An Inspiration for Randolph Youth
“ I want to be like that annoying uncle or cousin to the kids that is a constant reminder to stay on the right path. ”
One of the very first questions I asked Deshawn Riley, an RICC Employee as well as a mentor for the Randolph youth, was “what inspires you to inspire them?” His response was, “being such a big role model and having such a large impact on the teens lives.” I felt that this question was extremely important in bringing to light how his past and present inspirations have become a reality and a sense of hope for others.
Just listening to his story was an inspiration in itself. It really showed how much he wanted to give back to the community, and be there for as many as possible to help the youth of Randolph reach their highest potential. He said “I see a lot of myself in them. Some of them come from broken homes like I did and I want to be able to give back, inspire them, and mentor them to the best of my abilities. I met my mentor growing up when I was 10 years old and she changed my life for the better.” It sounds like a song from Wicked, but as the lyrics state, “people come into our lives for a reason, bringing something we must learn and we are led to those who help us most to grow……But I know I’m who I am today and because I knew you, I have been changed for the better and for good.”
Growing up, Deshawn’s father was in and out of his life and he was raised with a strong female presence always surrounding him. Starting with his single mother, who did the best she could for Deshawn, to his grandmother who had a major part in raising him, to finally finding his mentor on that one hot summer day, who really showed him who he was meant to be. A mentor that was not only an inspiration and a role model, but also the person who really instilled in him what it meant to be a man and to give back by paying it forward. Though sadly his mentor, Dr. Peggy Brown has passed away, she made enough of an imprint on Deshawn’s life 30 years ago, that he continues to use the tools, the knowledge and the passion she provided him, in his life today for the roles he plays. The roles of Son, Brother, Husband, Father, Community Worker, and now Youth Mentor. She taught him how to treat people the right way and not to judge them based on age, race, or religion, but accept them for who they are. She taught him to always be a man of his word and to represent his community to the best of his abilities. However, the most important thing that she taught him was that stereotypes are just that; stereotypes. There is more to who you are as a person than what society tells you who or what you should be and should do. You have to believe in yourself and your talent to achieve your highest dreams.
Believing in these kids and finding their untapped potentials and talents, is something that really inspired Deshawn to keep pursuing his passion in becoming a youth mentor and role model. The tools, knowledge, and passion that was taught to him, has helped him to guide the youth. To tap into their brains and get them to become more confident in themselves, achieve all of their goals, and continue to keep smiling and pushing through the bad. This ultimately gave birth to the idea of starting a Youth Mentor Group here at the RICC.
What exactly does a Youth Mentor Group consist of? This is a group of 10-15 teens (most that come weekly) both male and female, ages ranging from 13-21, that meet every Saturday night for an hour. This is considered a “safe space” for the teens to come, to talk and to learn some life lessons that they can carry with them forever. The group starts by going over the generic rules; no phones, be respectful towards each other, this is a safe space, ect. Then they watch a video about a certain topic, have a speaker from a variety of different backgrounds or even have a teen lead lesson about topics the teens want to talk about. After giving their interpretations or feelings about the “lesson”, they often times play a group game of pingpong or foosball as they continue to bond and reflect about life. The group has participated in workshops about self- worth and peer pressure. They have also learned about how to start their own business and job readiness, along with learning about money, seeking help when needed, the pros and cons of using Social Media, just to name a few. Often times if Deshawn notices an issue that needs to be addressed within the community, such as bullying at school, social media usage, ect., he will design a lesson plan based around that subject and the group will talk about it the next week during the class.
He also speaks on his own life experiences hoping that if teens are going through similar things, they can relate a little to what Deshawn went through as well and know they are not alone. Deshawn has also had a few motivational speakers come and speak to the group, some that were actually recommended to him by some mutal friends. Professional Basketball Athlete, Damon Harper came and spoke to the group about navigating through life before, during and after playing a sport, whether it be high school, college or pro. Pastor Dale Robinson has come twice now to speak to the group and actually invited some of the teen boys to participate in his No More Murder Basketball Tournament based out of Boston. Deshawn said that “although Pastor Dale is a down to earth guy, he will give it to the kids straight. No sugar coating. The kids look up to him and respect him and they really seem to take to heart what he says.”
The basketball tournament was a huge success and a great boost of confidence for the 10-12 boys from the group that participated. The tournament was held in Boston and the group was the only Randolph team out of 5 Boston teams to participate. The games were all very intense and all of the teams had lots of skill and talent. The boys played their hearts out. The first game the team almost lost and were down by 10 points before the buzzer. After a quick pep talk from coach D, the defense stepped up their game and came together to sink a few baskets and just as the buzzer was about to ring, Kenny Whigham, RICC group member, sunk a 3 point shot to win the game! From then on, Randolph won all 6 games. “It was so cool and humbling to see Randolph go in as the underdogs and come out on top. They came together and it really felt like a family!” February 21st, 10-4pm, the No More Murder Basketball Tournament will be happening again, same group of kids, but this time on Randolph’s home court! Make sure to come down to the RICC and support the youth and the community.
A fun question that I asked Deshawn was “What advice would your future 85 year old self, looking back, give to teens or youth today?” He laughed at this and said rather quickly, “that’s easy! Save your money and open a savings account asap!” He chuckled again and said, “don’t worry, I would also have a few other words of wisdom for them to live by…” words and advice that he has in fact already used with the teens in the mentor group, “don’t rush into relationships especially in your teen years. Get to know and accept yourself first. Explore the world and travel every chance you get. No matter what though, be good to people.”
To end the interview, Deshawn and I talked again about the importance of role models and mentors in the lives of the youth and how sometimes these people are the only ones in the teens lives that push for them to succeed. I asked him “If your mentor, Dr. Peggy Brown was here today, do you think she would be proud of the path you created and the life you passionately lead?” He replied, “I am a husband to an amazing wife; a father to 3 great kids; a 17 year old, an 8 year old and a 1 year old. I work 2 amazing jobs that fulfill my purpose of helping others everyday, and I am making a difference in teens lives. I would like to think that I am making her happy and proud. She always said that I could pay her back for her years of being a mentor to me by continuing to pay it forward.”