Martin worked at a gas station and eventually landed a job as a shift manager at a McDonald’s. Josie, who stayed home with the kids for a few years, found work at a laundry factory cleaning hospital linens. The work was exhausting, but it was the best job she could find without a high-school diploma.
The family lived from paycheck to paycheck. New clothes were a rarity; Richardson wore mostly hand-me-downs from her brother, cuffing too-big pants at the bottom and cinching them around her tiny waist with a belt.
She got into a lot of fights. Sometimes they stemmed from a bruised ego when kids, especially girls, teased her about her clothes. Other times she was just trying to prove she was tough. And sometimes Richardson fought for no reason at all. If she got in over her head, her brother was there to bail her out.
When the family moved to Seat Pleasant, just over the District line in Prince George’s County, Richardson got her first taste of basketball. She would watch her brother play with his friends, and he would coach her at home at night. Under the glow of streetlights, she and James would practice dribbling up and down the sidewalk in front of their house. Richardson perfected her jump shot using trash cans as hoops.
She entered high school shortly after Prince George’s schools were desegregated. She and James were among a handful of black kids who were bused to all-white Bowie High, an hour each way. They were greeted by protesters on their first day.
“We learned to lay low,” Richardson says. “You just kind of went to class and did your work, and then you got back on the bus. You prayed you didn’t miss it.”
The bus ride gave Richardson time to take in the sights of middle-class neighborhoods: pretty lawns, front yards with colorful gardens, well-kept homes, sidewalks that weren’t riddled with litter. For the first time, Richardson saw what other people had—and, just as clearly, everything she didn’t.
Watch a video about Richardson, Timea, and the Crusaders.
Next: "I can't use the way I grew up as an excuse."