R.I.P Mr. Owens. Thanks for helping me find my voice.

One of the sad truths about living far from where you grew up is that you sometimes miss things: bits of news, classmates’ birthdays, passages – and tragedies. 

I missed a big one, and want to thank an old friend for sharing through Facebook the death of someone who changed my life.

His name was Lloyd Owens. I didn’t know until after I’d graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill that he had any other name by Lloyd.

No matter. He was just Mr. Owens to those of us in chorus.

He was Mr. Owens to those of us who worked on the stage plays at Tarboro Senior High: Lil’ Abner, Guys and Dolls.

He was Mr. Owens to those of us whose lives he touched, whose spirits he lifted and whose personas were molded by his generous spirit, his huge love of life and his constant nurturing.

He was one of those teachers, coaches, mentors who took seriously the job of nurturing children. It wasn’t just a job. We could tell that he loved it, and he loved us.

As for me, he helped give me my voice.

It was my greatest challenge, my dual personalities: I was secretly shy. No one knew it because I participated in everything: student government, athletics, cheerleading (Yes, I know some consider it a sport.), drama club, French club, band and – gloriously – the chorus.

And since most of the singers who auditioned for roles in the annual spring play were from the chorus, I got to watch up close something I’d wanted to do forever.

One year, we were doing “Guys and Dolls,” my favorite musical for years. “The Color Purple” and “Hamilton” have since stolen my heart. But back then, Guys was everything. I didn’t want a starring role. I just wanted to sing on stage.

The first auditions were in Mr. Owens’ office – and I was so nervous. He listened for a just a few seconds, stopped me and said. “Come back when you’re ready. Know the words. Feel them. Make them yours.” And with a flick of his hand, I was dismissed. Continue Reading

A Lifelong Teacher 
Leaves a Lasting Legacy

Marva Jeanne Pitt Riley grew up in east Tarboro on a street where the neighborhood village raised all the children and helped teach all the children.

When she came of age, Mrs. Riley did the same thing: She became a teacher.

She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Education from North Carolina Central University and taught elementary school. When illness took her from the classroom, she continued to teach. She gave grammar lessons on the front porch of the family home on East Church Street. She helped friends and family, and Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 12.13.07 AMlater some staff members at the Golden Living Center, where she spent the last years of her life, to ensure that their work was well done.

Marva Riley died on Sunday, June 5. She was 78 years old. But her legacy of teaching, that tradition borne on East Church Street in Tarboro, will continue.

The Marva Jeanne Pitt Riley Endowed Scholarship Fund has been established at North Carolina Central University to honor her and to train future teachers. Donations are being accepted at https://24282.thankyou4caring.org/vlb-donation (Please designate that the donation is for the Marva Jeanne Pitt Riley Scholarship/ Account E01466.) Checks (with Marva Riley Scholarship/Account E01466 on the memo line) may be mailed to:

NCCU Foundation, Inc.,
P.O. Box 19363
1801 Fayetteville St.
Durham, NC 27705

The scholarship will ensure that future young students can follow in the footsteps of a woman who persevered.

Marva Jeanne Pitt Riley was born on October 13, 1937 to Lowney and Bennie Pitt of Tarboro. She attended the Perry School and later W.A. Pattillo School, where she was active in the band, was an outstanding majorette and was the scorekeeper of the basketball teams.

She joined St. Paul AME Zion Church at an early age and later served as secretary of the Sunday School. Her first job was as a cashier at Garrett’s Drug Store in the neighborhood.

After graduating with honors from Pattillo High and North Carolina Central University, where she became a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., she and her husband, Joseph Gilbert Riley, moved to New York, where Marva became a mother a third time and taught at Morningside Elementary School. She was devoted to her students until her career was derailed by multiple sclerosis. Continue Reading

Do yourself a favor: Take a moment to reflect on life

© 2015 BD Portraits - http://BDPortraits.com/RUNAWAY BAY, Saint Ann’s Parish, Jamaica _ It was called a sugar and spice scrub. The masseuse didn’t detail what those ingredients were, and I didn’t ask.  I didn’t need to know. What I did know was that, by the time she was done, she had scrubbed away every bad thing anyone had ever said to me.
By the time it was over, she had scrubbed away every horrible boss, every broken promise, every deferred dream.

By the time she was finished,  I felt like sugar and spice and everything nice. And as I walked along the beach afterward, I felt beautiful, excited to be alive, appreciative of the blessing to be on a beach with sand so soft, it wouldn’t hold heat.

I was at a resort in the middle of a work week because my family told me to take a break, even a short one. And I didn’t even realize how much I needed it until I felt tiny granules of sugar and spice scrape the worry from my skin. I didn’t realize how much I needed it until I sat under an umbrella, a virgin pina colada in hand, and it dawned on me that I didn’t have anywhere to be just then.

I watched a group of middle-aged mend in an epic game of tug-of-war. tug

I won a music trivia contest (28 points. All the music was American.)

I took a break.

Not all breaks are sunshine and pina coladas. Not all periods of reflection come at the end of a plane ride. If you can do it, it’s a great way to stop. But however you do it, do it. Take a moment to think a moment about what kind of life you’re living, what kind of joy you’re giving.

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 10.49.56 PMTake a moment to make sure that the path you’re on is the right one.

Take a moment to decide whether that unfinished project is worth your time. If it is, get back to it. If it’s not, stop letting it make you feel like a failure. You cannot fail at something you’re not supposed to be doing.

IMG_1151Take a moment to think about those close to you and whether they should be that close.

Your moment can be anywhere and at any time. You decide. Continue Reading