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.

I learned the words. I learned the song. And on the day of open auditions, in front of every other hopeful, I stood at the edge of the stage to sing “This Is My Country.” I chose it because it was easy, there were no high parts, it was perfect for my voice range.

And I got out one full phrase – “This is MY country, land that I love…” – before my throat closed, and I couldn’t go on.

Mr. Owens didn’t prolong my embarrassment. He said, “Try again when you’re ready.”

Decades later, when I decided to become a newspaper columnist, it was because I’d finally found my voice, and I wasn’t afraid to use it. I just wasn’t meant to sing the words.

I still love to sing. I didn’t try again until church choir on Sundays and a charity talent show one Friday night, with “My Funny Valentine.” I thought of Mr. Owens and wish I had sent him a video, showing that my becoming a columnist shook off the nerves that had made it hard for me to be on stage.

Now I’m a public speaker and commentator without fear. I appear on television without blinking. I might even make a record.

I’m sorry I didn’t go home and tell him “Thank you for helping me find my voice. I came back when I was ready, just like you told me.”

Tarboro has lost a beautiful, kind man, who nurtured kids and helped us all find our voices, our callings, our joy.

There is no greater legacy than that.

ROCHELLE RILEY’s essays on this blog are personal. No reprints without permission. You can read her newspaper columns at www.freep.com/rochelleriley and follow her on Twitter @rochelleriley.

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: 
________________________

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.

Then, I met Mrs. Ella.

She’s why we tell our stories, y’all.

She’s that parent who missed the Board of Education meeting you sat through. She’s the voter unaware of the issues. She’s the one who believes‪#‎AllLivesMatter‬.

Hopefully, in my kindness, I gave her a different view. Maybe the next black man she sees won’t make her flinch.

After spending a week running into Wesley Lowery and Glenn Marshall andDelano Lanny Massey, getting face time with Errin Haines Whack and Nicki Mayo and exposing Sharon Harris to our annual gathering, it was Mrs. Ella who reinforced why we meet.

I can’t wait to get back to work tomorrow. And I cannot wait for New Orleans.

_______________________________

Our lives are lived in moments. Moment-by-moment, we change others’ lives and our own. Yes we can be sick and tired of being sick and tired of racism and discrimination and foolishness. But, as African Americans, we have always been the bigger people. We’ve had to be. I thank Marlon for sharing this moment, which changed my moment and my day.

 

Marlon A. Walker is a writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Rochelle Riley’s newspaper column can be found at www.freep.com/rochelleriley. These are her personal reflections about her pursuit of life, liberty and whatever the hell else she wants. Follow her on Twitter @rochelleriley.

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.

It’s so easy to change our behavior, when we slow down to think about it, when we stop to look around, when we mean it. We – all of us – made Black Friday a holiday – except we forgot to make it celebrate something.

Now it can.

In my home, there is no more Black Friday. There is only a second day to count the many blessings my family and I have had through the year and to be thankful in advance for those to come.

If you think you don’t have many, just look around and see what’s there: the beautiful smiles of friends, the funny stories of family, the amazing memories etched into our souls of special moments that we know changed us. How do we change our lives by outrageous spending every year on the day after we give thanks? We put ourselves in debt. We accumulate things rather than wealth. We don’t focus on thanks, but focus on gimme.

Yes, this was a day to count my blessings – and to eat more turkey. And you know what? The second turkey was almost as good as the first! Happy Blessings Friday! Happy Second Thanksgiving!

ROCHELLE RILEY is a writer and blogger whose posts here are about her personal adventures. You can read her columns at www.freep.com/rochelleriley and follow her on Twitter @rochelleriley.

 

 

Finding kindred spirits
in an office supply store

You meet the nicest people in the strangest places.

This time, I was at an office supply store to buy card stock for a church project. As I searched the shelves unsuccessfully for what I needed, I overheard a couple next to me talking about card stock. They had been looking for a while and hadn’t found what they wanted either.

1After five or six more minutes in a deserted aisle, I dialed the store’s number and reached customer service. Suddenly, the store intercom blasted  that a customer call was waiting. Apparently that isn’t allowed to happen. I watched a clerk rush to the phone and happily say:

“How can I help you?”

“We’re in the paper aisle and need some help,” I said. “Could you please send someone over?”

I heard the clerk laughingly and loudly tell someone “She’s calling from the store!”

Another clerk walked quickly over to greet us.

“Hi, I’m looking for white card stock, and I only need 40 sheets. Do you have anything close to that?” I pointed to the shelf filled with packs of 250 and 500 sheets.

Nope, he told me. I had to buy a 250-sheet pack.

Suddenly, the guy standing nearby said: “Well, that’s what we’re looking for, and we only need 80 sheets! Why don’t we split a pack?”

He was half of a really nice couple, the kind of people you’re glad to run into, the kind of people who say hello as you pass by.

A few minutes later, we paid for OUR paper at the register, and then split it in half: about 125 sheets each. Then we went our separate ways.

I don’t know why that moment made me feel so good, except this: Three strangers joined together and shared a little victory against a retail machine that doesn’t always work the way we want.

Yay us.

ROCHELLE RILEY is a writer and blogger whose posts here are about her personal adventures. You can read her columns at www.freep.com/rochelleriley and follow her on Twitter @rochelleriley.

 

Co-signing credit is giving your reputation
to someone else to use and lose

It’s not that I’m selfish, but Days 13 and 14 of the 21-Day Financial Fast were easy.

Chapter 13 in Michelle Singletary’s book that accompanies the fast explained the curse of credit. That curse taught me a harsh lesson more than a decade ago. That curse kicked my butt.

Suffice it to say, after my foray into unlimited twentysomething spending, I soon learned to treat credit cards like alcohol, and I didn’t want to become an alcoholic.

I cut up all my credit cards but one, (My company gave me a second for business expenses.), and I began paying off my bills.  That was a huge step for someone who got her first credit card when she was 19.

creditcardsChapter 14 was one I didn’t even have to read. It was called co-signing is crazy. As I said, it’s not that I’m selfish, but I wouldn’t co-sign something for anyone, not even my mother.

What I would do is find a way to get what she needed, whether it was a car or a house without attaching my name to someone else’s credit.

It is a standard I’ve always had, but one that became a life mantra that speaks to a larger issue: Do not give your reputation to someone else to use and lose! If they mess it up, you can’t get it back – not for a long time.

So these days, these chapters, were easy: Do not get a bunch of credit cards. They are not money, and you’re still broke. And don’t let someone else’s poor credit keep you from using your own.

Got it!

ROCHELLE RILEY is a writer and blogger whose posts here are about her personal adventures. You can read her columns at www.freep.com/rochelleriley, and she hopes you will support her Kickstarter campaign to record an acoustic gospel album here!

 

 

Financial Fast helps reveal unhealthy obsession

I have 64 handbags, purses and pocketbooks.

handbagsI hated writing that out loud because first, it’s stupid and second, it’s just stupid.

But there’s more. I have 52 pairs of shoes and 11 pairs of boots.

That is not bragging. That is an admission of guilt. This is a revelation of an obsession. If there was any evidence needed of my indiscriminate and unnecessary spending, those numbers are it.

For about five minutes, I sat down, just sat down and said out loud: I’m a hoarder. Why do I have these things? Who needs 64 purses (and six laptop cases?) I hadn’t even seen some of the purses since I bought them; 17 were still brand new or used once. Who am I?

I wouldn’t have been in my closet – and come out of my compulsive-spending closet – had it not been for the 21-Day Financial Fast that I stumbled onto on Michelle Singletary’s Twitter feed. She’s The Washington Post columnist who created a spirit-based plan to teach us about money and spending and debt.

I know that I’m blessed. I know that I have loved shopping for longer than is necessary to say. I just never thought about how far my shopping had gone. Having the ability to buy is a blessing; wasting that ability is a curse.

What I have learned over 13 days is that I don’t have to spend all the money I make. It’s OK to save it.  For big things. For rainy days. For storms. For no reason other than it’s smart.

I can’t believe what my past patterns were. I can’t believe I’m talking about them out loud.

But I will say this: If I have learned only one lesson from this fast (and there have been more than one), it is that I will never spend money the same way again.

I have gone to the supermarket and purchased just what I needed without picking up 22 other things.

I have made meals in my own kitchen for 13 days. That is a record, yes a record.

I went to a restaurant for the first time in nearly two weeks yesterday – but only because a friend treated. I had an amazing taco salad. I know because I have the fixings at home. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This fast has not taught me to stop having fun or living. As soon as it’s over, I’m going to the movies to catch up and going to my favorite restaurant to have lemon artichoke tilapia (No, I will not attempt to make it. I want to be waited on.)

But I actually see the money now as I’m handing it over. I actually check the balance on my bank card that I used to just pull out all the time.

I’m spending after thinking instead of spending without thinking.

Now I have to get ready for church – and I’m not even taking a purse because I need my laptop case and just threw my wallet into that.

But after church, I need to sort through all those handbags and take the bulk of them to a program where women who need them – and would use them – can. 681x454

But I’m keeping the shoes.

Sigh.

 

 

ROCHELLE RILEY is a writer and blogger whose posts here are about her personal adventures. You can read her columns at www.freep.com/rochelleriley, and she hopes you will support her Kickstarter campaign to record an acoustic gospel album here!

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.

So we’d play another game.

It began with a sandwich.

I had made her a perfectly good mini-Dagwood, with ham, turkey, lettuce, tomato and cheese. It was pretty.

She took a bite and threw the rest away.

“I don’t want it,” she said.

freepressbookstore_2268_15094257I told her she owed me $1.79 or some such figure. (You’d have to grab my book “Raising A Parent: Lessons I Learned While My Daughter and I Grew Up Together” to read the actual amount.)

And, I told her she had to work that debt off before she could get something else.

Later, in the checkout line at the supermarket, she asked for a candy bar. I asked how much it cost. She knew how to look for the price, because in those days, they were right on the product. I then had her subtract the price from what she owed me.

This lesson lasted for two days. And she never threw food away again.

It was a great lesson for her and a proud moment for me. At 6, she understood debt.

That still didn’t help her understand why I was talking about saving for college when she was in the third grade.

“That’s years away,” she said.

“Yes, and it’ll take years to save for it,” I told her.

So if there’s any lesson I can offer other mothers, other dads, other Godmothers (because yes, we Godmothers have to help our Godchildren attend college, too), it’s to remember that these lessons, like Michelle Singletary is teaching us, are lifelong.

So I didn’t skip Chapter 11. Sure, my daughter is is a grown-up. But I’m sharing it because of the need for all of us to continue to teach our children and their children and our friends’ children about money and saving.

It is a necessary legacy.

ROCHELLE RILEY is a writer and blogger whose posts here are about her personal adventures. You can read her columns at www.freep.com/rochelleriley, and she hopes you will support her Kickstarter campaign to record an acoustic gospel album here!

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.

And then it got real deep. I thought about that choice I faced versus the ones that some people make – between medicine and food, between rent and diapers.

Am I an idiot or what?

The DAY 8 guidelines were simple: have two essential funds: an emergency fund and a “life happens” fund. The first should have six months worth of living expenses. The second should have at least $1,000.

I recalled when Paula Madison, a television executive and all-around dynamo who now is an owner of the L.A. Sparks told me years ago that she began saving for her retirement when she was 21 years old.

It looks good on her.

I wish all the time that I had listened.

But what the financial fast has taught me is that it’s not too late. Michelle suggests knowing your net worth. It’s not something you have to discuss over lunch, but you should have an idea.

She also talked about her grandmother living every day as if she would lose her job at the end of it. Anyone working for a newspaper these days should feel the same way. But she also suggests not living in fear.

I don’t know how you do both, except to see that living with debt is like living with obesity. You decide how fat and unhealthy you want to be.

Michelle didn’t say that.

I did.

ROCHELLE RILEY is a writer and blogger whose posts here are about her personal adventures. You can read her columns at www.freep.com/rochelleriley, and she hopes you will support her Kickstarter campaign to record an acoustic gospel album here!