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

Live with Time; don’t watch it pass by

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I learned last night that I lost a friend, another friend, a dear friend, a man larger than life with a personality and conviction for truth unparalleled among my friends.

We do not control Time.

It treats us like the peons we are. We can either sit by and watch as it parades or we can swim in it, march with it, dance through it – because it does not stop.

People – friends, colleagues, acquaintances – ask me why I’m traveling so much and doing so much and living so much: visiting two or three countries and several states a year, attending tennis tournaments and concerts, seeing “Hamilton” twice and finding my way to big events such as inaugurals and small ones like PeeWee football games 1,200 miles away from my home.

As I’ve struggled this year with the loss of my mother and surgery that put me on my a– for weeks, I did hear friends tell me to slow down, take my time. But you can’t take Time. It is controlled by no one, save God.

I can occasionally operate at 33 and a third rather than 78. (Google records to understand that). But I don’t have to stop the adventures. I will still rip and run all I want. I plan to live every single day with gusto, frivolity and, occasionally, foolishness.

Why?

Because each sunrise is a revelation. Each day is a gift. Don’t spend your life planning to live. Live!

I lost a friend and didn’t have a chance to say goodbye. I plan to frolic in Time, play with it, laugh with it. Every day.

Because each day is what we have. Each time. And Time is not waiting for you – or me.

Rochelle Riley is a columnist at the Detroit Free Press. Read her columns at www.freep.com/rochelleriley. Read her personal reflections here, where she pursues life, liberty and whatever the hell else she wants. Follow her on Twitter @rochelleriley.

A young man, without words, teaches an older generation about humanity, patience & Lawd, when…

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Former Washington Post crew Rochelle Riley, Athelia Knight, Shirley Carswell and Gwen Ifill join current staffer Dudley Brooks at NABJ/NAHJ.

I just returned from the annual convention of the National Association of Black Journalists, which was held jointly this year with the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

I had planned to write about the joy of seeing old friends, of sharing memories from 33 years in this organization.

I had planned to share wisdom gleaned from the fantastic seminars I attended and the successful forum I planned.

I thought I might mention again how much I miss working with the young journalists I helped train as a mentor in the student newspaper project for 22 years and the ones I’ve helped train in high school journalism workshops since 1984.

But all of that took a back seat when I read this Facebook post from one of my “babies.”  That is because what NABJ provides most is a place for all of us to help – and to share how we help – make each other better, even in the face of horrible discrimination, racism and bias in our newsrooms, our towns, our lives.

So rather than read a long post from me, read this from my friend and newspaper son, Marlon A. Walker.

In a few words, he explains why we must write our own stories, no matter how many times people complain about it. We must be the better people because we have always had to be. And as my Twitter feed begins:

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Here’s Marlon: 
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I planned to gush tonight about attending ‪#‎NABJNAHJ16‬ and my first year on the board, then I met Mrs. Ella.

Screen Shot 2016-08-09 at 8.04.51 AMI was heading into a restaurant in Greenville, S.C., for breakfast when the older woman in front of me, maybe in her 70s, stumbled. Reacting, I put out my forearm to catch her from the back. She said thanks, turned to see my face and recoiled.

Seeing the disappointment on my face in that moment, she later came to me before I left to apologize. “I never met a nice colored before, so thank you.”

I’d just spent the week with my family, celebrating Mama Rochelle Riley and having conversations with the likes of Sheila Brooks, Paula Madison andMizell Stewart III about storytelling, my role in the process, and why our beloved organization MUST be great. Continue Reading