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

The world is small, and so is America.

I decided five years ago that I had not seen enough of the world. So I set a goal: See 20 countries.

Now, I am seeing the world through the eyes of people like me in cities that once were just dots on a map: Dakar, Senegal; Migori, Kenya; Johannesburg, South Africa; Capetown, South Africa; Queenstown, New Zealand; Sydney, Australia. These visits came after fellowship trips to the beautiful cities of Buenos Aires, Istanbul, Amsterdam, London, Paris, Rome and Turin, Italy. And those visits came after long ago, initial, close-to-home trips to Toronto, Cancun, Acapulco, which all opened my eyes to the truth:

The world is so small.

I was amazed by how comfortable I was, how easily I traveled. I stood next to buildings I’d dreamed of seeing, such as the Sydney Opera House, thousands of miles from home. And it felt so right, exciting, but like I was supposed to be there.

So on I go to two new countries: Myanmar and Thailand, which a New York times In Transit piece just mentioned yesterday, a week after I planned my trip to Myanmar (formerly Burma) and Thailand. Psychic? Read about them hereScreen Shot 2015-02-26 at 5.13.31 AM

While business takes me there, pleasure will keep me going back. And as much as I love Thai food cooked in America, I cannot wait to see and taste its origins.

I also am continuing to see all of America. I have visited 33 states. I pin my travels on two large maps of the world and the U.S. I used to keep the global map in my office in the newsroom. My editor would occasionally come by and point to the wide swath of the U.S. that I have skipped: Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, the Dakotas. “You missed a spot,” he’d say. And we’d both laugh.

With only 17 states to go, I’ve decided that, occasionally, I will drive. I understand, for the first time, why the family trips were by car, past places on the way to places. I’m the kind of person who would take the detour to see the world’s largest ball of string.

The journeys mean so much now.

And when I return, I’ll plan my next trip to another state, one of the 17 that await my arrival. Excuse me if it’s Hawaii. Continue Reading

Black Friday Becomes Blessings Friday

It was easy to skip the malls and outlets and boutiques today. After all, I’d avoided post-Thanksgiving shopping for the past two years.

It takes little to change your direction, once you’ve changed your mind.

I spent the first Thanksgiving at a friend’s. Well, Gail is more than a friend. She breathes by doing for others, so when you go to her house for dinner, she serves as much love as food. And she serves a lot of food. There was baked turkey, smoked turkey, spicy meatballs, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, candied yams, chicken wings (real ones, fresh ones, fried by her best friend, Dorian). There were green beans, ham, cornbread dressing, and a bunch of desserts whose names I won’t write out loud.

We stood in a circle and uttered what we were thankful for, and we were all thankful for Gail.

Then I went home, where Desi was waiting for leftovers. But an upset stomach (at Thanksgiving, no less, meant he could only have boiled chicken and rice).

On Friday morning, I walked into my well-stocked kitchen (one of the many blessings I counted). I had taken the day off from a job I love (another blessing!). And I spent the day focused on something much more important than shopping: all the ways I’d been blessed since last Thanksgiving.

It is impossible to count all your blessings in a day. Two days actually isn’t enough, but it’s a start. So yes, today became Blessings Friday. It also became a second Thanksgiving. I put the second turkey into the IMG_5358oven. I bowled the collard greens and cornbread dressing and mashed potatoes and meatballs (Yes, the ones from Gail’s, which were outtasight). And when everything was ready, voilá – Second Thanksgiving – a second day to reflect on the many blessings we get every day, every week without thought, without words, without remembering the next day.

Millions of people spent today looking for bargains, finding deals, traversing from place to place to find happiness in a box or bottle or package. Many other people skipped shopping to keep attention focused on a tragic killing in Ferguson, Missouri that becomes uglier and uglier with each passing day. Continue Reading

Remembering Angelo Henderson;
making sure his legacy lives

Whenever you talked to Angelo Henderson, on the phone or in person, you had to work to keep up.

He talked at 78 rpm; so if you were chatting at 33 1/3, you had to increase your speed. (For anyone younger than 30, those numbers refers to old records. For anyone younger than 20, records are big CDS.  For teenagers, CDs are something people used to put music on before iTunes.)

The funeral program from Angelo Henderson's Homegoing Celebration.
The funeral program from Angelo Henderson’s Homegoing Celebration.

Angelo, who lived life at a hundred miles an hour, just never stopped. He didn’t rest until his death on February 15. That’s because knew he had a lot to do. He, after all, had five jobs. And he was successful at all of them.

He was a journalist who rose to the top of the industry, winning a Pulitzer Prize in 1999.

He was one of the most popular radio talk show hosts in Michigan.

He was an activist who co-founded a community group, the Detroit 300, that literally changed the way people lived in troubled Detroit neighborhoods.

He was a minister who heeded God’s calling and became a minister, while continuing all of his other work.

But his most important job was as husband and father.

Writing the words “Angelo died” out loud still doesn’t make it real. I needed it to be a false rumor – like the one Wikipedia afflicts on Sinbad every few years, not for his friends, but for his wife and son, Felecia and Grant.

I’ve never seen any couple more in love than Angelo and Felecia, a fellow journalist who was his perfect match, calm to his tornado, grace to his flurry.

And Grant? I’m so glad Angelo got to see his son become the young man they groomed him to be, a 20-year-old college student with real basketball skills.

There is a scene in the film Remember the Titans where Denzel Washington, as Coach Herman Boone, talks to the media about losing a player before the big state championship.

“You cannot replace a Gerry Bertier – as a player or person,” the coach tells gathered media.

Well, Detroit is our team. And you cannot replace an Angelo Henderson. All we can do now is to let him continue to serve as role model and inspiration. Continue Reading

End of financial fast is beginning
of different economic living

So what happened to the end of the 21-day financial fast, you wonder?

I completed it. But more important, I paid attention to the things I learned on it.

I paid off my car (and am about to pay off one of the only two credit cards I have).

I do not buy anything major now without giving myself a week to think about it.

And I’m cleaning up my house and life, getting rid of all the crap and not replacing it with things I don’t need.

Screen Shot 2014-01-18 at 12.09.35 PMWhen I began Washington Post columnist Michelle Singletary’s 21-Day Financial Fast, I figured I’d save a few bucks, learn a few things and go back to business as usual.

I saved a lot. I learned more about myself than my money. And things will never be the same.

Example? I went to have my annual teeth cleaning. I’m a big baby at the dentist’s office. The hygienist said “You want nitrous (the wonderful gas, nitrous oxide that makes you not care that she’s in your mouth)? Rather than immediately say “Yes!”, I asked “How much?”

It was $40. I said no.

What?!

I needed a new wallet. I went shopping in my closet. I found one with the tag still on, and I have had great compliments on the style and color. I don’t even remember buying it.

My next task is to clean the garage, so I can take the stuff I have in storage and put it in the garage. That stuff has been there since April 2012 because I didn’t have time to deal with it. When I realized that the money I’d spent holding onto it would have paid for a trip to Paris, I got motivated.

checkbookSo I want to thank Michelle and the fast. And she’ll be happy to know that, unlike some people who might not have wanted people to know what they were doing, I talked to everybody. The best encouragement I got was a gift from a dear friend, who knew that I would be experiencing several special occasions occurring during the fast, including my birthday. She gave me a checkbook whose checks were actually dollar bills.

“Snack on these and stick to your fast,” she told me. Continue Reading

DAY 11: Fasting to help others is still fasting for you

So I mentioned that I skipped Day 10 on the 21-Day Financial Fast because I was still working on a budget from Chapter 7 and because Chapter 7.

I also skipped it because it was the chapter in Michelle Singletary’s book “The 21-Day Financial Fast” about Marrying Your Money. That meant it was for married couples or people who are about to get married.

That’s not me, and while I would marry for money, among other necessary things, I couldn’t take anything from this chapter and give it to anyone – because I also don’t interfere in the business of married couples.

But Chapter 11?

That was different.

Chapter 11 (How odd that it shares a name with a type of  bankruptcy, but I digress . . . ) is a chapter about leaving a legacy of good money sense.

And I was feeling guilt.

My daughter is 24, and while I’m sure I taught money lessons – and even wrote about teaching her money lessons, I also let her watch me spend sometimes indiscriminately, just because we wanted things.

She is proving now that she learned both lessons, but I think the wants sometimes outweigh the needs. So I’ve decided to share this chapter with her and other young women to help them learn what to teach their children.

“As parents, we know it’s imperative to teach our kids to say no to drugs and alcohol,” Michelle writes on Page 134. “But can you honestly say you’re doing your best to help them fend off consumerism and credit card pushers?”

How-to-Teach-Your-Kids-About-Money-Management_full_article_verticalI know I had some success when my daughter entered college and got as many credit card applications as there were professors on campus – and ignored them.

How do I know she ignored them? Because she asked me for things that, had she had a credit card, she would have just gotten them. I won’t detail any of those requests here. But let’s just say that one had to do with some really dumb cosmetic surgery.

I remember when she was little, and the best I way I could teach her lessons about money was through sacrifice. I didn’t believe in time-outs because, as a busy reporter, editor, then news executive, I didn’t want any of the precious time I had with her spent with her sitting in a corner. Continue Reading

DAYS 7 & 8: Financial Fast gets harder when required to plan

You haven’t heard from me since DAY 6 of Michelle Singletary’s 21-Day Financial Fast for two good reasons:  I got lost in my closet and DAY 7 required me to do a budget.

I have never done a budget. Not in my entire adult life. DAY 7 was Sunday. Today is Tuesday, and I’m still trying to do a budget.

budget calculator budget for rotator_0Oh, I had every excuse in the world:

Microsoft Excel sucks.

There’s no way to calculate what I might spend on some things.

I don’t want to.

None of the excuses were good ones, and I’ve put it off long enough. So between the NBC Nightly News and the 19 other tasks I have on my plate tonight, I’m going back to the numbers.

I will create a living document. I will place it on the wall where I can see it every day.

I have learned so much about myself: how quickly I spend money, how much I waste money; how little I pay attention to ways I could save money. I’ve kicked myself with questions: Why didn’t I refinance my house three years ago? Why didn’t I save more?

Michelle writes in the book that guides the fast about Joseph (from Genesis 41: 47-4) who stored grain from the fields even when they were overflowing. He stored so much that “he stopped keeping records because it was beyond measure.  He stored for when the famine came.

We think a famine isn’t coming – even as one is just ending. Joseph’s instructions came to him in a dream. Ours come from parables that we can use to guide our judgment or ignore at our own peril.

In the book, Michelle asks: “How many blessings are you missing because you spend every dime you make? Who are you failing to connect with and bless because you don’t have enough to share – because you’ve failed to save?”

I thought of the trip to Africa I’m taking in the spring and how I canceled going to this year’s Sundance Film Festival. I was patting myself on the back until I realized that had I budgeted better, saved better, I could have done both. Continue Reading