Rochelle Riley (center) celebrates receiving the Will Rogers Humanitarian Award from James Rogers (second from left), the great-grandson of humorist, actor and cowboy Will Rogers. From right: the award’s founder, Bob Haught, NSNC conference chairman Brian O’Connor and Riley’s editor, Ron Dzwonkowski.
Sometimes, you have to stop. Just stop and live in a moment, life fully in it.
That happened to me Friday night when I stood before a group of hugely talented writers and journalists because someone wanted to give me a pat on the back.
Newsrooms aren’t keen on pats on the back. We are, after all, producing products that are vital one day and trash the next.
But every now and again, someone stops you with a word of encouragement, a pat of recognition and thanks. And it takes your breath away.
For 10 years, I’ve written about adult literacy and the challenge Detroit and Michigan face because of the number of adults who read below a sixth grade level – something that, at the height of American auto making, didn’t matter.
But in the new global economy, one where most auto jobs require college degrees and there are fewer auto plants than in the past 30 years, reading is – as it has always been –fundamental and necessary.
On Friday night, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists recognized me for that decade of work with the Will Rogers Humanitarian Award.
Rogers, Oklahoma’s most famous resident and one of America’s most beloved celebrities of the 1920s and 1030s, was born in November 1879 and died in August 1935, but in that span, he was a humorist, vaudeville performer, cowboy, actor and comedian. A descendant of the Cherokee Nation, he wrote more than 4,000 newspaper columns, made dozens of silent movies and became a a part of America’s tragic lore when he died in an airplane crash with pilot Wiley Post. Known for his quick wit and hilarious stories, Rogers has been among the most quoted Americans in history. His most famous: I never met a man I didn’t like.
Seventy-six years later, I stood in a Detroit Great Lakes museum and received a bronze statue of him that moved me to tears. It was one of those moments that I always tell people to take a breath and listen to. It was one of those moments that Oprah tells people to live in.
It took my breath away.
But when I get my breath back, I’ll be back on the job, back in the streets, fighting the good fight some more. The need is great and growing.
But I’ll have more fuel in my tank because of a pat on the back that was inspiring, encouraging and appreciated.