“I was taught by my grandmother and my aunt that God gives you a talent and the only way to live up to it is to help other people. You can’t keep it to yourself. When I was in high school, I did well in math. My teacher asked me to help other students. At first I didn’t like it, but it helped me as a person and learned to give something back to the community.
I got my master’s degree at the University of North Dakota. I enjoyed the year time there and was an eye-opening experience, but I couldn’t live there. My first teaching job was teaching math to 8th graders in Opelieka. Then I came home and taught advanced math classes at Hillsdale Middle School. My assistant principal became principal at Booker T Washington, an inner-city school, and said he badly needed a math teacher. I thought the kids there needed me more and a week later I was teaching there. Most kids were a year or two behind in math. I told the principal I wanted to teach sixth grade the first year, seventh grade the second year, and eighth grade the third year and have the same kids all three years. It worked out perfectly. The teachers laughed at me when I told them I was taking the students to a math competition. They said the students would embarrass me. I didn’t think so. We went to the competition and t hey sent the results a few days later. Back at school, I was called to the office and wondered what I did wrong. The principal said, ‘y’all won the math contest and one of your students was the overall best score.’ That was the best thing that ever happened to me. The kids started believing in themselves and we won more contests. I loved teaching there. I taught for 40 years and retired in 2005. I retired because my father was sick and I took care of him.
I work with the city at Lyons Park Tennis Center. I grew up playing tennis here. They were having a tennis match and a young lady and her mother walked in fussing about the girl’s math homework. The mama was supposed to be playing tennis. I butted into the conversation and said, ‘I can probably help her if you don’t mind.” They said yes and the girl kept saying she couldn’t stand math. Two days later they came by and said the girl made a 96 on her math test. I asked, ‘What happened to the other four points?’ They were so happy. She went back to school and told some of her classmates about me and that is how the tutoring began. I never advertised. I am tutoring for the children of kids I taught in school. Some days there are 12 or 13 or 5 or 6. Last Thursday was the largest group I have had. There were 22 kids, not all at the same time.
I do this to be a positive influence in their lives. There is nothing better than helping a kid who doesn’t like math and watching the lightbulb go on. Kids feel like they can’t ask questions in class because they don’t want classmates to know they don’t understand. I want them to ask me questions. I will never embarrass a child. They are too important. Tutoring goes from sixth through high school. If a child comes to me for help in math, I am going to help them. This is God wants me to do so I keep doing it.
I started playing tennis because I wanted something to do so. We didn’t have money for a tennis racket, so I collected S&H green stamps. It took five or six books to get the racket. I played a lot and was a tennis coach for 10 or 12 years. I am in charge of the tennis program here and tennis camp in the summer. We have sponsorships so that any kid can play tennis. One child designed a T-shirt with a math book and a tennis racket. If they come up here for tutoring, I try to introduce them to tennis. There is a bulletin board of our kids who have graduated and I sleep well at night knowing I am helping these kids.
I hear adults and the news say our kids are so terrible. You should get to know the kids I work with. Every one of them deserves a chance. Sometimes I take them aside and tell them what they need to improve or work on and they listen. Kids come back by to see me. That makes things spectacular.
I try not to look at anything from a negative standpoint. I have been blessed my whole life, even if I never had a whole lot. My grandmother taught me that if I spend my time worrying about what other people are doing, then I am not doing as much as I should be doing. I always did well in school because I didn’t have any other choice. I hope the kids learn how to focus and take responsibility. Do your part before you blame someone else. I also know there are a lot of ways to work a math problem. That is a lesson for life.”
Helen, a grandmother who brings both of her grandchildren to Mr. Richardson, wanted to speak about him.
“Mr. Richardson is a gift from God. My granddaughter came to him in the sixth grade. Her math grade was a D, but she doing okay in everything else at the Magnet School. I was desperate because she had one foot in and one foot out. Mr. Richardson is patient and knows how to communicate and break things down where they can understand. He doesn’t let them get up until they do their work. She went from a D to a high B. My grandson has gone from a D to an A. I bring them here even on the days they don’t want to go. Just get with it and move on. I am not playing with them.
Mr. Richardson tutors for free and helps so many families who can’t afford help. I couldn’t afford this. He doesn’t turn anyone down and has touched so many lives and hearts.
My son got custody of his kids and I am helping raise them. I am pushing for their education and for them to succeed. Doing nothing is not an option. I love leaving here and my grandson saying, ‘Grandmama I got it.’ Then I can go to sleep at night because I know my baby is going to pass his math test the next day’.”
This is the ninth story in the series “The Souls of Mobile,” with people nominated because of the good they do for the city. Their faces will also be a part of the mural “The Souls of Mobile” that Ginger Woechan is now painting on Hayley’s Bar. This mural is a collaboration with the Mobile Arts Council.