Randy Mathews knows that society often holds a stereotypical view of teenage black males as troublemakers who drop out of school and end up
in jail. He is determined to turn that stereotype on its head by surmounting the obstacles that have been placed in his way and creating a successful future.
Randy’s rough start in life gave him much to overcome. As a child, he bounced back and forth between living with his mother, who repeatedly told him he was an accident and worthless, and his father, who beat him for the slightest infractions. He was eventually sent to live with his father permanently. School became Randy’s refuge from the physical abuse he endured. He poured himself into his studies and came to value knowledge and learning. He longed for a loving family who would care for him, but felt totally alone.
In middle school, Randy devised a coping strategy of running away whenever his dad would hit him, but always showing up for school. Thanks to school administrators who provided him with food and clothing and let him shower at school in the morning, he was able to survive what was happening at home.
When Randy was 15, his parents’ parental rights were terminated and he entered the foster care system. By that time, Randy was already 6’4” tall, and he took up basketball the summer after his freshman year. He fell in love with the sport, and another lifeline was created. Now 6’7” (an attribute he calls “a gift from God”), Randy strikes an imposing presence that can’t be missed in the hallways at North Community High School in Minneapolis. But the impression he makes is more than physical, as he has taken on a leadership role in mentoring younger athletes and acting as a role model for other youth who are struggling with abuse and other interpersonal issues. He manages the school’s clothing/food shelf, The Rack, and has been instrumental in increasing the number of families served, as well as securing additional donations from the community.
Randy’s history has given him a strong independent streak, and he’s proud of being able to advocate for himself and create his own path in the world. At the same time, he acknowledges the coaches, counselors, teachers and school administrators who have helped him to beat the odds. “All of them helped educate me about things that can happen,” he says. “From making a small choice, you can ruin everything.”
Randy hopes to forge a career as a school principal, where he can have a similar impact on the lives of teenagers. According to his nominator, that role will be a natural fit. “His maturity and insight has helped him to see past conflicts that go on within a school building and straight to the systematic issues that students and families face every day,” she wrote, predicting that Randy will be “a strong, but caring leader of a building someday.”