Black History Today: Randi Jones-Gratton

by Marcus Harden

(Black History Today is published in collaboration with Rise Up for Students)

“In my culture, death is not the end. It’s more of a stepping-off point. You reach out with both hands, and Bast and Sekhmet, they lead you into a green veld where… you can run forever.”

The Black Panther

“I’m going to call your mom.”

Now, that’s something I say as an educator only when something has gone really, really well or really, really, badly! When it’s bad, every student involved feels their heart start to race and their eyes widen a bit. This was the case for Randi Jones-Gratton’s son years ago when I had to make that announcement, letting him know that I was calling his mom.

Randi Jones-Gratton was the type of woman who was more than a powerful Black woman — she was an experience. Randi’s laugh, presence and energy were inspiringly infectious. Her conversation could range from comedy to Christianity in the blink of an eye, her voice undeniable. Writing about her in the past tense is still a bit unbelievable.

For her son, “I’m going to call your mom” turned into pensive waiting in the office for the knock from his mother that eventually came. Randi partially cracked and partially blew open the door, and her gaze went quickly to her son, then toward me, and then recognition hit us both.

“This is your mom!?”

“This is Mr. Marcus!?”

We both broke out and laughed as we greeted each other with a familial hug, her son staring in confusion. Randi and I had known each other for as long as either of us could remember — longer even.

“Boy, this is family, this is like your uncle,” Randi said. “I’m going back to work!”

Another hug, a look at her son that said, “We’ll talk when I get home,” and like a blur she was back out the door. Her son looked up at me confused and asked sheepishly, “Can I call you Uncle now?”

Randi Jones-Gratton (Photo courtesy of Randi Jones-Gratton)

I never needed to make another call, and Randi’s son continues to be an incredible young man carving his own path in the world, an embodiment of all the lessons and love Randi poured into him and later his little brother.

For those who didn’t have the pleasure to know her, Randi was a beam of light who was taken from us way too soon, though her light now shines all the brighter. A graduate of Franklin High School in Seattle, WA, she was a devoted mother, daughter, sister and cousin, and a true and trusted friend to so many.

On Nov. 30, 2020, Randi gained her wings and left this realm to bless and wait for us in the next. She left her legacy in the form of her two sons and the young men they are to become, her laughter and energy being the brightness that connected so many even in her passing. While it would be easy to categorize someone leaving us so early as a tragedy, which it was, it also served as an awakening. As a community we are only as strong as the ones we love and are loved by.

Randi’s strength was in her commitment, her perseverance, and her ferocity for family and for life. She was a fighter, but for all the right things. Yet as the adage says, “Check on your strong friends.” She serves as a reminder for me that we must at all times protect each other’s hearts, each other’s minds and each other’s souls, and as Black men, we must do better in protecting our Black women.

We’re all going to miss Randi, but she will forever live on in those who knew her — and now maybe a little bit more in those who didn’t. There was love, light and life in her presence, and much like energy, those things can never be destroyed, only redistributed. We love you, Randi. You can run forever now, in our hearts, forever.
Long Live Randi Gratton #LLRG

For more local Black history check out our friends at Rainier Avenue Radio as they’ll be producing special broadcast throughout February to celebrate, affirm, and uplift Black History Month.

Marcus Harden is the creator of Black History Today, an annual series honoring Black History Month that pays tribute to the living legacy of Black history in our community and beyond.

He is a seasoned educator, with experience as a teacher, counselor, dean, administrator, program and policy manager. 

Marcus focuses his work on creating better culture and climate for students, families and staff. He believes deeply in restorative justice practices and in mindset and resiliency work that leads to excellent and equitable educational outcomes for all students.

Featured image created by Devin Chicras for the Emerald.

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