Remembering Toni Randolph: Colleagues, mentees reflect on MPR editor’s life and legacy

Toni Randolph headshotMinnesota Public Radio award-winning journalist Toni Randolph, a longtime ThreeSixty Journalism supporter, a champion for diversity in newsrooms and a mentor to young journalists, died July 3 after being hospitalized for a medical procedure.

Randolph, 53, joined Minnesota Public Radio in 2003 as a reporter before becoming editor for new audiences in 2010, a position created to connect with diverse Minnesotans. She was a champion of diversity at MPR and beyond, using her years of experience as a journalist to inspire and mentor the next generation of journalists through programs such as MPR’s Young Reporters Series and ThreeSixty Journalism.

In 2014, ThreeSixty awarded Randolph the Widening the Circle Award, given each year to an individual who has made “extraordinary contributions to the next generation of journalists, particularly while promoting inclusion and diversity.” Randolph also joined the ThreeSixty Board of Advisors in 2016.

Many have found it hard to believe a woman filled with so much life could be gone. Here’s how colleagues, friends and mentees reflected on Randolph’s life and legacy.

Toni Randolph instructing a class

“When I was in high school, I was not a fan of school. I hated school, and Toni knew that. And when I was working with her in the Young Reporters Series, I’d come and practically run through the skyways – because I went to school downtown – I’d run through the skyways to get to MPR and she would let me in. And she knew I wasn’t doing super great, and she’d ask me like, “Oh, how’s your homework doing, how’s school, are you doing good?” And I was like, “Oh, there’s this test tomorrow that, you know, I haven’t really studied for it, but it’s okay, I’ll be fine.” And she sent me home to go study for the test. … I will never forget that.

… I think for Toni, what was really special about her was, she was always being my professional mentor, she wanted to see me do well in the field, but she also cared about how I was doing in the rest of my life. She wanted to make sure that I was successful, that I stayed out of trouble and all of those things. … For me, graduating high school, getting into college and all the success that I have, it’s all because of her.”

– Simone Cazares, University of St. Thomas sophomore and ThreeSixty Journalism graduate who became a student Randolph mentored.

“I knew nothing about journalism. I took some classes, but that was it. I didn’t know how to do reporting or anything like that. But here was Toni, telling me about how people do this work and she was very helpful. She was someone who was there caring (for) young people, especially young people of color who were interested in this profession. And that really touched me.”

– Mukhtar Ibrahim, former reporter at Minnesota Public Radio News and current Bush Fellow who is now attending graduate school at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

“Toni was a great ambassador to the community. She embodied all of the things we want to stand for – integrity, openness, wisdom. She was a great journalist and she had a great care for the people that she dealt with, and she’s just an outstanding representative for Minnesota Public Radio – both as a journalist and as someone who reached down, supported and mentored so many journalists and aspiring journalists in the community.”

– David Kansas, chief operating officer of Minnesota Public Radio.

“She just had every quality that you’d want in a mentor. She was kind, she was passionate about the work she did, and she really believed in the qualities and skills that I had. She constantly told me how great of a job I was doing and how much she believed in me. So to answer that, I believe she embodied everything you want a role model to be. She had every quality that you’d want your role model to have.”

– Chad Faust, University of Wisconsin-Madison freshman and ThreeSixty graduate who became a student Randolph mentored.

“Toni joined the ThreeSixty Board of Advisors in February though was active with ThreeSixty for a number of years, always eager to arrange our summer camp visits to MPR, lead those tours and mentor ThreeSixty students. As well, several recent ThreeSixty students participated in her Young Reporters Series at MPR.

In November 2014, we presented Toni with our Widening the Circle Award, which honors individuals who have made extraordinary contributions to the next generation of journalists, particularly while promoting inclusion and diversity. She was the perfect choice. In the time that followed, I was privileged to learn first-hand just how deep and genuine her dedication to those tenants was. Toni was a smart, warm and thoughtful person who was deeply committed to her craft as well as to the principles that ThreeSixty and its mission encompass.”

– Chad Caruthers, executive director of ThreeSixty Journalism.

“I think she took that element of being a role model seriously. That she understood that our young people need to see examples of people who look like them and examples of people who come from a range of backgrounds in leading roles in our society. … I think that she made investments in lots and lots of young people, but she was also a great example of what was possible.

… I just think she’s going to be a loss for us, on so many levels. I’m glad to have known her, I’m glad that we had the chance to become friends, and I’m glad that she made so many contributions to this community – both to journalism and the Twin Cities.”

– Duchesne Drew, community network vice president at Bush Foundation and former journalist who knew Randolph through the National Association of Black Journalists.