NEW ORLEANS — Brian Randolph understands the importance of having a solid foundation.
Even though he was raised in New Orleans, Louisiana’s tough 7th Ward, having both parents in his life and being an exceptional basketball player greatly helped Randolph. Basketball was his way out of a dangerous community. It was also his means to return to that same community, but this time his role has been different.
He returns as a mentor, motivational speaker and leader of the non-profit foundation Reaching for the Stars, which allows him to reach kids through basketball, the sport at which he excelled.
Zenger News: How is everything going?
Randolph: Everything [is] good. Everything has its ups and downs. I think the biggest thing that’s helped me through the pandemic is the multiple ways of income and being able to have that.
Zenger: What part of New Orleans are you in?
Randolph: I’m in the downtown area, Gentilly.
Zenger: Crime in New Orleans is always highlighted, but what’s not always highlighted is the positive things going on in the city like your Reaching for the Stars Foundation. Tell us about the foundation, and how did you get it started?
Randolph: Basically, me playing basketball in New Orleans and coming from where I came from, just dealing with poverty, guys getting shot, by myself. My house was always a part of a crime scene growing up in the 7th Ward. It was just one of those things, man. And basketball was the thing to get me out.
Coming up through junior high and being a pretty decent basketball player, then going into high school being a really good basketball player. And my final year of high school, I ended up winning a state championship. [Hurricane] Katrina hit my last year of high school. So, I went to three schools in one year during Katrina. I went to Kennedy; I went to Westfield out in Houston and then I finished at John Ehret. You ever seen that movie “Hurricane Season?”
Zenger: Several times. Yes.
Randolph: That’s about me, man.
Zenger: Yes. Robbie Jones played you in the movie.
Randolph: I don’t really publicize it, because I focus on the core, and the core is these kids getting what they need. I’m learning every day. I graduated from SUNO [Southern University at New Orleans], business entrepreneurship.
What messed me up with the league, the NBA … I had my shot. I went to workouts and all that, but I tried to skip steps, man. Mentally, it can ruin you. You can’t skip steps in life. That was the main thing it taught me. I can play my ass off, but mentally you have to be locked in. You can’t be taking it for granted. You can’t be lollygagging during workouts and coasting like, “I’m here, so I’m good.” Nah! It doesn’t work like that. They get rid of you real quick. So, you gotta be careful of what you ask from God. You ask God, you better be prepared for it physically and mentally.
I went through that lil’ part with the NBA tryouts; they shot the movie [“Hurricane Season”] in 2008. I went on and got my degree, and two years later in 2015, I started Reaching for the Stars, and I’ve been going ever since.
Zenger: It sounds like you had every opportunity to get out of New Orleans and never look back. What made you return? And how important was it for your impact to be made in the community you grew up in?
Randolph: Ah man, I get that question asked all the time. They ask me about acting, because I had a chance to play in the movie and get that exposure. Me and Forest [Whitaker] is real good friends. A lot of the actors that were on board, Robbie Jones, Isaiah Washington … we are all still good friends.
But what brought me back was you can’t leave the core of the issues of some of the things that we’re facing in the world as a young black man. I felt like it would be a disservice to my city, a disservice to my community, of me having the knowledge, having the experiences and going through the tough times and not having money to do certain things. I have the status, but I don’t have the money. I don’t have the resources. So, to be able to use the resources that I had and be able to capitalize on it, that’s why I’m at the stage where I’m at right now with my business. So, my business is actually catching up with my personal [life]. That’s the great thing about the section we’re in right now.
It’s so overwhelming because everybody knows me from basketball. But that’s not really what it’s about. Reaching for the Stars is about mentorship, life skills, being a man, making good decisions, not skipping steps, being accountable for your actions. But also, being in the right place at the right time around the non-negative people — the people that’s not doing anything. They saying things, but they not doing anything.
That’s what we get caught up with; our young people just go through so much. The one thing that I’m dealing with right now is the single household and learning how to deal with kids that grew up in a single-parent household because I didn’t. That’s a real huge challenge for me personally because the emotional and the affection side is huge. I have no clue about that because I had my dad; I had my mom. It’s interesting, but it’s fun. I love it, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I wouldn’t even trade it for an NBA contract.
Zenger: That is a huge issue — a lot of grandparents and aunts and uncles are raising these kids. There is something about a positive male figure’s guidance that you cannot replace.
Randolph: Right! Man … woo, that’s a quote. Listen, I went to L.A. to see a friend. We had dinner, right? And we were talking, and she asked me, “So, what are you up to?” I couldn’t answer the question. It messed me up so bad. I was beat down inside. I’m like, “What am I doing?” I literally had nothing to tell her. I was just talking in circles. So I just left L.A. in October, but I had a bunch of things to tell her this time from five years of doing the work since I left her. It’s amazing that a simple question like, “What are you up to,” and I literally had nothing to tell her, man. It was embarrassing.
Zenger: That simple question essentially changed your life, or at the very least put you on a path.
Randolph: Basically! I went there in August of 2015, and in September I started my business, Reaching for the Stars. It’s embarrassing on your parents. My parents raised me to do better; so we have to be accountable to do better and represent your family and your people like you’re supposed to. I have done Jordan commercials, Nike commercials … I still was just lingering on. I’m telling you, man, it’s been a blessing to do the things that I’m doing right now and steady growing. I’m really just getting started.
Zenger: Do you feel like you had to let go of your hoop dreams to be able to provide these kids with the type of guidance you are giving them now?
Randolph: Absolutely! See, we come up and we look at basketball like, “Everybody is going to make it to the NBA.” But it’s confusing because who is paying the guys in the NBA? When you go to understanding that part of life, your whole narrative changes. I wish I would’ve just done fitness. I love basketball, but to be honest, I could go play pickup with LeBron [James] and I’d be good. It’s so much other things that needs to be done besides basketball.
Not saying you don’t want to do it, yeah, it’s great, but I am so much bigger than that. I have so many gifts that God blessed me with than that, and LeBron James is showing you that. He might not be doing it physically, but he had the impact on his friends to do the work for him while he’s taking care of things on the court. When he’s finished with basketball, that dude is going to be … basketball is not going to be nothing compared to what he’s going to do after his career.
Zenger: Reaching for the Stars is so much more than basketball. But it is a great tool to use what you were so talented at to reach kids in other ways.
Randolph: Yes, and that’s important from the point of view of, a lot of kids don’t get a chance to get exposed to things in life. We went to L.A. after we won the state championship in 2006. It’s amazing. We won an ESPY Award. They flew us out to L.A., and we won the award. When we got there, they were like, “We are going to bring you guys to Disneyland.” We were all pumped up. And they were like, “Yeah, they gave ESPN some tickets.” But we were sitting there thinking, “How do they get the tickets? Disney owns ESPN.”
To myself at 18 years old, I’m like, “What?” That was very intriguing to me because ESPN is huge, but Disney is funding this. So, it’s like, what is Disney doing? Since then, I have been on it. I wasn’t on it all the way, but I was on it as far as information-wise. That’s what kind of got me going with that. Understanding if you get these kids exposure, like traveling for AAU.
I’m getting ready to start an AAU team this year. It took me five years to do it. Reason being is because I wanted to build a name up for the company and also get the kids out, motivational speaking, let them know about Reaching for the Stars, and not rushing. And trying to take my time and go through the steps I need to go through. It took me five years to start this AAU program, and it’s going to go well.
Zenger: What age groups do you have?
Randolph: We got nine and 10 all the way up to 13 and 14 right now.
Zenger: When a kid enters the Reaching for the Stars program, what progression do you look for in them within a certain time frame?
Randolph: Consistency! Just come. Be a sponge and learn. See, this is going to be the trigger part for Reaching for the Stars. I have a kid, right? I still do a little acting every now and then. But I kind of cut it out for right now because I have too much going on professionally. That’s really important. The acting is just something you chase. I can’t be chasing something when I gotta take care of this. So, I put this kid that I discovered at my daughter’s school, and I put him on. Just so happens the other night, he was on Disney. He’s a part of our program. He’s actually a spokesman for our program. We are babying it, but I’ve been dealing with that for two years. He’s a really good kid. He works hard, super talented at what he does. I love him. That’s my guy.
It’s not just basketball. If you’re into this, let’s try to get you in this field; let’s get you connected with someone. If someone wanted to be a journalist, okay cool, we need to connect them with someone like you. Show them the platform to get these kids where they need to be. Not only that, you’re also helping the community, and you’re spreading the word. Now, you’re building foundations, and the kids are staying out of trouble. If I coach basketball and I be like, “Ah man, I don’t know who do that.” Nah man, how about the coaches take a second, do some research and find out who do it and direct them to where they need to be at. I hope we can turn that corner in New Orleans. I think we are on our way.
Zenger: I know how we feel about our teams here in Louisiana. You were honored by both the New Orleans Saints and the New Orleans Pelicans. What did those honors mean to you?
Randolph: Ah man, for [Saints owner] Gayle Benson to give me two awards in back-to-back months, I’m kind of at a loss for words. The crazy thing about that, I was the first one to win both of them. I was the first guy ever to win the Pelicans “Game Changer” Award! I’m seriously at a loss for words with that.
Zenger: Congratulations on your success and continue to do your part with the youth out in New Orleans. Where can we find more information on Reaching for the Stars?
Randolph: On Twitter and Instagram @thestarsteam23, Reaching for the Stars on Facebook and our website is www.thestarsteam.org. We here, man. What kid don’t wanna reach for the stars?
(Edited by Stan Chrapowicki and Carlin Becker)