While still a student during the pandemic, Randal Wyatt started the nonprofit Taking Ownership PDX to help black property owners keep their homes by repairing and renovating them. He graduated from Portland State in 2021 with a degree in Social Science, a double minor in Black Studies and Sociology and a 3.92 GPA.
His story is one of determination and focus, from dropping out of school to be a father at a young age to building a band focusing on social issues and finding a path to help homeowners remain in their community. At Portland State, he utilized flexible learning options to pursue his degree while working full time and raising his twin sons. Through hard work and study, he created a successful business built on helping Black home owners maintain their residences, relying on the generosity of like-minded social advocates to make a difference in the lives of many.
Here is Randal's story, in his own words:
“I was born and raised in Portland, attended community college, then had twins at age 19 and dropped out. I started a band called Speaker Minds. We rap about social issues, and I built a name for myself doing benefit concerts and fundraisers. I got my associates degree in my mid-20s, became a residential treatment counselor, and then a mentor for Black and Latino boys on probation. Then I moved to Portland YouthBuilders as a student advocate with the stipulation that I go back to school and get my degree. I started at PSU half-time in 2017, worked full-time, raised my sons and my music career was taking off. So yeah, it's been a long road.
Photo by Melissa Babasin
I’ve always been fascinated by the way society works, why things are the way they are, why systems the way they are, why can’t we have nicer things in America. Last year around this time people started asking me how they can be better allies to Black and marginalized communities. We have to develop more of a village mindset, develop equitable practices that help uplift communities that have been excluded. That turned into Taking Ownership PDX, because my studies at PSU taught me that one of the most effective ways to use resources is to keep wealth in communities that are preyed upon for their land.
I decided if we’re really going to change the social climate, I’m going to go out and do it. I was naive about it initially, I thought we’ll just get a bunch of volunteers and start swinging hammers at homes and start fixing them up. There’s a lot more to it than that. By the end of the first week, I had $10K. I had one home to work on, so I took the money and started fixing it up, redid the carpet, windows, gutters, all that. Then I got two to three more homes to work on.
In one year we helped 35 black families fix up their homes with jobs ranging from fixing leaks to roof and window replacements, landscaping, cleanup. We serve primarily the elderly. We raised about $400,000.
At PSU, not only have I gained knowledge of myself, but it’s inspired me to create an organization that helps the community. It gave me the know-how and what areas to target. It’s worth it. It’s been stressful, but the knowledge that I’ve gained has been invaluable."