Passionate advocate for justice dies at 68


Growing up during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, Robyn Buseman was deeply affected by the assassinations of public figures such as Robert Kennedy, Malcolm X and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., as well as the death of prison rights activist George Jackson while Buseman was a student at the University of California at Berkeley. 

As a result, the former Chestnut Hill College adjunct professor of criminal justice, who died Dec. 29 of metastatic urothelial cancer at the age of 68, devoted the rest of her life to teaching and to “restorative justice.” She was diagnosed with the disease last spring.

Jane Golden, founder and executive director of Mural Arts Philadelphia, where Robyn managed the restorative justice program from 2005 until her retirement in 2018, told the Local last week, “In essence, Robyn did the work of many people and did it with grace, passion, dedication and tenacity. Rarely in my many years of doing this work have I met and worked with anyone quite like Robyn … I remember thinking how lucky we were to work with someone who did their work with such integrity.

Golden described Robyn as a quintessential multi-tasker. “She was a great cook, a master gardener, a photographer, a great partner to Mark Kreider, a wonderful mom to Janine and Anna, and a dedicated grandmother,” Golden continued. “Everything she did, she did with love and integrity. Robyn leaves huge shoes, but her legacy lives on in her family, in the many beautiful and inspiring murals she managed in the city and in the lives of the many constituents she touched. I feel very lucky to have known her.”

For those not familiar with the term, restorative justice seeks to examine the harmful impact of a crime and then determines what can be done to repair that harm while holding the person who caused it accountable for his or her actions. Rather than just focusing on the punishment meted out, restorative justice measures results by how successfully the harm is repaired.

Robyn began working in the restorative justice field when she was a criminology student in California, where she helped reform sentencing laws. She continued working for reform in the early 1990s while employed at a juvenile probation office in Chester County and helped to change the law to include restorative justice work. After that, Robyn directed a residential program at St. Gabriel’s Hall near Norristown for male juveniles that incorporated mural painting through a collaboration with Mural Arts Philadelphia. This led to her joining Mural Arts in 2005, where she accomplished wonders with their Restorative Justice Program.

“We have to change public opinion,” Robyn would say. “Many people believe that those who commit crimes shouldn’t have opportunities like this.”

Robyn established a partnership with local jails and a detention center to provide art programming for inmates and a guild program that mentors and educates people coming out of prison through employment services and re-integration into the community. Robyn managed a staff, including teaching artists, who coordinated the guild program.

Born in Long Beach, California, Robyn studied at the University of California, Berkeley, but dropped out when her criminology major was discontinued. She then got a job at the Union Oil Refinery, where she was one of the first women to do so. 

In the mid-1970s, she met John Williams and in 1977 gave birth to their first child, Maya. Later, they moved back to West Chester, Pa., where John was from. They proceeded to have two more daughters, Janine and Anna.

Robyn earned a degree in criminal justice at West Chester University in 1985 and a master's degree in the administration of justice from Shippensburg University in 1993. She and Williams eventually separated, and Robyn moved to Mt. Airy, where she lived from 2013 to 2015. She met Mark Kreider, and they lived together in Plymouth Meeting from 2016 until her death.

Kreider told the Local that “Robyn practiced what she preached. Injustice tormented her. She spent her whole career helping people. She made a real difference in people's lives. A carpenter spoke at the service (held on Jan. 3 at Tyler Arboretum in Media) about how much she meant to him.”

She did not do anything half-way. Kreider said. 

“At our home, she explained to me how bad the invasive plants were, and said they had to go. I cut them down while they were flowering, and we planted native shrubs and 40 trees on the property. Wherever we traveled, she would always find gardens to visit.”

At her request, he said, she was cremated. 

“I'd rather go walking in the woods (than in a cemetery) to visit her,” Kreider said. 

Buseman was preceded in death by her parents, her daughter, Maya, and sister, Eileen. She is survived by partner, Mark Kreider; daughters, Janine Cain and Anna Witherspoon; brothers Mike and Bill; three grandchildren, one nephew, two nieces and countless friends and admirers.