“The Burden” Book Tour launches February 1 at The Wright

The book tour for “The Burden: African Americans and the Enduring Impact of Slavery” kicks off on February 1 at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. The event will feature a reading of excerpts from the book and a conversation between Rochelle and award-winning New York Times writer and MacArthur Genius Nikole Hannah-Jones and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. Tickets, which are $25 and include a copy of The Burden, are available here. Best-selling author Kareem Abdul-Jabbar calls The Burden “one of the most comprehensive, enlightening, and thought-provoking books I have ever read on African-American history. The insights into how slavery affects every aspect of America today from politics to economics to culture is powerfully presented by this remarkable essay collection.” Ibram X. Kendi, National Book Award-winning author of “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America” said: “As much as Americans want to deny it, slavery sits with us. It burdens us, as these essays brilliantly reveal. We need these striking essays to strike down our denial over the lingering effects of slavery.”


Why I voted

I just voted.

I just made my stand for a democracy that didn’t always welcome my family and doesn’t always do so now.

screen-shot-2016-11-08-at-9-47-32-amI just voted to honor my ancestors who couldn’t vote, those who could and those who damn well did and demanded the same of their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Voting in our family has been like education. Getting a high school diploma was never an optional exercise. Getting a college degree was expected but could be replaced by hard work.

I just voted in honor of my grandparents, Lowney and Bennie Pitt, who died in 2000 less than three months apart, after 67 years of marriage. It is the fifth time I have voted for a U.S. President in their honor.

They missed the hanging chad election. They didn’t get to elect Sen. Barack Obama or re-elect President Barack Obama. They never got to witness the exceptional grace and fortitude of First Lady Michelle Obama. They didn’t get to express their pride in the First Daughters or comment about the First Dogs. (My grandmother might not have been so happy about the Obamas having pets in the White House).

They missed the Democratic Party nominating a woman as its candidate, the first time in our young country’s 240-year history that it has happened. Oh, I hope Shirley Chisolm and Barbara Jordan are watching alongside Susan B. Anthony and the first women who fought.

My grandparents and all those who fought for civil rights for more than a century are not here to see the  fruits of their work. I stood in a long line and joyously waited an hour this morning thanks to them.

I am the dividend my grandparents gave to America. I will continue to demand my place in the democracy they helped build with their blood, sweat and votes.

I just voted – for them, for myself and for my descendants who must always have a place at the table.

Too many fought too hard for that place at the table. So for those millennials and others who plan to leave their place empty today, remember this: If you ignore the table, you might one day not get to eat.

I just voted. And every election, every time I mark a ballot, it is the proudest moment of that day. Every time, it has led to a history I helped make.

That, in itself, makes the duty required.

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.

Paying tribute to a friend
who knew you when . . .

Screen Shot 2015-11-27 at 9.36.41 AMSome things require you to take a moment. Learning that a friend had died meant doing just that: giving the news the time it deserved, the time it required, the time to remember and then say goodbye. A single column could never cover all the wonderful things about my friend, the things that made her become a person who helped others, who loved others, who made others laugh.  There aren’t enough words to describe what she meant
to her family and friends. But since words are what I do, and she and I both loved words, I offered some about my friend Rita Long Baker here.

ROCHELLE RILEY is a writer whose essays here are about her personal thoughts and adventures.
No reprints without permission. You can read her columns at www.freep.com/rochelleriley and follow her on Twitter @rochelleriley.


That time you were reminded
to walk your life in faith and joy

I was awakened this morning by best alarm clock, my dog, Desi. When he’s ready to go, his whine sounds almost human. We bundled up and headed out into the snow, and today, he decided he wanted to trot. So we trotted. I was moving with my head down, my eyes on the ground and suddenly, my face and shoulders were filled with snow. I had walked right into a low hanging branch. It was a skinny one that did no harm, and suddenly, I found myself laughing out loud. Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 8.53.10 AMI was a child again, and I’d just been hit by a very loose snowball. I was overwhelmed with memories of growing up in North Carolina . . . the foot races, the snowball fights, the snow cream my grandmother used to make with a little vanilla extract and milk. I was still laughing when we arrived home. We opened the door to Joel Osteen on the  television. He was giving advice to his congregation, which is the size of the crowd at a basketball game or a prize fight. But suddenly, I realized he was talking to me, reminding me that I should not always ask God for things, but that I should thank Him for the things He already did. I should thank him for the joy. Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 9.06.38 AM “If you remember the victories,” Osteen said, “the times God healed you, the times He promoted you, the times He stopped the accident, the times He turned the problem around – when you’re remembering the right things, you’re going to move forward in faith. You’ll see more of God’s favor.”

I stopped for a moment and thought about the times when I was so low that I couldn’t think about anything but that lowness, the burden of it like a weight on my back.

I wish I had heard Osteen in those low days. But then I realized that I didn’t need Osteen to remind me, although he’s a great reminder. I needed to remember for myself. If used a dual scale with problems and challenges on one side and victories and grace and, quite frankly, the times that God saved me, on the other – that scale would tip over because the good so outweighs the bad.

“You don’t have to look for a miracle. You ARE a miracle,” Osteen said.

Suddenly, I smiled. It was a big ol’ smile that no one but Desi could see. I looked around at the house. I thought about the car in the garage. I thought about the job that, most days, I really, really love.

I thought about the young man I wrote about today in my column, and the people just a few years older than he who call me their mentor, who call me for advice, who value my judgment.

I thought about my grandparents, both gone, who put so much spirit and character and resilience in me.

Osteen was closing his sermon and said “Keep God first. He’s going to take you places that you never dreamed.”

He already did.

Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 8.55.45 AMI thought about the trips I’ve taken to Argentina and Australia and Canada and England and France and Holland and Italy and Kenya and Mexico and Myanmar and New Zealand and Senegal and Thailand and most of the Caribbean Islands…


If I really don’t dwell on the challenges and problems and focus, instead, on the victories and joy, I am relieved of any mental pain, and my spirit is filled with amazement. Relive the miracles, Osteen suggested, rather than dwell on the dark moments,

Dang. Why didn’t I think of that? I guess it’s because sometimes, when it’s dark, you forget to turn on a light.

I’m turning on the light, and I’m going to try to keep it on all the time. I will learn to rise each day with a focus on the victories and the accomplishments. that time God did this, or that time God did that. Those times far outweigh the pain. I can live with the thing that most worries me not filling my day. Focusing on the good can make me stronger and better able to handle the challenge. “Go look at yourself in the mirror,” Osteen said. “You’re a trophy of God’s goodness … don’t lose the awe at what God has done.” Osteen provided a reminder  that I should walk, not just in faith but also in joy, at the good things that are too numerous to list.

Thanks, God. I needed that.

ROCHELLE RILEY is a writer whose essays here are about her personal thoughts and adventures. No reprints without permission. You can read her columns at www.freep.com/rochelleriley and follow her on Twitter @rochelleriley.