The legacy Toni Randolph left was more than being a writer, said many who knew the 53-year-old veteran journalist. Randolph died July 3 after being hospitalized for a medical procedure.
Besides her award-winning journalistic work, perhaps Randolph’s most important contribution deserving recognition was her mentoring of many young people, “particularly young people of color,” noted former Twin Cities Black Journalists chapter president Duchesne Drew. He had known Randolph since she came to the Twin Cities.
A Buffalo, N.Y. native, Randolph worked in public broadcasting first as a news director in her hometown and then moved to WBUR Boston. She earned a master’s degree from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and later was awarded journalism fellowships to China and Liberia “to better understand the global nature of Minnesota’s growing, transforming communities,” noted a National Association of Black Journalist (NABJ) statement released after Randolph’s death.
“Ms. Randolph told the stories of our citizens and communities, which contributed greatly to the recognition of our shared values and aspirations,” noted Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton in a media release. “The many young journalists, whom she inspired and mentored, will continue her legacy through their own careers for many years to come.”
Drew recalled, “I met her shortly after she arrived over a dozen years ago to work at Minnesota Public Radio (MPR), where she was first hired as a reporter in 2003. She dove in right away and was eager to pitch in” after she joined the local National Association of Black Journalists chapter.
During her MPR stint, Randolph also oversaw its Young Reporter Series that pairs high school and college students of color with MPR staffers in producing broadcast stories. She also worked with the University of St. Thomas’ ThreeSixty Journalism program and was honored by the group with the Widening the Circle Award in 2014. Earlier this year she was named to its advisory board. She later moved into leadership roles as new audiences editor and as a weekend news editor at the St. Paul news station.
“When you move from being a reporter to being someone who supervises and evaluates other journalists, you affect a lot more stories and a lot more coverage areas,” noted Drew. “She wasn’t the only one doing it, but clearly she paid a big role in the diversification of the coverage” on MPR.
“There is a difference now” at MPR, he pointed out. “A much wider range…a clearer understanding of the ethnic communities here that was deeper and broader than was the case five or 10 years earlier.
“I know she played an important role in identifying and mentoring some of those people that we hear today on the air. She played a very big role in helping MPR reach the communities that have been often overlooked or not that understood by mainstream media.”
More importantly, added longtime friend Sheletta Brundidge of Randolph, who kept her battle with cancer a secret from most, “Toni is a reminder of what Black women used to be like. She dressed up to go to work. She went to work sick and never told anybody. She embodied all the old-school values Black women used to have. She had integrity and handled her business. She kept her personal life personal. She’s a grown-a** woman.”
Brundidge recalled the time she and her husband were planning to move out of town and looked to sell their home. “We didn’t want to sell that house to just anybody. We were at church and we told Toni we were about to move [to Texas]. We are going to sell our house — you want to buy it? She said, ‘Sure I do.’ She bought our house.”
“When she told me she had cancer, she was dealing with [it] and a lot of stuff,” recalled Randolph’s older brother Morgan Randolph of Rochester, N.Y. in an MSR phone interview, “At first, we thought it wasn’t cancer, just a tumor. As things progressed, she just handled her business.”
“I knew she would be successful, but I had no idea of the impact she had made,” added Morgan Randolph. “She’s a fighter.”
“No matter how bad, Toni was going to do what she had to do,” noted her younger brother Marvin Randolph of Lancaster, S.C. “She would not let cancer beat her, and if it beat her, she would keep fighting.”
“A first-rate journalist and a tremendous friend,” said Drew, a former Star Tribune editor. “She was someone really committed to using her talent to make this community better. In her last role in a supervisory-management [position], she was still doing some journalism, but I think the biggest impact she had on what we heard on the airwaves was through…mentoring other people.”
“Those are big shoes to fill,” continued Drew on Randolph. “I loved her dearly and I’m sad that she’s gone. I wished we had more time together, but I am grateful for the time we had. She’ll be missed.”
“They don’t make Black women like that anymore,” said Brundidge.
A memorial service was held Tuesday, July 12 at Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church in North Minneapolis.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.