Defeating the odds
Life has a way of bringing people to the exact point that they need to be, often experiencing some hardships and lessons before realising what their purpose in life is. As for Rodain Richards, this revelation came during high school, where he had to assume adult responsibilities because of some issues his mother was experiencing.
He recalled his grade-nine years at Ardenne High School as the worst period of his life because of all he had to endure. However, this did not deter the now 20-year-old man.
“My grade-nine year was my worst! I was actually on academic probation at the time, and I remember during my last semester when my mom saw my report, she sat me down and she said, ‘Rodain, you want become a cruff?’ and she started to cry,” recalled Richards. “I remember exactly how I felt at the time, and I told her that I wouldn’t [become a ‘cruff’], but at the time, I couldn’t tell her the reason it was like that.”
Richards shared that his mother was in and out of the hospital during that time and that it had an effect on him.
“Being the eldest child in the house, I felt like I had to assume the role of the man of the house. Then, there were times when I had to be at the hospital with her ,and seeing her in the condition that she was in at the time was throwing me off a lot,” he explained.
However, after that conversation, Richards decided to improve in grade 10. To everyone looking on, they could not recognise the person who had made a complete turnaround.
“Going into grade 10, I had a different mindset, and I told myself that I was not going to let what happened in grade nine define me, so I decided to bring my report back up,” he said.
Gradually, with hard work, his grades got into the 80 per cent bracket by the next semester, notwithstanding the financial challenges his family was experiencing. According to Richards, his father, who lives in Manchester, really tried to assist, but his mother was unemployed, so things did not always pan out the way they hoped. As a result, he had to walk the round trip to school from his home in Mountain View, St Andrew.
“A lot of the time, I would have to walk to school and I would time it, an hour and 30 minutes each time, until the hours didn’t matter, so I would take the time to go over work in my head, relax, that sort of thing,” Richards said.
Along with having to walk to school, he often did not have lunch, and soon, his teachers noticed.
“Mrs Wint-Watson and Miss Johnson called me because they were concerned, and they asked, ‘Rodain, why are you not eating lunch?’ and I would just say something like, ‘I am just not hungry, miss’, but they saw it continuing for a while. They called me again and talked with me until they started to give me an envelope; they were assisting,” Richards disclosed.
With everything he faced being robbed and harassed by other young boys on his way from school and hearing of another youngster who had been stabbed for his phone – Richards considered reaching out to others and soon started to visit schools and speaking with students. He formalised this venture in grade 11, taking a group of his peers into Tivoli Gardens High School. This visit had a profound effect on Richards.
“There was this student named Michael, at the back of the group, and he was like the stereotypical bad boy, and he was not participating. I started to speak about safe sex, and he looked up and I was like, ‘oh! This grab you now’, but he still didn’t say anything,” said Richards, “At the end, they were presenting us with a gift basket and I told them that I wanted him to present the basket. He was hesitant until the teacher encouraged him and he came forward.”
Richards soon broke down the barriers by making the student laugh.
“When everything was finished, he touched me and asked if he could speak to me. He asked me, ‘Rodain, how do you speak so well? and I said, ‘it’s practice’. I was not prepared for what came next, when he asked, ‘Rodain, can you be my father?’ and I stopped. He was in grade nine, and I was in grade 11,” Richards said.
The conversation between the two continued, and Richards learnt that Michael had lost his father to gun violence. Richards kept in touch with him but one day got the news that Michael lost his life, also to gun violence.
“That was one of the things that really pushed everything out. In fact under my organisation, Jamaica Youth Motivators, one of the main programmes is ‘Man Transformational,’ which is a monthlong programme aimed at the grooming, rehabilitation, and development of young men,” said Richards.
These experiences propelled Richards to participate in motivational activities, all in the effort of helping someone else, and impacting a life positively.
As a result of all his work in volunteerism and as a motivational speaker in Kathmandu, Nepal, along with his work in his organisation, Richards is a recipient of the Prime Minister award for nation building; where he also received a scholarship of $100,000 towards tuition.
As a second-year law student at The University of the West Indies, Richards is already looking forward to all the work his organisation has planned for 2020, which will continue to influence and impact the life of Jamaicans.