Linda A. Randolph Biography
Family Valued Education, Entered Medical School, Began Work in Public Health, Returned to Washington
Physician, public health official, president and CEO of the D.C. Developing Families Center
When Linda Randolph was only three years old, she turned to her mother as they left her pediatrician's office and announced that someday she, too, would become a doctor. Brought up in a family that valued education and creativity, Randolph grew to love learning and to believe in herself. She also developed a deep affection for the African-American community where she grew up, and she has devoted much of her career to helping solve the health problems of that community. In both New York and Washington, D.C., the two cities she considers home, Randolph has worked tirelessly at a multitude of influential jobs in the field of public health, making connections between race, class, education, childcare, and health that have broken new ground in improving community strength and well-being.
Randolph was born on March 9, 1941 in Washington, D.C. Her parents Oscar Horace Randolph and Marie Louise Fernandez had met in New Haven, Connecticut, before moving to Washington, where they married and had two daughters. Oscar Randolph's father had not believed in sending his children to school, but Oscar's older sister was determined that her younger brother would get an education. She took young Oscar to live in New Haven, where he not only finished high school, but attended college for two years at Washington's Howard University. After leaving college he worked for many years as headwaiter at the Westchester Apartments, home to many influential Washingtonians and foreign diplomats.
Marie Fernandez Randolph also attended college for two years, then worked for four years in the personnel department of the Pentagon, the headquarters of the Department of Defense. After the birth of her daughters, she worked at home caring for her family.
Family Valued Education
For the first eleven years of young Linda's life, her family of four lived in a one-room apartment in the black section of the Adams Morgan neighborhood, which was still segregated during the 1940s and 1950s. One of the characteristics of black neighborhoods during segregation was that African Americans of all classes lived together, creating a community that included rich and poor alike.
Though the Randolphs were not wealthy, they thought little about being poor. Marie Randolph taught her children to be considerate of the downstairs neighbors by removing their shoes when they came in the door, because they had no rugs to soften their footsteps on the hardwood floors. Along with his work as a waiter, Oscar Randolph was an accomplished artist who painted and sculpted during his off hours. He worked six days a week, and on the seventh day he gave Marie a rest by taking the children to parks and museums where he spent hours teaching them about their city and the world.
In this atmosphere, young Linda grew to love school, reading, and writing poetry. She attended Morgan Elementary School, a "training school" where young teachers went to learn how to teach. As a result, the school was filled with energetic and inventive instructors who made learning fun and interesting. The school also had an extensive arts and drama program. Her presentations on stage in elementary school would prepare Linda Randolph for a lifetime of public speaking.
Along with her studies, Randolph also volunteered with the Junior Red Cross throughout her school years, helping with that organization's annual blood drive. Her attraction to a medical career was so apparent that her class prophecies in elementary, junior, and senior high school all foretold that she would become a doctor.
Though her experiences in elementary and junior high school were mainly positive and inspiring, Randolph's high school years were filled with the tension of a changing society. She entered high school in 1955, just after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that public schools must be integrated. Previously, in Washington, D.C., and many other places, blacks had not been allowed to attend school with white students, and black schools often received less money and fewer supplies than white schools. Though integration of the schools was a more fair solution, it was not easy to achieve. Black and white students were not comfortable with each other, and many whites had racist attitudes towards blacks. Many whites who did not agree with integration simply took their children out of public schools. In 1955, when Linda Randolph started high school, her class was fifty percent black and fifty percent white. The teaching staff was ninety percent white and ten percent black. By 1958, when Randolph graduated, the class which followed her was ninety percent black, and fifty percent of the white faculty had resigned.
Upon graduation from high school, Randolph received a scholarship to nearby Howard University. She took pre-medical classes and worked evenings and Saturdays selling socks at Woolworth's, a local discount chain store. Even there she was surrounded by the rapidly growing civil rights movement, as Woolworth's "whites only" lunch counters were the focus of early demonstrations.
After her graduation from college, Randolph took a year off school and went to work full time for the federal government in the U.S. Patent Office. There she worked with some of the first computers, hand-coding data for entry into the system. After a year, she was ready to continue her education, this time in medical school.
Entered Medical School
Although Randolph was accepted into Howard's College of Medicine, there was no scholarship money available for first term students. She received help from her godmother, who privately gave Randolph money for her first semester. Even then, she had to use borrowed books to study. She worked hard to obtain loans and scholarships to finance the rest of her medical school career.
As Randolph was finishing medical school at Howard, New York's Harlem Hospital Center began recruiting graduates of traditionally black medical schools for their internship program. Eleven graduating doctors from Howard went to work in Harlem, and Linda Randolph was among them. She liked New York City and loved the feeling of contributing to the community that she got from her work with poor families at Harlem Hospital. It was in Harlem that her perspective deepened about the connections between the conditions of people's lives and their health problems. Throughout the rest of her career, Randolph would insist on the importance of viewing a patient as part of a family, a family as part of a community, and a community as part of a society.
After her internship and residency program was completed, one of Randolph's professors and mentors suggested to her that she might enjoy working in the field of public health. Public health is a part of health service which studies and works to improve the health of the community as a whole. At that time, the School of Public Health at the University of California at Berkeley was trying to recruit minority students. Randolph applied for and received a fellowship to study public health in California. After receiving her masters in public health, she decided to stay in California and work in the community there. She went to San Diego, where she worked in clinics and earned her certificate in perinatology. Perinatology is the branch of medicine which studies the biological, medical, and social issues which surround childbirth. In San Diego, Randolph studied and worked on issues such as infant intensive care and teen pregnancy.
Began Work in Public Health
After completing her training in California, Randolph had hoped to return to her work in Harlem. However, she received a tempting job offer in her hometown: national medical director for Project Headstart, a program of the Department of Health and Human Services. Headstart was designed to help very young children from poor backgrounds and their parents by providing food, classes, and other support services. Randolph was reluctant to change her plans to return to Harlem. She was also hesitant to give up working directly with patients to take an administrative job. However, the directorship with Project Headstart was a very good job and a remarkable opportunity for a young doctor. She agreed to take the job for two years.
Randolph stayed at Project Headstart for seven years. She discovered she was very good at coordinating the many different health and social service programs nationwide that needed to work together to make the program effective. She made Project Headstart a better and more complete program by combining medical services with other health services, such as dental, nutrition, and mental health programs.
In 1980 Randolph began another important job in the public health field when she went to work for the New York State Department of Health as the Associate State Health Commissioner for New York City Affairs. There she was very successful at improving the often-difficult relations between the state and its largest city. Again, she planned to keep the job for only two years, and again she stayed longer. She worked as Associate State Health Commissioner for New York City Affairs for four years.
In 1983, the New York Commissioner of Health asked Randolph to come to the state capitol of Albany to take the job of Director of the Office of Public Health for the state of New York. Though she was reluctant to move from her beloved New York City to the smaller upstate town, she agreed to go to Albany, keeping her New York apartment for her frequent return trips to the city.
Randolph worked as Director of the Office of Public Health until 1991, when she was recruited to return to New York City full time to work at Mount Sinai Hospital in the Department of Community Medicine. At the same time she served as the director of the Carnegie Corporation of New York's Task Force on Meeting the Needs of Young Children. Her work with the Task Force was a continuation of what Randolph had done to solve the health problems of children, parents, and the community. To help young children, the Task Force developed a policy document called "Starting Points," which emphasized the importance of child health, childcare, responsible parenthood, and community support.
Returned to Washington
In 1995, Randolph returned to her childhood home of Washington, D.C., to be closer to her aging parents. She took a job as director of the National Women's Resource Center for Substance Abuse and Mental Health (NWRC). Under Randolph's leadership, the Center trained teams of community members to recognize and help women with drug and alcohol addiction and mental health issues. As always, Randolph's approach was "holistic," that is, she taught those who worked for her to consider the patient's whole life experience when trying to identify and solve substance abuse or mental health problems.
In 1999, Randolph began her involvement with the District of Columbia Developing Families Center (DCDFC). The center had originally been the idea of Dr. Ruth Lubic, a New York City nurse-midwife who had envisioned a center which would meet the needs of both parents and children who had few resources. Traditionally, birth centers had mainly served middle-income and wealthy families. With the help of two local community organizations, Lubic renovated an old grocery store and set up a center that offered support for the entire family. The only center of its kind in the United States, DCDFC includes an out-of-hospital birth center, parenting support, and social services for families. The center places special emphasis on pregnant and parenting teens and maintains a child development program for infants and toddlers.
After leaving the National Women's Resource Center for Substance Abuse and Mental Health, Randolph had worked with the Georgetown University National Center for Education in Maternal and Child Health. As she grew more involved with the DCDFC, she gradually left her job at Georgetown and became, with Lubic, co-chief executive officer of the Developing Families Center. The values of the center seemed to include all of the issues that had been important to Randolph throughout her career, the health of mothers and children, the necessity of dealing with the entire family unit, and the need for community involvement.
Her job at DCDFC took Randolph back into the community, where she had always wanted to work. The Developing Families Center hoped to change the idea that the birth of a baby is a medical procedure. Instead, Randolph and her co-workers have attempted to return childbirth to the family, as an empowering life experience. The goal of DCDFC is to follow families from birth to adulthood, offering services through which patients can take control of their own health care. In 2003, Randolph took over as president and CEO of DCDFC.
In addition to her work in the field of public health, Randolph has also worked to create better funding for community heath related projects. Part of this work was her founding in 2000 of the Fund for Greater Harlem, a fund-raising and grant-making organization through which Randolph hoped to make a contribution to the community where she received her training to be a doctor.
The Nation's Health, August 1994, pp. 6-7; October 2001, pp. 19-21.
Social Policy, Summer 1994, pp. 25-31.
"National Advisory Committee Members," Community Health Scholars Program, www.sph.umich.edu/chsp/program/nac.shtml (April 1, 2005)
Information for this profile was obtained through an interview with Linda A. Randolph on April 1, 2005.
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