We must all channel the spirit of Ida B. Wells

On Friday, August 11, I was honored to receive the Ida B. Wells Award from the National Association of Black Journalists at our annual convention in New Orleans. In accepting, I felt it necessary to remind people of the fighting spirit of Ida B. Wells and offered a challenge to my colleagues on what we must do to protect our profession – and our story. Here are my prepared remarks, delivered, for the most part, intact.

I stand on the shoulders of giants, some from 100 years ago, some from 20 years ago, some from last year. But the most important thing is: I also stand on the shoulders of NABJ babies I’ve helped teach for 25 years who are becoming giants.

I stand here in honor of a woman who taught us that journalism can and should be, in some cases – a crusade.

Ida B. Wells Barnett was born the child of slaves in Mississippi. She became a teacher whose first righteous complaint was that white teachers made $50 more a month than she. Rosa Parks was not the first to refuse to give up her seat, not in 1955, not in our history. Wells sued the train company that kicked her out of her first-class seat that she bought. She won, but after the verdict was overturned on appeal, she wrote: “O God, is there no…justice in this land for us?” But her greatest and most heartbreaking work came after a black friend was lynched by a white mob whose initial anger was that his grocery store was competing successfully against a white store. Wells urged black people to leave Memphis. More than 6,000 did. Thus began an anti-lynching campaign that must continue today.

They are still lynching us.

They are STILL lynching us.

They stopped using ropes and trees.

They stopped celebrating – out loud.

They took off their hoods.

But they are still here.

Those times we thought were gone are just a tweet away.

Hate crimes are rising. The Fourth Estate is under siege.  People cannot tell the difference between those of us trained to help them find the truth and some guy sitting in his underwear in a basement in Wisconsin declaring that his new is real. Continue Reading

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

Rochelle Riley to receive Ida B. Wells Award

WASHINGTON, D.C. _ The National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) announced Tuesday, July 11, that Detroit Free Press columnist Rochelle Riley will receive the prestigious Ida B. Wells Award. Riley will be presented with the award at the Hall of Fame Luncheon on Friday, Aug 11, 2017 NABJ Convention and Career Fair in New Orleans Aug. 9-13, 2017.

“NABJ is proud to honor Rochelle with the Ida B. Wells Award. She is the epitome of someone who uses her voice for positive change. Her columns remind news executives, news managers, reporters and producers of the importance of our responsibility to be inclusive and accountable in our coverage,” said NABJ President Sarah Glover. “Her consistency and assertiveness in her reporting is so necessary. You can be sure what is read in one of her columns will spark a conversation and more importantly lead to some sort of action.”

The annual honor is given to an individual who has made outstanding efforts to make newsrooms and news coverage more accurately reflect the diversity of the communities they serve.

Rochelle is being recognized for her strong efforts in advocating for press freedom. She has spent 20 years crusading for better lives for children, government accountability, and improved race relations. She also has spent 16 years promoting the need to increase adult literacy, helping to raise nearly $2 million for literacy causes in Michigan. She is the author of “The Burden: African Americans and the Enduring Impact of Slavery” (Wayne State University Press, 2018). She has worked at The Washington Post, The Dallas Morning News and The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky.

The Ida B. Wells Award is named in honor of the distinguished journalist, fearless reporter and wife of one of America’s earliest black publishers. Medill, Northwestern University co-curates the Ida B. Wells award with NABJ.

“Rochelle Riley’s stellar career as a journalist and as a mentor to scores of up-and-coming young journalists represents the kind of passion and commitment,” said Charles Whitaker, associate dean at Medill. “The Ida B. Wells Award was created to recognize and celebrate. She is a role model to all of us who care about the present and future of our field. And she is an extremely worthy recipient of this honor.” Continue Reading