketball player, which he followed with a lucrative stint as a bank investor and then a fulfilling coaching career. However, Craig has also endured quite a bit of hardship in his life. As a Black man from humble beginnings who grew up on the South Side of Chicago, Craig learned early on hard lessons about injustice and racial profiling.

From being accused of stealing his own bike to witnessing the damage caused to his community by white flight, Craig suffered the direct effects of systemic racism. Those experiences weren't limited to his childhood. Craig also believes his children were discriminated against by their school, prompting him and his wife to sue the private institution. Craig also knows a lot about grief. In May 2024, Craig and Michelle lost their mother, Marian Robinson, who famously lived in the White House during Barack Obama's presidency.

Like his sister, Craig had always been close with her. "Our mom is where it started. Thanks for the unconditional love and unwavering support," he wrote on Instagram to celebrate Mother's Day in 2019. Three decades earlier, when they were much younger and not nearly as accomplished, the siblings had already grieved their father, Fraser Robinson, who died following a long illness. Craig has undoubtedly made his parents proud, but the journey hasn't always been smooth.

The Robinsons come from humble origins

Craig Robinson and Michelle Obama's parents made a living working blue-collar jobs. Fraser Robinson III worked for the Chicago Water Department as a pump operator. Marian Robinson worked as a secretary until Craig was born and she decided to be a stay-at-home parent. Times were often tough. "We didn't have a whole lot of money when I was growing up," he wrote in a 2023 essay for Newsweek.

But Craig and Michelle were largely unaware. "Our house was always filled with love, and we ate out every now and then and went to the movies. So, I was happy; I didn't feel like I was missing anything," he wrote. The experience taught them that money was a necessity and not a goal. When Robinson gave up basketball to use his Princeton University degree in investment banking, he kept thinking back to that realization. "It was almost embarrassing for someone who grew up poor, in a one-bedroom apartment," he penned.

His parents' teachings made it easier for him to give up his lucrative career and return to basketball as a coach. He made less, but he was more fulfilled. Michelle has also expressed gratitude for her parents' sacrifice. Even though Michelle's father was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, he continued to make them his priority. "He got up, he went to work, he was never late, he never complained, and he was always, always focused on his family," she told O, The Oprah Magazine in 2007.

Police once accused Craig Robinson of stealing his own bike

When Craig Robinson was growing up, the now-defunct discount store Goldblatt ran a sale on 10-speed bikes that became all the rage in his neighborhood. His parents got him a yellow one. But his excitement was dampened by what became his first brush with racial profiling. He was riding around the South Side of Chicago when the police stopped him. "I'm raised by Fraser and Marian Robinson so a policeman says comes on over, I'm sure he wants my assistance in something," he told NPR in 2010.

Instead, he questioned Craig about where he had gotten the bike. Craig told him his parents had just bought it for him. "He said, 'You stole that bike.' And I said, 'Well, you're misunderstanding this,'" he recalled. The policeman put the bike in the car and took Craig home. For 45 minutes, Marian talked to the officer, who apologized to Craig. But he never forget that moment. "That was probably my first time understanding what profiling was," he said on "In Depth With Graham Bensinger" in 2017.

Michelle Obama has discussed Craig's experience as the rule rather than the exception. "When you leave the safety of your home and go out into the street, where being Black is a crime in and of itself, we have all had to learn how to operate outside of our homes with a level of caution and fear," she said on her podcast in 2020 (via People).

Craig Robinson's childhood was affected by white flight

When Michelle Obama and Craig Robinson reached school age, their family moved from Martin Luther King Drive to 74th Street and Euclid Avenue to access better schools. The kids loved it. They had friends of different races and backgrounds and were blissfully unaware of racial bias and discrimination. But that changed. Soon enough, their neighborhood was taken over by white flight. "As we moved in, white folks moved out because they were afraid of our families represented," Obama said at the Obama Foundation Summit in 2019.

Robinson and Obama saw the changes that came with it. Investment followed the white families, leaving the once-bustling community to fend for itself. "You could feel it in the schools," she said. "And you could feel it in the parks," Robinson added. Obama and Robinson lived across the street from Rosenblum Park, a place that was at the heart of their childhood bliss. "And, then, each year you'd find more and more bottles, more and more glass, broken," he said.

The fight against racism became a mainstay in their lives. Obama became even more vocal during Donald Trump's presidency. "I've been thinking a lot about what our kids are seeing every day in this country — the lack of empathy, the division stoked in times of crisis, the age-old and systemic racism that's been so prominent this summer," she wrote following the August 2020 shootings in Kenosha, Wisconsin. And Robinson fought a battle closer to home. 

Craig Robinson accused his sons' school of retaliating over racial bias concerns

In April 2022, Craig Robinson and his wife, Kelly, filed a lawsuit against their children's school. The Robinsons accused the University School of Milwaukee of expelling their two sons in response to the couple's criticism of some of the school's teaching practices. "The first thing we noticed was a repeated use of racial and ethnic stereotypes in actual classroom assignments," Craig told CNN. According to the Robinsons, the school refused to engage with their feedback.

Instead, they went on the offensive. "It's the way that they dealt with it and the fact that they didn't want to confront the actual issue and instead retaliated against us and our children," Kelly said. USM said it would not comment, but it nonetheless released a statement questioning the Robinsons' behavior. "We cannot and will not tolerate persistently disrespectful, bullying, or harassing behavior directed at our devoted and hardworking teachers and administrators," the school said.

In December 2022, a judge dismissed three counts in the Robinsons' lawsuit but allowed three others to move forward, Ozaukee County News Graphic reported. Both parties reacted positively to the news. "We are grateful for the court's careful consideration of the merits of our lawsuit and its recognition that we have presented viable legal claims for what USM did to our family," the Robinsons said. USM similarly viewed the judge's dismissal of half the claim positively. USM gave no reason for not allowing the boys to re-enroll.

Craig Robinson was devastated by the loss of his father

While Craig Robinson and Michelle Obama have lost both parents, the death of their father was particularly traumatic. Fraser Robinson died in March 1991 from complications of years of multiple sclerosis. Craig was 28 and Michelle 27. They still very much relied on their father's support at the time, making his death difficult to overcome. "It was so traumatic when our Dad died. This dude was the epitome of dads in our mind," Craig said at the Obama Foundation Summit.

For a long time, Craig and Michelle had a hard time concealing their pain, a pain shared by those who had known Fraser. "It was so hard that people would look at the sadness in me or my sister and their face would be sad looking at how sad we were," he said. "He had given us so much that helped us be where we were there and where we are now." When Michelle wed Barack Obama the following year, Craig walked her down the aisle, making their father's absence glaring. "It was bittersweet," she said.

Fraser's children carried on his legacy, but they were painfully aware that he didn't witness it. "There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about the lessons he taught us and how he is not here to see any of it, and so much of it is because of him," Michelle said in "REVOLT x Michelle Obama" in 2022 (via People).