Through an embodied philosophy of unconditional, selfless, radical love, Rhondalyn Randolph and her daughter Victoria Bowman endure adversity with grace.
Living life through an ethic of love is not an easy task. Rhondalyn Randolph does so with grace and dignity, fostering loving relationships everywhere she goes, and eager to share her love with whoever might need it. Rhondalyn not only practices an ethic of love but embodies it. As a single mother to six kids, there was never a “normal” day, but there was always one constant: unconditional, selfless, radical love.

Rhondalyn has been a mother for her entire adult life; at fifteen-years-old she unexpectedly got pregnant with her first child, Londun Randolph. As a high school athlete with scholarships lined up, her entire world turned upside down.

“When I was in high school, I was on the homecoming court, I played basketball, and I was looked at as a leader,” Rhondalyn said. “So when I got pregnant, a lot of people were mad at me, I had a lot of teachers that were mad at me. I had a basketball coach tell me that I wasn't gonna be anything but a welfare mom.”

"Being a single mom is being an embodiment of love… a sacrificial love. It's the one of the most selfless things you can do outside of actually giving birth.”
Rhondalyn Randolph
Ostracism from her peers and the adults in her life ignited a flame inside of Rhondalyn; she was determined to create a life for her kids that contradicted the statistics people had already begun to define her unborn child by.

“My child, my kids were not going to be a statistic… even though I was a young mom, a teenage mom, I was also smart enough to be aware of what the potential outcomes could be for my life and for the life of my kids,” Rhondalyn said. “I could not wrap my mind around risking their future because of a choice that I made, so I had to make sacrifices.”
Before Rhondalyn was a single mother, her dreams were big. There were scholarships and jobs just out of reach, but in clear view in her future. When Rhondalyn gave up this life, she found solace in the newfound track to motherhood and being a wife. When she found herself a single mother just five years later, she began to question herself.

“Well, who am I? What am I? What is my value? Were they right to say that my kids aren't gonna turn out ‘X, Y, and Z?’,” Rhondalyn asked herself. “My backup plans and the things that I thought were gonna work out were slipping through my fingers, and I had to figure it out. I had to go back home with my kids. And that was really, really hard. Really hard.”

Rhondalyn quickly learned how important it would be for her to make sacrifices in order to parent and provide for her kids in the way that she wanted. The disparaging words from Rhondalyn’s high school peers and mentors played on a loop in her head, and she was determined to sacrifice everything for her kids’ wellbeing and opportunities if that was what it would take

London, Damien, Danielle, Megan, Antonio, and Victoria; all of Rhondalyn’s children, are living proof that determined, loving mothers are a force to be reckoned with. All of the kids were involved in countless after-school activities to ensure they would be well-rounded and they were routinely in ‘Gifted and Talented” courses throughout school. Despite their successes, Rhondalyn’s kids habitually encountered microaggressions, and blatant discrimination, because their teachers and peers blindly accepted the stereotypes that Rhondalyn had worked so hard to disprove.

According to the Black Caucus Foundation on the topic of Black Teenage Pregnancy:
Non-Hispanic black women get pregnant under the age twenty
Adolescent non-Hispanic black women are unmarried and have little to none means of financial and emotional resources
More than 25% of non-Hispanic black teenage mothers are more likely to become pregnant again within the first two years from the first child
According to the Pew Research Center, the United States is the highest rate of children living in a single-parent home with 23% compared to the rest of the world which ranges between 1-18%.

For instance, when Londun was in kindergarten, she had a teacher who kept her from participating in computer time — because only kids who knew how to read were allowed that privilege. Rhondalyn, being the extraordinarily driven mother she is, taught all of her kids to read before they ever even went to school, so upon hearing about this incident from a crying, five-year-old Londun, she scheduled a meeting with the teacher. Attempting to rationalize what had happened, the teacher told Rhondalyn that Londun was ‘just so quiet,’ and she ‘just assumed’ she couldn’t read.

“She assumed because I'm a single parent with multiple kids. She assumed because we lived in the projects. She assumed because I was a teenage parent or because I was a single black mom,” Rhondalyn said. “And then all those things that that coach was saying started coming back to me. I was like, I gotta try harder. I gotta try harder.”

Going above and beyond to make sure her kids were in the same classes and activities as the wealthier white kids weren’t enough to protect them from the pervasiveness of racism, classism, and sexism. Rhondalyn had to take it a step further to propagate opportunities for her children.

“It put me in a situation where I had to defend my kids or I had to really advocate for them,” Rhondalyn said, “It just makes me mad. But it made me more determined to show that I have value and my kids have value. They are not a statistic. It's not fair for you to assume. But life isn't fair.”

Rhondalyn had her multiple-job schedule lined up to a tee to ensure she could still get her kids from one activity to the next. She found enough energy to raise them in the church and instill her belief system and value within them. Above it all, she managed to create a nurturing, loving family environment that still sustains itself now that her children are adults, and have kids of their own. All Rhondalyn wanted was for her kids to “be better” than her, she said.

“I think that's why it hurts so bad when kids reach the age of accountability, and then they don't make the choices that you think that they're gonna make,” Rhondalyn said. “There comes a point where they take what you taught them, and then they figure it all out. That's when as a parent, you just kind of like, hold your breath. But it's so hard.”

Despite her best efforts, Rhondalyn could not protect her children from everything. Victoria, Rhondalyn’s youngest, was molested when she was fifteen. This trauma sent Victoria down a path of self-destruction; she battled a drug addiction, became pregnant at sixteen and spent a few years in and out of rehabilitation centers and jail.

When Rhondalyn learned Victoria was pregnant, the archetype of a triumphant matriarch that she tried so hard to create seemed as if it came crashing down.

“In the moment, it was hard… I was angry, really angry,” Rhondalyn said. “Because I felt like all of them should have made it out unscathed… I felt like I made the sacrifices so that it wouldn't happen. Yes, that was my expectation.” Rhondalyn started questioning where she went wrong as a parent and interrogating how she could have done better.

“Really, I was reliving my trauma… I internalized it instead of being present and at the moment for her,” Rhondalyn said. “But I had to remove myself further, you know, getting back to the sacrificial love because it's not about me.”

When Victoria got pregnant, Rhondalyn was forced to confront how she had not healed from her own experience as a teen mother. Watching Victoria go through similar experiences was an opportunity for Rhondalyn to be there for her daughter in the ways she wished someone would have supported her.

“It's about her, it's about her needing me. It's about her health, it's about her stability," Rhondalyn said. “And that's when I had to really pray, and my faith came into play with that.”

Victoria is the baby of the family, and every one of her family members affirms that. Because she was always younger than her siblings and had a different dad than them, she spent a ton of time with Rhondalyn. The two were extremely close, they both said, but things started to change around the time Victoria was molested.

“As I grew older and I was able to make my own decisions, and I didn’t always make the right decisions, our relationship grew apart.

“I started having issues with her and I didn't understand where it was coming from,” Rhondalyn said, “I thought, I could love it away, buy it away, give her incentives,” but nothing was getting through to Victoria.

“Having a child at sixteen caused me to grow up a little bit sooner than most teenagers had to, and then with my molestation, I went through emotions and mental things that you shouldn't go through at that age,” Victoria said. “I had PTSD, I had anxiety, I had depression.”

According to the National Library of Medicine, the rate of interpersonal trauma in the lives of women with substance use disorders (SUDs) is around 80%. Women report lifetime histories of physical and/or sexual assault, and many endorse posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms.

Eventually, Victoria started opening up to Rhondalyn about what had happened to her and what she was doing to cope with the trauma, which was essentially just another layer of trauma. Victoria had slipped into a sinister spiral, consumed by the disease of addiction for years.

“She was in such a dark place that it was hard to reach her, like the essence of her, that deep down that never changes, that constant. Sometimes I saw glimpses of it,” Rhondalyn said, “Sometimes I didn't.”

“I had two episodes of, you know, heartbreaking moments to where I felt like, you know, I couldn't do it as a parent… My drug life had just taken off. So when Evelyn was about four years old, I ended up calling my mom one day, and I was like, Mom, you gotta come to get Evelyn, I need help.”

Victoria was using drugs during her second and third pregnancies with her girls Auvie and Milani, and they were both born addicted to drugs. The state revoked Victoria’s custody of her daughters because of her substance abuse. The state placed custody of Auvie and Milani with Rhondalyn, who was able to care for the girls like they were her own.
“I had tried so many things to get [Victoria] to stop using. Pregnancy didn't do it, two of her kids were born addicted. She didn't value her own life. I remember holding her in my arms and her seizing out in front of me," Rhondalyn recounts. “It was a nightmare. It was like watching a slow suicide."

Rhondalyn took Victoria’s kids in an attempt to get her attention, a grand gesture to try and get Victoria to work towards sobriety because Rhondalyn knew she loved her kids. When Victoria found out she was pregnant with her oldest at sixteen, she didn’t panic. Just like her mom, she knew that having a kid, even so young, was the right choice for her. The daughter-mother bond is special for Victoria the same way it is for Rhondalyn. “It’s true, real love,” Victoria says.

When Victoria wasn’t able to take Milani home from the hospital with her, it served as a wake-up call.

Victoria with her two daughters, Evelyn (left) and Auvie (right), at a family christmas party.

“It was an out-of-body experience, I was just like, I really can't take my child home… and then they've locked the hospital down, alarms started going off and stuff,” Victoria recalls when she gave birth to Milani. “As a mother, I felt like I was unbalanced. I felt like my vision was gone… When I say that it broke me, literally broke was very, it was scary. But it was needed.”

That moment pushed Victoria back into rehab with a newfound goal to work towards.

“I needed to get over that drug addiction because it was dragging everything else around me down,” Victoria said. “So that's the first thing I started to ask God for healing over; not for my kids back, not for anything else around, but I needed him to heal me.”

Victoria recalls moments while in the depths of her addiction when she would just find herself laid in a room, overcome with loneliness and shame. Reflecting on those moments now, she sees that she was just choosing not to have anybody — her family was always right there when she was willing to accept their help.
While I was trying to get myself clean… support from my family during that time was tremendous. It was a blessing because everybody doesn't have that."
Victoria Bowman
Victoria’s appreciation for her mom has reached a new level after everything they’ve been through in the past few years. Now, Victoria has custody of her girls again, is a new mom to two twin baby girls, and has a new appreciation for herself and how far she has come, too.

“I'm just most proud of myself for being able to stay strong and knowing that I can do it… I'm excited to have a house full of five kids running around,” Victoria said. “My light at the end of the tunnel, when I was going through my rough times, was knowing that I was gonna have my family back. Me and my girls… even daily, I think ‘thank you, Jesus, for my kids.’”

With a house full of kids, a relationship with her mom that is stronger than it's ever been and a reliable support system around her, Victoria feels certain she could never slip back into the cycle of addiction she was in before.

"I think that she values her sobriety, her relationship with her kids, what she has earned and gained, and she doesn't want to lose it,” Rhondalyn said, finally feeling that Victoria is at peace now, so she can be too.

The thread of love woven between the mother-daughter relationships in the Randolph family remains indestructible and saturated with examples of hard work and patience. This love is radical, genuinely life-saving, and extremely contagious.

“Family means love. It means patience. Family means up and downs. Family means trials and tribulations. Family means a lot. That word, family, means a lot because you go through so much as a family. You know, family means support. Family means everything. To me, family means everything."
Victoria Bowman
By: Sam Mallon and Jordan Matthis