A WEEKEND IN ATLANTA WITH THE BURDEN AND NABJ

ATLANTA _ It was one of the best weekends ever. I was honored to serve on a panel at an NABJ Region III conference that was one of the best I’ve attended. But the workshops and lunch and even the party came second to hanging out with dear friends who are like family. I am grateful to Marlon Walker for his guest room, Benet Wilson for her friendship and April Washington, my BFF, for always being there. After the regional on Saturday, where else would I be on a Sunday morning in Atlanta where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is being remembered than at Ebenezer Baptist Church?  The sermon and praise were so moving, I told the pastor after service that even though I live in Detroit and have a church, I almost asked down the aisle to join his. And I was honored to meet Mrs. Christine King Farris, Dr. King’s sister, who was nearly mobbed by visitors. Following church, I had another successful conversation and signing of “The Burden” at the Auburn Avenue Research Library, an awesome venue whose team was amazing. It was my honor to be joined on stage by Dr. Michael Simanga from Georgia State University, who contributed to the book and who is brilliant. Then it was back home to get ready for the next conversation, the next chapter.

ANNUAL TREK TO FINAL FOUR WAS GREAT, EXCEPT FOR CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

SAN ANTONIO _ I left New York and Denzel to head to the Big Dance, where I was so sure Michigan was going to win, we got the good seats! Imagine how we felt when we learned we were in the middle of the fandom for Loyola, for whom I’d rooted for weeks!

I hated to disappoint Sister Jean, but the game was amazing and ended the way the state of Michigan needed it to.

But the Final Four is always about more than basketball. On Sunday, we started the day at the Magnolia Pancake Haus, a San Antonio institution that is one of the best restaurants I’ve ever visited. Look up their menu; I don’t want to drool on my computer.

Then we took the required sail along the San Antonio Riverwalk, which was spectacular. I had city envy again. After the tour, we walked around trying to figure out what to do next. My dear cousin and road dog, Rod, said it was all up to me. So since we were passing the Improv, I said: How about some comedy?

We went in.

I looked at the poster — and imagine my surprise when I saw my friend, Dallas comic Paul Varghese, on the bill. Serendipity! My friend Benet Wilson and Rod’s friend, Ray, came to join us, Paul killed; he was hilarious. After the show, we shut down the club, then headed to Yardhouse bar where we stayed until I cried “Uncle” at about 2:30 a.m. I don’t know WHAT everyone else did.

Monday continued so well. I had brunch with my longtime friend, Charlotte Anne Lucas, a warrior and revolutionary who is constantly trying to make the world better. Mark had brunch with his friend, who is the chaplain of the 2,000-member Dallas Fire Department. The three of us reconnected to watch some TV pre-coverage of the championship game and to make the requisite trip to the Alamo. The Monday game was like a second visit to the Alamo. Villanova just kept coming. But I was thrilled by how far Michigan got and know they’ll be back!

And so will my Tar Heels!

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DENZEL WENT TO BROADWAY, SO I WENT TO DENZEL

NEW YORK _ Spending exactly one night in the Big Apple to see Denzel Washington in previews for The Iceman Cometh. I’ve had pizza, a glass of riesling and an afternoon of quiet before heading to the theater. But let me tell you what happened first:

I went to the theatre early to pick up the tickets, got them, headed toward 6th Avenue when I realized I was no longer wearing my beloved fluffy hat that I got in New Zealand!! You know the one. I wear it ALL THE TIME! So I head back to the theatre. It’s not there. Sadly, I believe I must have left it on the plane. So I head out, dejected, trying to tell myself it’s just a hat. Suddenly, for no reason apparent to me, I decide to turn and go in the other direction. Ten feet away, sitting on a fire pipe jutting out of a building is my hat that someone surely had to pick up to put there…

Won’t He do it?

The line outside the Jacobs Theatre was testament to who Denzel Washington has become and why the playbill described him as the most celebrated actor of his generation. Only for him would I tackle one of O’Neill’s toughest plays – a nearly four-hour examination of dashed hopes, depression and acceptance of a failed life. It was tough. It was uneven. But I’d watch Denzel read a phone book for seven hours without an intermission. So you’ll have to look elsewhere for panning.

Les Payne: Saying goodbye to a journalism lion

HARLEM _ We gathered to mourn.

But instead, we were inspired and empowered and left with a sense of peace and continued admiration.

The homegoing service for acclaimed columnist and editor Les Payne was exactly what it needed to: uplifting and motivational.

I left emboldened, remembering all that Les taught me about being fearless and being unapologetic in my march for truth and justice and fairness.

Afterward, I was honored to have lunch with NABJ founders and dear friends Allison Davis and Joe Davidson, longtime buddy Fred Sweets and Joe’s wife, Dine, at Ponty Bistro, the favorite after-church spot of Les and his wife of more than half a century, Violet. The service was as spectacular as his legacy. And it was good to just sit and remember our friend, our role model for courage and the man who taught me to be fearless.

Savannah State Honors students rise up to discuss The Burden

SAVANNAH, Ga _ Do not let the pristine and calm water marshes fool you. This University by the Sea, as Savannah State University is known, has some strong students with fierce intellect teeming here. I was honored to be honored by Honors, the Honors College at the historically black college, the oldest in Georgia and the latest stop on The Burden Tour. Not only was I able to have a stage conversation with Wanda Lloyd (my Soror, fellow Ida B. Wells Award-winner and role model in inspiring students), but I was thrilled to meet some young men and women who give me such hope for the future. Thanks to Kai Walker, the professor who set up the symposium, her first event in her new job (She has set the bar high). And she was wearing the coolest earrings I’d seen all week. And thanks to President Cheryl Davenport Dozier who moved me to tears. You want to see leadership? Watch her. And I was so glad to see my longtime friend, Tina Brown, who is still inspiring young people. Oh, and of course, Kai made sure I left with pralines. It was, after all, Savannah!

The Burden stirs powerful conversation in Birmingham, MI

BIRMINGHAM, MI _ What a powerful discussion we had at the Monday signing for “The Burden: African Americans and the Enduring Impact of Slavery.” Thanks to the BaldwinPublic Library for a packed house of caring folks. And I was so moved to learn that my dear friend,  Fox2 Anchor Huel Perkins, had snuck in! I didn’t know he was there until he presented his book for signing!

If you want to have a library or neighborhood signing anywhere in the region, send an email to rochelleriley1619@gmail.com. And head to amazon.com or your local bookstore for your copy of “The Burden!”

 

There’s no place like home after taking “The Burden” to three states in four days

BALTIMORE _ Sitting in Baltimore-Washington International Airport at 4 a.m. is no one’s idea of fun. But after a whirlwind three-stop book tour over four days, I was eager to get back home to Detroit, to Desi, to rest and to the next project.

But what a joy this has been. The tour began on Wednesday, the morning AFTER Mayor Mike Duggan gave his annual State of the City speech at a west Detroit high school, appropriate since his focus was education. Our intrepid City Hall reporter Katrease Stafford and I joined Ryan Garza to capture the event. I, of course, was there for the children.

The next morning, I headed to Louisville, Ky, my old stomping grounds, where I was a columnist at The Courier-Journal for four years. I was the guest of the Rev. Kevin Cosby, pastor at St. Stephen Church and Simmons College, where old friends teach. As expected, an audience of more than 100 offered insightful, poignant and heartfelt comments and questions, and Pastor Cosby was brilliant as always. I’ll add a transcript soon.

But the day began with a lovely woman from Simmons, Von Purdy, picking me up and insisting that we have coffee at the just-opened, $315-million Omni Hotel, which the paper described as “an upscale blend of guest rooms, apartments, bars and eateries that backers bet will spark new waves of investment downtown.” The first floor looked like an upscale mall with eateries, bath products, wines and restaurants. Hotels, even in smaller cities, cannot just be hotels anymore.

  

Oh, forgot to mention that Von drove me past my old neighborhood on the way. We went looking for the first home I bought in Louisville, a fixer-upper in Old Louisville that I worked on years before Chip and Joanna Gaines became my inspiration for everything. It was right where I left it, still in decent shape. (Someone needs to trim the front shrubs, but the revitalized neighborhood is holding).

After coffee, we headed to St. Stephen, where Rev. Cosby has built a community, a place where not just his congregation but where so many people can find everything they need. The Family Life Center, in addition to the auditorium where I spoke, had two full-sized gyms, a new football field across the street, classrooms and a soul-food restaurant. (I’d show you a photo of the baked chicken and best-green-beans-I’ve-ever-had, but I ate them). Continue Reading

My reasons to love NYC grow every day

NEW YORK _  I’m in my hotel room in my favorite block in one of my favorite cities. The Hotel Edison, next to the swankier W, has been my home away from home for years – and this small stretch of West 47th Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue has been my haunt.

But here’s REASON NO. 1783 why I love it and New York.

It is 6 a.m. and for the 90th time, I have packed a suitcase without the power cord for my Mac Air.  Since I am always working, I always need my computer.

But I’m in New York, so no problem.

I call a LYFT, head to the Apple Store at Fifth Avenue and 58th, which is open 24 hours a day 365 days a year. I buy my cord and take another LYFT back to the hotel. The entire adventure takes less than 30 minutes.

Yep. Electronics 24 hours a day and no need for a car.

But before I head upstairs, I walk down my block, past the Barrymore across the street and the line that has begun to form outside the Brooks Atkinson. These are people without tickets wanting to see “Waitress”

I could live on this block for a week without going anywhere else because there is a Buffalo Wild Wings next to the Barrymore and because of my destination, Crave, which has fabulous pizza and salads at lunch and dinner and the coffee and cinnamon roll I’m getting right now. (I’d show you a picture, but I ate it.)