My “State of OUR Union”

I come before you today, with just seven full days of voting left, to say that the state of OUR union is dire. Never in my lifetime, or my mother and father’s lifetime, has the United States of America faced so many crises at the same time. And never before have we had a more anarchic president in the White House, sowing discord and hatred for our institutions, our people, and the people of the World. The intersection of those two facts are what makes our current and future state so dire.  

Never have we been at such a crossroads as we approach the election of our next president and seats up and down the ballot. 

Never have we had a leader seed outright distrust in our election process even remotely to the degree of President Trump. With no proof whatsoever, he is claiming voter fraud over and over and over, on Twitter, interviews and at rally after rally after rally. He did it in 2016, saying he would only accept the results of the election if he won. After winning, he established a commission to investigate…which turned up nothing. And, yet again, now as the president of the United States, he’s using his voice to spread lies under the guise of voter fraud.

Never have we had a sitting president, running for re-election, publicly call out to his attorney general to investigate his rival in the race, and then berate him for not doing so. And, this after he called on a foreign official to start an investigation on Biden.

I could go on and on listing a litany of “never before.” But I’m sure that you already know more of them than you want to know.

And yet, I believe. I do. In our country, to fix the broken.

And you believe. I know that you do. 

And what I believe and what you believe isn’t always the same. But, man oh man, do I hope that you have been seeing and believing the overwhelming evidence of how destructive this president has been to our country’s people, our institutions and our global influence during his reign of terror these last three and a half years. If you’re a Republican and you’re on my blog mailing list, I know you and your character, and I do not see what Trump represents living in you. I don’t believe that Trump reflects your character nor represents the keys to your conservatism. I am hoping that, if you voted for him in 2016, you’ve seen enough. Enough even to vote for a Democrat this time. It’s your only way out. Later, I’ll give you some reasons why it’s not that bad of an option.

I am a Democrat. I chose my party. I’m proud of the inclusiveness of its platforms for equality across race, gender, nationality and sexual orientation. I’m proud of the ideas that this political season brought to the forefront during the primaries and Democratic debates and the wide ranging discussions of smart people talking about important issues. Sure, it got messy sometimes, like with 20 or more candidates were running in the beginning. But that very gaggle of engaged individuals depicted the very essence of the party as they rose up from all over America to put their name and their ideas in full public view and showcased for me so many possibilities of leadership. They demonstrated courage and conviction to be bold. They ran towards the fire. They disagreed on some of the finer points but agreed holistically in the larger picture of what our country needs.

I’m proud of the vision of leadership forward, not backwards. 

I’m proud to stand behind our country’s needs from our federal government to do things that we can’t do alone and, by doing it through the federal government, we do it with strength and expertise of many. I’m proud to commit my tax dollars to make the USA better. 

And I’m proud to say that I’ve already voted for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to lead our country. I also voted for Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock to represent Georgia in the US Senate and to put Mitch McConnell out to pasture, if not sitting on his porch in Kentucky, at least removing his stranglehold over the US Senate into the position of minority leader.

I encourage you to do the same if you have not yet voted.

I donated to political campaigns for the first time in my life. I donated to Biden/Harris, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock who are running for the two open U.S. Senate seats in Georgia. I even donated to Jamie Harrison in S.C. and Amy McGrath in Kentucky. That’s how crucial this election is to me.

Our country has never needed a strong, unified federal government more than now, one with legislators and leaders who have the will to BE BOLD enough to tackle the huge issues before us.

BE BOLD in the fight against COVID19, flattening the curve, developing and delivering on a unified national strategy with a real plan in place that gives our scientists and field experts the support, direction, tools and manpower to succeed. It is truly about saving lives right now!

BE BOLD in providing Americans with financial support to make it through the economic hard times created by the pandemic and building the road to reopening and conquering the virus. 

BE BOLD about setting our country on the path to resolve the racism in our country, in full view and inherent in law enforcement, the criminal justice system, in lending practices, in healthcare and in education.

BE BOLD about addressing climate change, transitioning to alternative fuel through innovation, American ingenuity and returning the United States to the world of nations, sharing and working together to cut carbon emissions and clean our air, cut down waste polluting our rivers and oceans, and make and keep our promises to each other to go Green. 

BE BOLD about joining with other democratic nations to build a better, safer more peaceful world. 

BE BOLD enough to hold Russia accountable for its past and current interference in our elections and for seeding divisiveness and chaos. 

BE BOLD enough to cross the aisle and send this man back to his private world where he belongs. He’s shown that he is the worst of what we can be, not the best. He’s shown that he knows not how to govern. He’s certainly found out that being president is not the same as being CEO of your own company. You don’t always get your way. And, you can’t sue your way out of everything or wave your hand and shoo problems as big as America away. Show him that he’s not more powerful than your combined vote.

Normally, I don’t work too hard to try and influence long-time Republicans to “not” vote for their party. It’s a really tough putt to sway a lifelong Republican or Democrat off of their party. But if there’s ever a time for that to happen it is now. The man on the GOP ticket doesn’t represent nor believe in the values the Republicans that I know hold dear. 

If you want to test that theory, read this op-ed by George Conway entitled, “I (still) believe the president, and in the president.” Just say your name in front of each statement of belief, read it out loud and try it on for size. See if his actions and words fit your beliefs. 

I believe that, yes, this 78 year old white man, Former Vice President Joe Biden, is the person for the moment. Wisdom comes with age, from experience, and from battles won and lost. I believe that wisdom, patience, empathy, and vision are what we need now to erase the wholesale damage wrought by three and a half years of Trumponian rule.

I believe that Joe will enable the boldness and courage in his staff, Congress and in our America. And I certainly believe that he will not operate in the scorched earth policies in which Trump and Mitch McConnell have operated, where everything is a zero sum game.

I believe, that although a Democrat, he will serve and work with Republicans to bring us together because his values are much more closely aligned with your values than Trump. By miles.

Joe knows how to govern. Joe knows how government works. And, importantly, Joe knows for whom it works. The citizenry. Us. You and me. My 97 year old mother. My two year old grand nephew. My adult children.

This is the very first political bumper sticker I’ve ever put on my car. Ever.

So, that’s my state of our union in broad strokes. Next post, what I’ve found out researching key issues starting with the Economy, because the economy is the one issue voter polls show Trump leading, but only by a razor thin margin.

As always, thank you if you made it this far.

Peppermint ice cream, donuts and Dad

Dad’s birthday, September 7th, often coincided with the Labor Day Weekend holiday and made for an annual gathering at Beech Mountain, NC. It was the perfect crossing of celebrating Dad and the start of Fall which, of course, starts a few weeks earlier at 5,000 feet. Mom and Dad have owned a stake in the cottage for about five decades. 

Somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 to 15 people have come in from West Palm Beach, Providence, Atlanta, New York City, Pittsburgh, Charlotte, Greensboro and Knoxville, the many places their kids and their kids’ kids live nowadays. Some years are lean, other years so well attended that we must rent another house for the weekend. This year, mostly due to COVID, is the leanest on record. Only Mom, my baby brother, Page, sister-in-law, Maggie, and their daughter, Peyton, made the journey. Maggie “broke” Mom out of her retirement home in Durham and gave her the much needed break from the isolation she has endured during the pandemic. 

I can’t tell you how unnatural it was not to be there and shows the degree of seriousness we all hold each other’s personal safety. It has been a year like no other for sure. And, this year, Dad’s birthday fell on Labor Day. 

Page and Maggie honored the tradition of cooking Dad’s favorite shrimp and grits and finished it off with homemade peppermint ice cream. The peppermint ice cream has been a Riley tradition since we were kids. It’s an egg, milk, sugar, flour and peppermint candy custard concoction that is lovingly and carefully brought to a boil just enough to coat a wooden spoon while not curdling,..a true test of your patience and attention span. 

Then, it’s churned into ice cream, packed and frozen, fresh for the night. 

Usually the cream is accompanied by couple of chocolate chip cookies or brownies by Julie (except this year) all to which Dad would usually say, more than once during the evening, “Oooh Lord, that’ll make a bulldog break its chain!”

So, in honor of Dad’s 98th birthday on Monday, and in the spirit of families everywhere, I thought that I would share a few of Dad’s stories, some of which would often break out over the said peppermint ice cream consumption.

But first, I’ll lead off with the words I wrote for Dad’s 70th Birthday card way back in 1992, which we celebrated in force, of course, at Beech Mountain.



The code for your birth,

The combination for you locker.


How many times we twirled that dial

To open up 

More than the door to our golf shoes,

It was the door to our hearts.

9-7-22 until 9-7-92

Equals Seventy,

And with every year that passes

We get to know you better.

First, as a father and a husband.

Then, a road builder and grandfather.

Always a golfer, 

And now a retiree.

Doing things you’ve never done before,

Showing an interest in life and living

That inspires us all.

You continue to teach us new lessons

In how we can live our lives,

And reach for the happiness that resides within

Each of us.


It’s a combination we love always

Loving you. 

Happy Birthday!

4/21/2005 when Mom and Dad visited us in Atlanta

Mom started this story about Dad.

“Your dad was spoiled by a lot of people,” said Mom, and that announcement around the table got our attention. 

“His teachers all took a shine to him and his cute smile and they felt a little compassion for him knowing that he ran a morning paper route. They forgave him for nodding off in class. One teacher, who your dad really liked, told him, ‘Homer, you go ahead and rest your head. I’ll wake you up when it’s your turn to answer a question.’ You see, she knew that he left home without breakfast.” 

“What she didn’t know,’ Dad interjected, “was that when I picked up my bundle of papers every morning, the mailman had already taken his paper and left me a half pint of milk. The fruit and vegetable man had left me some fruit in exchange for his paper, and when I hit the bakery they’d let me have my choice of yesterday’s donuts. I’d rake me an arm full and treat your mother and her sisters. 

“On Saturday mornings I would ride my bike by their home and call them out. Sha, (he called my mother ‘Sha,’) Virginia and Betsy would all come out of their second floor bedroom window onto the tin porch roof and I’d toss ‘em each a donut.” 

“I reckon he was spoiled enough, but so were we,” said Mom. “Those donuts were so good who would ever know they were day-old,” Mom said, looking at her Homer as if they were still kids in love.

10/3/2002 Homer and Martha telling stories about the early days of Dad’s career with Nello L. Teer Company

Teer Company was a local family-owned construction outfit started in 1916 with mules that became an international construction company and known the world over. Dad was the first professional engineer in the company and he worked for Teer his entire career. He rose to the rank of President and CEO before he retired in 1987. 

Back when Dad was fairly new to the company, Nello Teer Sr., the owner, told Dad that he was sending him to Waynesville, NC, to run the office and engineer the job for Mr. John Caricoff. Mr. Teer Sr. said, “Son, I hear that Mr. John has taken to drinking likker. I want you to keep an eye out and let me now if he’s having problem.”

“No sir, I can’t do that,” young Homer replied to a startled Mr. Teer. “I can’t serve two masters.” 

Mr. Teer stormed out of Homer’s office not being used to anyone say “no” to him. Later, Nello Jr. came to a worried Homer and said, “Well, you almost did it. Daddy was so mad. He said he didn’t know whether to fire you or give you a raise.”

Homer later went to Waynesville. At a well-chosen moment, he asked Mr. Caricoff what he did on his daily walks into the woods along the line of the road plans. “Well Homer, I have to stay ahead of the job, plan where to attack the area and get it all ordered in my head.”

Dad asked if he could walk along next time, to learn on the job. Next morning, Mr. John invited Dad along. They walked a ways beyond the progress of the clearing work and into the woods until they came upon a stream that meandered across the job path. Mr. John bent down next to a branch, felt around until he found a string and pulled it in. Tied to the string was a pint of Four Roses whiskey. Mr. John took a sip, screwed the cap back on and put it back into that cool water. They crossed that stream four more times and Mr. John had a sip waiting at each crossing. 

Homer never told anyone and they built a beautiful road.

9/3/2004, Beech Mountain Labor Day and Homer’s 82nd birthday

Dad telling tales from his teenage days.

Dad and a friend were riding in the trunk of a big 2-door Hudson because there were already three guys in the front seat. He and his buddy held the truck lid open with a stick. Driving down the highway the car blew a tire and rolled over, dumping Dad and his friend out of the trunk. Dad said that they hit the ground running and miraculously, no one was hurt. The car ended up upside down, all four wheels at the sky. They checked on their friends and all were okay. They helped the three guys out of the car and took stock of everything and everybody. All were shook up, but amazingly, no injuries. 

When a car stopped, the driver asked if he could help. Homer and his pal hitched a ride and that was that. When they got to town Mom picked glass out of his hair. 

Marines Boot Camp Stories

A Dry Shave

Homer was the squad leader. One morning when the men fell in for line up the DI noticed that Dad’s friend had not shaved for the day. He rubbed his hand against the young soldier’s face. “Son, you did not report for duty clean shaven. Why?”

“Sir, not enough time, sir!” the marine called out in answer.

“Not enough time? All these other marines found the time!” Barked the DI. “Riley, you report to my quarters at 1700 with this soldier. Bring your razor.”

“Yes sir!” answered Riley.

At the appointed time, Dad and his buddy rapped on the DI’s door. 

“Corporal Riley reporting as ordered, sir.”

The DI let them in, instructed Dad to dry shave his friend. Dad took out his Schick single balde razor and gingerly started shaving while the young soldier flinched.

“Stop moving,” Dad urged, at which point the DI said, “Riley, I don’t see any blood. If I don’t see any blood, you’ll be dry shaving for a week!”

Dad loved at his friend, mouthed, “Hold on,” and pulled that razor across his face, blood popping up in its wake. 

“That’s more like it,” said the DI, looking up from his newspaper. 

Dad finished. The DI released them, and both men made sure they always found time to shave…for the rest of their lives.

All for one

The Drill Instructor said that he was very proud of this unit. So much so that he wanted to treat them all to a movie, marching them right by the General’s quarters. That’s how proud he was of them. He ordered them to dress out and be back in formation in front of the barracks at 1500.

The full unit minus one formed out when the DI blew his whistle. That last remaining Marine made it into formation 30 seconds too late. 30 seconds. 

The DI read ‘em the riot act and instructed them to go change into work clothes, take every thing out of the barracks; beds, footlockers, everything, and report back with their work pails. He sent them all off to a construction site to haul sand back in the buckets. 

“Pour the sand on the floors and then go back and fetch two bricks apiece,” he ordered. When they returned with the bricks he made them rub the sand and scour the hardwood floors white.

They hosed out the sand, put everything back and waited at attention for inspection. 

The old salty DI swaggered through the room, looked in disgust and ordered them to do it over again, putting Dad in charge of the unit.

“Riley, come and get me when you’re sure that the floor’s as white as it can be!”

Two hours later Dad knocked on the DI’s door. 

“Sir, Corporal Riley reporting as ordered, Sir! The unit has completed its assignment, SIR!”

“Are the floor’s scrubbed white?”

“Yes, sir! Ready for inspection, Sir!

“Fine. Dismissed.”

“You don’t need to inspect the barracks, sir?” Dad asked.

“No. Dismissed!”

Dad saluted, about faced and marched his way back to the barracks. The men cheered knowing that they were done and the lesson learned by all. 

“All for one and one for all.” If anyone lets the unit down, there’s hell to pay for every one. Lives would depend on it one day.

That’s it for now. It certainly is my privilege to write about my dad and you honor him by reading. For that I’m most appreciative. 

Have a great week. Stay safe. 

The Civil Rights hero, a legendary journalist, and, then, well, there’s me and a tie

People mourn John Lewis, congressman representing the state of Georgia, near a mural of Lewis in Atlanta, Georgia, the United States, July 19, 2020. (Photo by Alan Chin/Xinhua)

I asked John Pruitt, my friend and former colleague at Channel 2 WSB-TV, if he would offer his observation of John Lewis. Pruitt and I worked together at Channel 2 from 1999 until he retired in 2010. For those of you from outside of Atlanta, allow me to introduce him.

John was into his fourth decade covering news in Atlanta and beyond when I joined Channel 2. I found out quickly what a privilege it was to work with him and I learned so much from him over our ten years together. John represented all of the best qualities to which any journalist should aspire.

He has always loved history because it defined how we got to where we are now. 

He’s extremely observant and deeply interested in the full context of the facts; the who, what, when and where of a news story’s arc.

He is dogged in his pursuit of the truth to the story while maintaining the humanity of the people involved in the story he was covering. 

As an anchor, John provided leadership both in the newsroom and from the anchor desk. He listened to and respected the opinions of others and reserved his observations or opinions for last. And, he was all about maintaining balance and fairness of the telling of the news stories.  

When the sh*t hit the fan and news was breaking, John was the proverbial calm inside the storm. He had the experience and vision to see beyond the chaos of the moment, to connect dots others were not anticipating or seeing and to make us all feel safe in knowing John was on the story. 

He was at his best when it came to political coverage…John is THE man with deep political knowledge in this town. So much so that Channel 2 continues to call on his insight and political wisdom to this day. You will be seeing him over the ramp up to the November elections I can assure you.

And, of course, John’s decades of experience in covering the Civil Rights Movement makes him Channel 2’s go-to expert during times like Lewis’ passing. When Lewis passed, John was on the air with his words of reflection on the life of Lewis.

For all of those reasons, I’m appreciative that John shared his observation and feelings about John Robert Lewis. 

I’ve covered so many public figures over my reporting career, but John Lewis was truly unique.  When he came to Atlanta as head of SNCC [Students Nonviolent Coordination Committee] in the late 60’s, Lewis was already a civil rights legend.  Having survived Bloody Sunday, the Freedom Rides, and a series of arrests and beatings, he was renowned for his courage and leadership.  Time Magazine referred to him as a “living saint”.

Yet, despite his fame, John Lewis was one of the most humble people I ever met.  He was gentle, respectful, soft spoken, and self-effacing. Oh, he could be in your face when crusading for his causes on the floor of the house or walking at the head of a group of civil rights marchers. On those occasions he could be downright bombastic. But his power to persuade through his quiet sincerity and humility, his unquestioned dedication to lead the nation to his life-long goal of the beloved community, could and did move mountains. Those qualities made him a figure of deep respect for people on both sides of our partisan divide.

It was a privilege to cover John Lewis over the course of his long political career.  He made a difference in so many lives right up to the end. And the legacy he leaves will continue to light the way.

Across the displays of clothing stood a Civil Rights legend

More than a few years back, Julie and I were shopping in a Perimeter Mall department store on the Fourth of July. She was off looking for something special while I whiling away the time in the men’s section. I glanced up from whatever clothing in which I was pretending interest and as I scanned around the aisles and displays of men’s clothing there, looking at ties, was Congressman John Lewis. I could only see him from the shoulders up, but I would recognize his profile anywhere. And, he was all alone. 

I felt nervous excitement and the growing need most of us feel in the presence of the famous…to, well, go over and introduce myself. I hesitated for a moment, questioning whether or not it would be rude or disrespectful of his moment alone to do a little uninterrupted shopping. 

And then I thought, this is John Lewis, a Civil Rights legend. He’s right there! In the end, I just could not pass up the opportunity to meet him. I didn’t know what I would say but I would figure it out. 

I made my way over to him as he continued to browse through the ties. I could see that he was dressed in a suit. I must have caught his eye because he looked up, saw me coming and he smiled. I started talking as I approached with my hand outstretched to his, “Congressman Lewis, I am so sorry to interrupt your shopping and I hope that I’m not bothering you too much,” as we shook hands. “My name is Steve Riley and I work for Channel 2.” 

“It is so nice to meet you, Steve,” he said. “And, it’s no bother at all. I’m just in between events and thought I’d find me a new tie.” He grinned again.

“What is it that you do for Channel 2?” he asked. I told him and he acknowledged, “That is a great TV station. You must really enjoy working there.” I told him that I did and then said the only thing I knew to say.

“I want you to know how much I admire you for all that you have done to make Atlanta and our country a better place,” I said. 

“Well, thank you, Steve. I appreciate that. I have certainly had a blessed and rewarding life. But we have much further to go you know.” 

A young man came up, politely said hello to me and told the congressman that it was time for them to go. 

“Well, I gotta get going,” he said looking at me. “I’m am so glad to meet you, Steve. Have a great holiday.” 

I thanked him for his time, we shook hands and off they went. 

And that was that. My personal moment with John Lewis in the men’s clothing department at the mall. And here’s my take on it years later and in light of his passing.

First, did you catch how quickly he welcomed me, how he said and then repeatedly used my name?

He saw me.

Right at that moment, when he was focused on a new tie, he moved so graciously into seeing me, a human being, and taking the opportunity to make a real human connection. He seized the moment to be real. To get real. To make a real connection. And, to get in one more motion toward justice, a campaign that he has been waging for his entire life. 

And he left me a bigger admirer than I was before because he let me see him, too. 

Today, I had another thought about this chance meeting at a clothing store in a shopping mall…in Georgia. Fifty years ago he would not have been welcomed to shop in a clothing store in Atlanta, or anywhere else in the South. And here he was, in Nordstrom’s. I thought, man, what he has seen, what he has endured to get us to the point where this common little thing, looking at a tie, his hands on the material, thinking maybe this one or that one, a Black man with the freedom to choose. His sit-ins and marches and protests and legislative work made it possible for him, and all people, to enjoy the freedom to shop for a tie.

And I am so thankful, for him, what he did with his life and what his life did for this country. 

I thought of this meeting during his funeral service when his niece remarked that “Uncle Robert was always camera-ready.” 

That is true if you look at how he was dressed in a coat and tie in almost every photo. He dignified a protest, whether it was a march or a sit-in, by dressing as if he was in church. I think that he wanted observers, and especially white observers who did not want him there in the first place, to see, by his dress, that he was a serious man involved in serious and important work.

I would like to add that he was also always “people” ready because it was in knowing people that he seemed to receive his greatest joy.

John Lewis: He was Black Lives Matter in the 60’s

Momentous. That is one way to describe the year 2020, which is just seven months in the making. And yet, the year has proven to reveal so much that the word “momentous” feels like a major understatement. 

Consider that in this short time we have witnessed the House of Representatives led by the Democrat majority impeach President Trump on charges of pressuring a foreign government to investigate his then most likely opponent in the upcoming election. We saw the U.S. Senate Republican majority try and acquit the President.  

The coronavirus appeared in the U.S. in March. It has since swept the U.S. causing the largest pandemic in 100 years and killed over 163,000 Americans.

The resulting shutdown necessary to maintain public safety resulted in most of us living our daily lives at home, working, if we were lucky, but out of a job if we worked in the business sectors hit so hard by closures. Unemployment grew to record numbers. The economy dropped to record numbers.

Layered on top of that, the killing by police of Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks and George Floyd spurred large and consistent protest marches in the streets across the country and the world, many lasting for days and weeks on end. 

It was in this charged atmosphere of political and civil unrest that Congressman John Robert Lewis passed from this earth.

I wrote about his Homegoing in the last post, his remarkable life of commitment to a singular cause of justice and civil rights for African-Americans, and all Americans. I feel a deepening interest in learning even more about Lewis, his belief in non-violent protests, his move from the Movement into politics. His fight for the civil and human rights of all citizens of this great and challenged country.

Working for Channel 2 WSB-TV for the final 19 years of my broadcasting career put me working side-by-side with journalists who covered the Civil Rights Movement from the epicenter of Atlanta. I turned to former colleagues and continued friends for their perspective on John Robert Lewis.

Dorthey Daniels worked for Channel 2 for over 30 years prior to retiring this past year. During that time she produced many of the station’s most important local programming specials including “Return to Selma” in March of 2015. Anchored by Fred Blankenship, the program covered the 50th anniversary of the civil rights march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. John Lewis, then 25 years old, led the marchers across the bridge.  

Dorthey Daniels, right, receives an EMMY with her colleague and multiple EMMY winner Monica Pearson, left, looking on.

I asked Dorthey for her take on the recognition of Lewis’ life and her experience of having worked closely with him over the years. 

What struck you watching Lewis’ Homegoing service on July 30th? 

I watched a lot of the funeral and coverage of him from Alabama, Washington D.C. and Atlanta. I thought each service along the way was a unique tribute to him. Well planned. Honestly, before his passing, I doubted that many citizens knew him…and if it had not been for the racial strife we’re going through, I wonder if Lewis’ life and death would have gotten so much national coverage. Things have a way of working out, and I believe his death made some people really see how long this struggle for human rights has been going on.

What struck me from the Atlanta service was President Bush’s speech. I loved that he said, “We [Bush and Lewis] didn’t always agree but that’s the way democracy works.” 

Powerful message. Very much needed.

Were you surprised by Lewis’ Op Ed that ran the day of his funeral? 

No. I was not surprised by the 0p-Ed. He knew his time was running short. He knew there was a lot that still needed to be done. I’m glad God blessed him with the opportunity to have a final word. He could have said so many things in that op-ed. He was so unselfish…not talking about his life, but still encouraging others to keep the faith…still serving literally until his last breath.

You produced “Return to Selma,” the Channel 2 Action News special with Fred Blankenship on the 50th anniversary of the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. What stayed with you from working on that and being on that very bridge with him?

Note: Click here to watch “Return to Selma.”

I produced “Return to Selma” in 2015. I approached his office nearly a year before the 50th anniversary and asked if we could go back with him. I knew it would be a special moment. I knew the networks would be there. I’m so glad he told us yes.

A couple of things stayed with me from that day. We arranged for Lewis and his staff to have food when it came time for him to interview with us. They were so grateful, his PR person, Brenda Jones, said no other media offered them anything. We had a local chef in Alabama cook for them and rented out a conference room at the hotel. I remember him sitting there eating, peacefully, quietly and I imagine re-gathering himself for the next round of interviews.

Congressman John Lewis (left) walks with Channel 2 Anchor Fred Blankenship across the Edmund Pettus Bridge during shooting for 50th anniversary special.

       Second, at the end of the interview, Fred showed Lewis a clip of Lewis, Dr. King and Reverend Abernathy at a news conference. Lewis looked like he was 18 years old. His reaction was priceless. He said, “Oh, wow! I’ve seen pictures of this news conference, but not video. This is my first time seeing video of this!!! I remember this very well because I didn’t have a suit and I had to go out and find a cheap one because i didn’t have much money.” 

He asked for a copy of the video and was sincerely grateful when Fred handed him a flash drive with the footage.

       Third, I was impressed with how Lewis spoke so passionately about what happened on that bridge. He remembered every detail: the things he had in his backpack, fruit, book. I thought, how many times has he told this? His conviction was amazing. I’ve seen many, many interviews with him telling the bridge story…but to be there in person and hear what he went through made me so grateful to be in his presence that day.

What questions did you want answered for the program?

Well, again in producer mode, I wanted him and Fred walking across that bridge, a nice lengthy interview for the show and an opportunity for people to hear Lewis in his own words, talk about what happened then and where he thought we were in 2015.

How did meeting him change you and add to your perspective on race in America? 

I had met Lewis many times before at the station. In 2007, Monica and I flew to his office in Washington for an exclusive interview when he announced he would support Obama and no longer support Hillary for president. 

His office was a museum on the civil rights movement: awards, newspaper clippings, billboards and mementos from events. It was like living history. After the Selma special, I learned and appreciated the special place Lewis holds in our history. 

Really, back in the late 50’s and early 60’s he was “Black Lives Matter.” 

They [Civil Rights organizers] were so nervous about what he was going to say at the 1963 march on Washington. He was one of the last speakers. They had a Plan B and C if he didn’t stick to the script but he spoke up and spoke out anyway!!!  What courage!!!!! 

What part of his story affected you the most and why? 

John Lewis was like so many of us growing up in America…knowing this country could do better, be better and had promised its citizens that in nearly every document that we hold sacred as Americans. He inspires me because he heard Dr. King on the radio, knew he had to be a part of the movement, wrote a letter, got an answer and a ticket to come join. He could have easily stayed in Troy and obeyed his parents. That’s what makes our country so great for every single person who comes here or is born here…to have the opportunity to make us better. 

If you could talk to him today, what would you ask him? 

Good question. I think he answered all my questions in that op-ed. It’s a powerful message to current and future generations.

The last time I saw Lewis was in September of 2019, at the grand opening of Tyler Perry studios. He was his customary good natured self.. no entourage, I never saw him with one. He told us how important Perry’s studio was for Georgia and the country. 

I did notice that he looked extremely small and not exactly healthy.

[Editor’s note] When Daniels last saw Lewis he was soon to announce that he had been diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. He made his diagnosis public in December of 2019, vowing to fight it. “I have been in some kind of fight — for freedom, equality, basic human rights — for nearly my entire life. I have never faced a fight quite like the one I have now. While I am clear-eyed about the prognosis, doctors have told me that recent medical advances have made this type of cancer treatable in many cases, that treatment options are no longer as debilitating as they once were, and that I have a fighting chance.”

He died seven months later on July 17, 2020, but not before paying a visit to Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington on June 7th for a private moment to pay his respects to the protests, the protestors and to spirit invoked by Black Lives Matter.

As I said in my former post…we learn a lot from funerals. I’ve also found that often what we learn is that we want to know even more.

Next post, when I looked over the displays of men’s clothing and there, looking at ties, was John Lewis. And, the reflection of long-time Channel 2 (and for a while, Channel 11) anchor, John Pruitt. Stay tuned.

We’ve come to celebrate John Lewis

He was born into the world of Jim Crow. He died in the world of COVID19. Both wrapped a stranglehold around our country. And, through both, John Robert Lewis emerged, through deeds, words, vision and leadership to leave an enduring legacy for us to follow. 

Julie and I watched much of the coverage of his homecoming trip traversing the places in which this quiet young boy from Troy, Alabama, made history. It was a revisiting that set up eloquent and ironic moments when depicted against time and a different era in our country. Nothing said more than his final trip across the Edmund Pettus Bridge as members of the Alabama state troopers honored him with salutes as a horse-drawn carriage carrying his body crossed over, juxtaposing how they received him when he led the march across that same bridge, a bridge named to honor a Confederate general and head of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan. Fifty-five years ago, state troopers met him and his fellow demonstrators with billy clubs and tear gas, cracking the young leader’s skull.

Time Magazine cover after Lewis died

In the Rotunda in the Nation’s Capital, while his body lay in state, his colleagues from both the House and the Senate, paid tribute. The most meaningful moment for me came when Speaker Pelosi played the audio from John’s 2014 commencement address to Emory students. His voice was full of life and joy for the students on their day and it filled the Rotunda. As he saluted the students’ accomplishments and urged them to enjoy the moment, to have a good time, he reminded them of what is now their charge: To get in the way. To get into trouble, necessary trouble, good trouble. 

I listened to that address again on Friday morning as I was walking through the neighborhoods near my home. How genuine, how humble and caring his voice resonated. How reassuring. And, how filled with commitment and prophecy. I urge you to give it a listen, again if you’ve heard it before. In this day and time, you can not get too much of his words. 

Thankfully Lewis lived through countless other beatings at the hands of law enforcement to march forward as a young leader of non-violent civil rights movement. Through it all, he showed his character. Loving. Courageous. Hard-working. Funny. Benevolent.  I wondered how a man who had gone through so much, faced so many white people who hated him for his black skin, who denied him at every turn the promises they enjoyed in America. How could he remain such a gentle soul after a lifetime of suffering racism? How could he love those who did not love him back? It’s a question answered by his life lived wholly. It showed us all the way forward; it took a mountain of Willpower, commitment to the Cause, an Ocean of Hope and a Forgiving Heart.

The journey of his homegoing finally led to Atlanta, his adopted home and base. On Thursday, July 30, starting at 11 a.m., at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the church of Reverend King, Sr. and Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., and now, Reverend Raphael Warnock, brought him home to let others pay tribute to his completed life. 

Op Ed by John Lewis

I learn a lot from funerals. Something always surprises me. Lewis’s service proved that true again. And, this was no ordinary service because John Lewis was no ordinary man. Three former presidents. The Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, 50 members who served along side of him in Congress, and, Senators Kamala Harris and Corey Booker. 

COVID 19 played a role throughout the service; social distancing reduced the capacity of the sanctuary and all attendees that I saw wore masks, reducing the humanity of the event. Yet, it did not reduce the significance of the ceremony, the compassion for the man, the sadness, grieve and joy in John Lewis’ life. 

I marveled at the number of local, state and national dignitaries attending and the words of those invited to speak. Here are some of the choice words from the day that moved me.

Reverend Warnock, who officiated the service, said, “Instead of preaching sermons he [Lewis] became one. He loved America until America learned how love him back. 

“Here lies a true American patriot who risked his life and limb for the hope and promise of democracy. He was wounded by America’s transgressions… Let the nation say AMEN!”

The following is the Edited prayer by Dr. Bernice King, the youngest daughter of Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., on behalf of the entire King Family. 

“We are eternally grateful, oh God, that he lived among us for four score years and demonstrated on that bridge that physical force is no match for soul force.”

Dr. King then listed the issues that still separate Black Americans from the same freedoms experienced daily by White Americans invoking the country to get into good trouble to overcome:

“…radical reform in policing in our nation. 

“…until voter suppression is no longer apart of our body politic. 

“…until there is an equitable wage. 

“…until all labor is treated with dignity. 

“…until the school, the prison pipeline is nonexistent and every child gets an equitable education. 

“…until white supremacy around the world is uprooted in all of our policies and everyday practices no longer reflect white supremacy. 

“…until this nation truly becomes a compassionate nation because, as Daddy reminded us, ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation. 

“…until black bodies are no longer a threat in this world, and black lives have equitable representation, power and influence in every arena.” 

“Grant us finally, Father God, that a double portion to get into good trouble until love becomes the way we live, the way we lead, the way we legislate, and until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

The honorable George W. Bush, who was president the last time the voting rights act was authorized, told the story of working together with John to create the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington. 

“Listen, John and I had our disagreements, of course,” said Mr. Bush, a Republican. “But in the America John Lewis fought for, and the America I believe in, differences of opinion are inevitable elements and evidence of democracy in action.”

President William Jefferson Clinton said, “John always kept walking to reach the beloved community. He got into a lot of good trouble along the way, but let’s not forget, he also developed an absolutely uncanny ability to heal trouble waters. When he could have been angry and determined to cancel his adversaries, he tried to get converts instead. He thought the open hand was better than the clenched fist.”

House Majority Leader, Representative Nancy Pelosi said, “He wanted us to see the civil rights movement through his eyes.” She spoke on the commonality of President Abraham Lincoln and John Lewis. “We got to know John from his speech on the steps of the Lincoln memorial. 

“And now, John’s body lay in state in the nation’s capital on the platform that held Lincoln’s body.”

Pelosi went on to remark that a double rainbow appeared over his casket in front of the Capital. There was no rain, just a double rainbow. She believed that Lewis was telling us that “I’m home in heaven.” 

If you were to go and watch only a few of the speakers, I highly recommend that you watch the Reverend Dr. James Lawson’s tribute. I am embarrassed to say that I have not heard of Lawson but I intend to learn more from him. To me, he was the surprise of the funeral. What a mind, presence and force. He and John met during a formative time in Nashville in the 50’s. They have been friends in the deepest sense of the word, ever since. Here are some of his words and his points of reflection and direction on behalf his comrade in arms: 

“Most of the books are wrong about how John Lewis got into the movement. Sixty years ago was the time of sit-ins that swept into every state in the nation. Black women made the decision that it was going to happen in Nashville with this confluence of people. 

“John Lewis had no choice in the matter. You should understand that. John saw the malignancy of racism in Troy that formed in him a sensibility that he had to do something about it. He was convinced that he was called to do whatever he could do, get into good trouble, to stop the horror that so many folk lived through. 

“At an early age we recognized the wrong under which we were forced to live and we swore to God that we would do what we had to do in order to put on the table of the nation’s agenda…this must end! Black Lives Matter!!

“John Lewis must be understood as one of the leaders of the greatest advance of Congress and the White House on behalf of We the People of the USA. 

“We need the Constitution to come alive!

“We will not be quiet as long as our economy is shaped not by freedom but by Plantation Capitalism that continues to cause domination and control rather than access, liberty and equality for all.” 

Professor Lawson ended his tribute quoting the famed Black poet Langston Hughes, “I dream a world where no human, no other human was scorned…where love will bless the earth and peace its paths adorned.”

Jamila Thompson, Lewis’ Deputy Chief of Staff, said, “He created the space. A family. As a staff we are heartbroken, we are lost.” 

And, she reiterated her mentor’s lifelong belief and mantra, “Be kind. Be mindful. Recognize the dignity and work of everyone. For the love of God, please vote.” 

I also loved the remarks of his niece, Sheila Lewis O’Brien, as she expressed the thanks from the family. I got the feeling of just how tightly knit they were by her description of their gatherings. She smiled and said, “Uncle Robert,” as he was known to the family, “was always picture ready.” 

“Because of you, John.” 

The words Barack Obama wrote on John’s program from the inauguration.

And then, the time came for which all had waited. President Barack Hussein Obama II took the pulpit. One of the greatest writers and orators to hold the presidency, he reminded me of so much that we have missed over these almost four years. Obama knows how to tell a story, and his powerful eulogy put heart, courage, muscle, context, pain, suffering, hope and triumph together in ways that inspired me to keep the faith. 

He told the story of meeting Lewis for the first time when he was in law school. Obama introduced himself and said, “Mr. Lewis, you are one of my heroes.” Lewis gave him an “Aw shucks” grin, shook his hand and thanked him.

The next time they met, Obama had won his Senate seat and he told Lewis, “John, I’m here because of you. And on inauguration day in 2009, he was one of the first people I greeted and hugged on that stand. And I told him, ‘This is your day too.’”

“John Lewis will be a founding father of the fuller, fairer, better America. He believed that in all of us there’s the capacity for great courage. He believed in us even when we didn’t believe in ourselves.”

And then Obama turned his attention to the people in power and the state of our country today, saying that that is what John would want him to do. To speak out. 

“John spent his life fighting for democracy. He knew that it depends on whether we summon a measure, just a measure, of John’s moral courage to question what’s right and what’s wrong and call things as they are. 

“If we want our children to grow up in a democracy, not just with elections, but a true democracy, a representative democracy, and a big hearted, tolerant, vibrant, inclusive America of perpetual self-creation, then we’re going to have to be more like John. 

“Keep getting into good trouble. Make the powers that be uncomfortable. 

“The voting rights act is one of the crowning acts of our country. You want to honor John, let’s do so by revitalizing the law that he was willing to die for. 

“Like John, we’ve got to keep getting into that good trouble. He knew that nonviolent protest is patriotic, a way to raise public awareness, and put a spotlight on injustice, and make the powers that be uncomfortable. If you don’t do everything you can do to change things, they will always remain the same.

“He could not have been prouder to see this new generation of activists standing up for freedom and equality. A new generation that was intent on voting and protecting the right to vote. In some cases, a new generation running for political office. And I told him, ‘All those young people, John, of every race and every religion, from every background and gender and sexual orientation, John, those are your children.’ 

“And that’s what John Lewis teaches us. That’s where real courage comes from. Not from turning on each other, but by turning towards one another. Not by sowing hatred and division, but by spreading love and truth. Not by avoiding our responsibilities to create a better America and a better world, but by embracing those responsibilities with joy and perseverance, and discovering that in our beloved community, we do not walk alone. What a gift John Lewis was. We are all so lucky to have had him walk with us for a while and show us the way. God bless you all. God bless America. God bless this gently soul who pulled it closer to its promise.

“Thank you very much.”

If you made it to this point, bless you. I hope that the words and sentiments of these people, brought together safely in the time of COVID19, makes you feel. Feel for the mighty and just fight for justice which John Lewis fought using his open hand, his forgiving heart and his undying belief in his country to do the right thing.

Now, let’s do it. Get into good trouble. Necessary trouble. Get in the way. And, VOTE!

More reading:

Harvard Gazette remembers Lewis

Washington Post Article on Lewis

Opinion Piece in WAPO on the day of Lewis’ funeral

From Time magazine

The Story of Us at 40

We married on Saturday, July 19, 1980, in Charlotte, NC. It was 96 burning degrees hot, unavoidably sunny and as humid as a wet, sticky ocean breeze, without the breeze. It was reported to be the hottest day of that summer. We knew July for what it could be; viciously hot, humid if not stormy afternoons. Still, we searched out July 19th because it was the one Saturday in 1980 that fell on the 19th of the month. Starting with Mom and Dad, all of the Rileys had married on the 19th. We saw no reason, other than it could be hot, to break that chain.

My folks hosted the Rehearsal Dinner at the Ramada Inn on Friday night. Toasts upon glass clinking toasts rang out. Stories told. Laughter to be had. Even a ceremonial tossing of groom into pool. All in all, a great time with family and friends who came in from Durham and other points beyond to Charlotte.

The wedding took place at 4 p.m. at Providence United Methodist Church. Julie made her walk on the arm of her brother, Johnny, to Bach’s Organ Fugue in G Minor. Dr. Bob Osborn, who I’ve known since high school, officiated. The Reception was held at the Quail Hollow Estates Club House. It was a lot of fun but the AC in the clubhouse couldn’t fight back the heat and everyone in the photos from there have a lasting sheen from sweat.

Following that, Julie and I hosted a party at our home. It was one of those ideas that sounded great with so many folks coming from out of town…until we were at the Radisson Hotel in uptown Charlotte following the reception, too tired to eat the steak dinner and just wanting to crash. Then we wondered, how did we think this was a good idea. We sucked it up, regathered ourselves and headed home. When we arrived at our house, the party was totally in full tilt, and we forgot that we were tired and had the time of our lives. Julie sang in perfect harmony to Springsteen’s “Born to Run” using a candle for her mic.

The next morning, we shook off our hangovers with breakfast in our hotel room, then dropped by the house expecting to find a mess. John and Heidi Waller and their baby Luke had spent the night there. They were already on the road but they left a sweet note and the house totally clean.

We drove to Palmetto Dunes Condos at Hilton Head in a station wagon borrowed from Julie’s place of work for the air conditioner. A very wise move. Then, we drove to Charleston, SC for three nights at the Battery and Carriage House. It was the time of our lives and the beginning of so much more.

Some memories from those who remember:

Page, my baby brother – “I have the image of your wedding matchbook ingrained in my memory. I have forgotten a lot of things but I just always remember that white matchbook inscribed with ‘Julie and Steve Riley, July 19, 1980’. Funny what and how you remember things.

Sylvia, our first sister-in-law – On our nuptials – As the toasts started rolling at our rehearsal dinner, a glass rang from a what felt like the back of the room. We saw Sylvia rise up to clang, ready herself and proclaim, ‘I’d like to make a toast!’ No sooner had she claimed the moment, she quickly dropped out of sight. There was some commotion. Then some shy laughter as Lin waved that she was okay, just a little overcome. She sent us her memory of the moment.

“I did sink to my knees in awe of the love between you two. I distinctly remember my glass following me down. I send you and Julie a much belated and largely accomplished “LONG LIFE and HAPPINESS!”  With my love. Sylvia PS, If you have great butter it is best enjoyed on cold toast.

From Lin, my older brother, and Sylvia’s husband – “How could it be that many years ago? And who would have ever thought we would  be where we are today.  Some bumps in the road but still between the ditches!! As we stumble/trip along our life’s roads we can be thankful for the wonderful, sometimes crazy circumstances that bring us to our mates.  Damn Steve, you are one lucky guy!!  And Julie is one lucky girl!! Happy 40th Anniversary and wishes for many more.  Love you both.”

From Susie Mitchell, Julie’s baby sister “It was the hottest day of the year, DAMN hot. Momma Rudy was furious that the caterers didn’t let anyone in the building until she got there. You know after [post wedding party] pictures, travel out there etc. Julie also chose a high neck, long sleeved dress on this, the hottest day of the year. There is a photo of Julie and me getting ready to go down the aisle- she looks terrified. I have an identical photo! [from her wedding day]

We took you to the hotel downtown in a 1980 Cutlass Supreme, navy blue with a landau top. This after partying all night. 

Below is the card that I wrote for Julie on our 35th wedding anniversary. The passing of five years have not changed the feeling and the intent. With a few edits changing out the years, I’ll let this speak for how I feel about a the Story of Us at 40.

Dearest Julie,

Yes, we’re celebrating 40 years, 

Together as a whole, 

But it’s all of the small bits and pieces

Of time separated,

That make the 40 so special,

So truly wonderful.

From the total chance 

Of moving in next door,

To our individual attraction to Selwyn Village,

To me liking you,

You liking Kritty Krat,

To both of us liking Long John Baldry,

Then, finally, you liking me.

That liking turned to love,

So quickly that it was truly meant to be.

I pulled you into the wonder of my life,

Sharing with you the beauty of my mountains, 

The isolated strength of Ocracoke,

How to tame a van with three speeds in the column,

And a quarter turn play in the steering wheel,

Into a drive down the highway in a study in estimated direction.

And you bit into it with a lust for the moments each of these afforded.

You absorbed me into your world, 

A little slower, 

Not being the effusive fountain of yourself that I can be.

You revealed your inner self like you cook,

Mise en place, Simmering and slow, 

Delicate. Measured. Masterpiece.

We fell so deeply in love,

That we shall gladly never ever recover.

From that first kiss,

To whenever we share our last, 

We began that journey that has taken us from then to now. 

That brought with it Clark and Blair.

The joy of these two,

Pays tribute to our parents, our ancestry and our own personal hopes and dreams together. 

The fact that they both look back on their childhood with such happiness,

Such fond memories, such love of traditions, and appreciation for how they were raised,

Testifies that we did more right than wrong, 

And that paying attention to our love,

Was the best gift that we could give them.

And we gave them our all,

So that they would grow up and move out,

Confident that they could build a life of their own.

No one knows for sure,

That their vows will outlast their lives. 

After 43 years of love, 40 years of marriage,

I’m looking forward to ours going down in history as,

Ever lasting.

Thank your for taking the time to read my post. It is a true joy to share The Story of Us with you. Being human is a wonder and a true gift. Sharing that together answers the question of “why?” so often felt in the living of this life.

The Devil went down to Georgia

Happy Tequila Friday one and all. And as happy as we all are about it being Tequila Friday, I’m sure that you have seen or heard that Charlie Daniels died this week at 83. 

I always liked the fire that he brought into the music world as he joined a long list of great country music crossovers. That said, I’m not going to really review his music, but I thought I would share how it came to pass that I met Charlie, spent about 20 minutes with him backstage, and how all of that turned out. 

When I lived in Charlotte from 1977 to 1984, the Queen City was a quiet moderately sized city trying to grow up and find its place in the world. At least that’s how I see it looking back. When I arrived on the scene, it had already gone through a 70’s renaissance of sorts. As a matter of fact, part of that renaissance was in how it reimagined downtown, connecting a series of existing stores, including the Belk Department Store, with a series of enclosed pedestrian bridges and interior large hallways that made for the “Overstreet Mall” concept.

I found it cool and exhilarating. Afterall, I’d lived my life in small America up until then. So, to say that the city was embracing, if not starving, for attention and respect, would be an understatement. And that leads up to its brush with Hollywood, celebrities and the world stage. What helped bring it to the attention of the film industry was its kinship with NASCAR through the Charlotte Motor Speedway, its willingness to roll out the red carpet and pay homage to all things tinsel town and its chance at fame and fortune. And that is when the city and its reserved Southern elites ran into Burt Reynolds, Lonnie Anderson, Jim Nabors and “Stroker Ace.” 

In 1982, the hype started with the sightings of the stars and crew filming at locations in and around Charlotte. Women swooned just knowing that the rakish and sexy Reynolds, the darling of fast cars, blue eyes and blonde women, was in town. Then it calmed down after principal shooting until the finished movie opened with its World Premiere in Charlotte. The production made big plans including a festive weekend of star-studded parties that culminated with the showing of the film in Ovens Auditorium to an invitation-only crowd.

I don’t remember the details of the manner in which WSOC-TV got involved with the premiere but Channel 9 was in some way a media sponsor of the event. That meant that in return for promoting the premiere and the movie the TV station got exclusive inside cooperation to produce a special that would air in concert with the premiere. 

And, for the life of me, I can’t remember how it came to be that I was given the job of producing an interview with the musician whose music became the soundtrack for the film. That musician was Wilmington, North Carolina’s own Charlie Daniels. But I was tapped from the Promotion Department in an “all hands on deck” production effort. I was working with my long-time co-hort, Keith Smith, veteran station photographer with whom I worked over my time at WSOC-TV.

The day of the premiere we were allowed to set up in Daniel’s backstage dressing room for him and his band. We were going to interview him prior to their performance in front of the showing of the film and we would get 15 minutes max with the entertainer. And I was asking the questions.

I don’t remember all of the details except feeling nervous about handling the interview, also anxious about being set up, ready to go as soon as Charlie was ready. Our job was to get what we needed and then get the hell out of the way. Nothing could get in the way of the performance. 

Well, of course, we waited. And waited. And waited. The clock was ticking down and cutting into a comfortable time to get our job done. Every minute meant a narrowing of the window. Narrowing our chance for success in producing the content we needed to fill our show. 

And then, suddenly the big man burst in, huge cowboy hat balancing out his lengthy straw-like beard. His body filled the threshold for a second and changed the air pressure in the room as he walked in, and his seven or eight member band flowed in behind him and scattered about the room.

“You the boys doing the interview with me before the show?” he asked, looking at Keith and me. “Yes sir, Mr. Daniels,” I said as Keith nodded as well. He reached out to shake our hands and said, “Well, let’s get to it. Where do you want me to sit?”

We had set up two chairs facing each other, lighting one side for Charlie. I wasn’t going to be on-camera at all. Thank goodness. Keith ushered him to the chair and ran a lavalier microphone on him, hiding the wire as we do. As he sat down and we talked for a second about what we were going to do and talk about, the band members were busy eating and drinking, popping beers and Cokes and snacking. As we were getting ready to record, the noise level in the room got pretty raucous. Keith, wearing headphones, pointed at his ears letting me know that the noise level would be a problem for our recording. So I did what I did whenever we were getting ready to start sound recording. I called for quiet with a “We’re recording, please can we keep it down for a few minutes.”

You would have thought that I had dropped a bomb in the room. Or maybe farted. I got what I wanted. The room immediately became silent. I also got what I didn’t want. An unhappy staredown from Charlie, who switched from likeable to not so much in that instant. 

He drew down on me like he was holding a pearl-handled Colt 45 with eyes of steel. 

“Nobody, and I mean nobody, tells my boys what to do! Especially before a show. You got that?”

Boy did I get that. 

“If they want to laugh and scream and play around, they can laugh and scream and play around. I don’t allow anything to get in the way of their performance.”

He sat on that for what seemed like forever. I didn’t know if he was done with me and the interview or what. I am sure that I mumbled some sort of apology while I looked straight at him to see if we were moving forward. 

Then, his eyes smiled, and I remember that I could even see a smile through his massive beard. 

“Now come on, let’s get this done. I want you to get what you need for the show. And then, me and my boys are going to go out there and light up this arena.” 

The rest is a blur. I asked questions, probably run-of-the-mill what’s it like to be you? What was it like writing music for the movie, blah blah blah. 

And then, they were gone, but not before Charlie leaned over and said quietly, “Sorry about that. I know you’ve got a job to do. But I’m pretty protective of my guys and the show,” he said. Then he winked and he was gone, playing his fiddle walking down the hallway. 

Keith and I gathered our gear, carried it to the truck and I went back in to watch the show. 

Sadly, the best thing about the event was Charlie Daniels and his band. The movie sucked. It would later bomb at the box office. And it did little for Charlotte and its relationship with Hollywood. 

But it did give me a memory and a backstage pass to hear, “The Devil went down to Georgia” and see fire fly from his fingertips as he played that fiddle against the Devil.

So, pour a glass of tequila, rosin up your bow and hoist a toast to Charlie Daniels. May he rest in peace and beat the Devil again. 

Hey! Keep it down down there, will ya?

How I Met Your Mother

The story of the kiss and the date

So, you now know the story of how we met from an earlier post. The next piece of the story is…

…the first kiss.

I had a party at my apartment one Saturday night in the Summer of ‘77. It was a backgammon party. Backgammon was the rage, the most ancient of games on a resurgence and providing an excuse to hang and party. While folks were facing off at the multiple game boards set up in my apartment, Julie and I went outside and strolled across the green lawn in between the apartment buildings to the parking area. We found ourselves leaning on her yellow VW Super Beetle. 

In just the few months that we’d lived side-by-side we were getting to know one another. What did we like about each other? What was making that spark? Were we friends, just friends or could we be more. 

There were so many clues. 

I remember early on thumbing through the collection of albums leaning on the floor and finding an album by Long John Baldry, an obscure 6’ 7” English blues singer, called “It Ain’t Easy.” One side was produced by Elton John, the other by Rod Stewart. Nobody that I knew had that album. Nobody. I looked over at Julie and her roommate, Diane, and asked, “Who owns this?” Julie said, “I do.” I said to myself, this is kismet. 

That alone could be enough to lead to the night of our first kiss. But there was more. Like the WSOC lake party. The station owned (forever leased) land at Lake Norman and had a boat ramp, dock, a covered picnic area and, importantly, a bath house. Staffers were free to use it and boy they did. Camping on the grounds, swimming off of the dock, those with boats skied and sailed. And, each summer, they barbecued a whole pig. My rookie summer at the station I was “volunteered” to pick up and cart the pig 40 miles north from Charlotte. I used a station supplied Suburban, tan and brown with the EYEWITNESS NEWS logo emblazoned on the sides. I asked Julie and Diane if they wanted to go to the lake? They said yes. I told them there would be a pig pickin’ and that we needed to make a stop on the way. I didn’t exactly explain what we were stopping for until we got to the meat plant, backed up to the loading dock and the guys slid a 90 pound porker laid out on a piece of plywood for the trip into the back of the wagon. He was uncovered, his head towards the front. Julie and Diane’s reaction was priceless. I worried that maybe I had really made a big mistake, a mistake that we had to ride with for almost an hour. Turns out, it just made a long-lasting memory for us all. That we could handle surprises. Do things we’d never done. And handle it with humor.

So, back to the party night. We were leaning on her car, talking the talk that eventually led up to our first kiss. I remember looking into her beautiful hazel eyes and I melted. I mean “melted” right there in a puddle next to the car. I remember the softness of her lips, the smell of her hair and the warmth of her body next to mine.

Wait a minute. That’s exactly how my dad described his first kiss with my mom!!! But actually, it is, in fact, the same. The kiss that sealed the deal. Mom and Dad’s lasted their lifetime. I expect ours to do the same. I knew that I would never forget that kiss on that night in late June in Selwyn Village. 

Shortly thereafter, it was time to get back to the party that I was hosting. But before going inside I asked Julie if she would go on an official date with me. She said yes. YES!!! And we set it up for the next Friday night. July 1, 1977. 

The first date…

We went to this terrific Japanese Steak House in Charlotte called Nakato where we sat at a table that could hold about six to eight people. The table was also the cooktop. The chef prepared the meal right there for you in a performance that rivaled anything I’d ever seen before. 

A few years after we were married, we returned to Nakato to celebrate our first date as well as our marriage.

We drank Saki. Marveled at the knife work of our table chef as he flipped shrimp in the air and caught them behind his back before spreading them out to serve each individual. We ate steak. We drank more Saki. We toasted our table mates. Our table chef. And each other. We toasted to desert.

We never left each other again. 

And here we are, together in 2020, 43 years later, toasting our first date and how we’re on the greatest of rides…together…and running up to our 40th wedding anniversary.

More to come on the story of us.  

Happy 4th of July.

With the year that we’ve experienced in America, this is a very special holiday. Beyond the fireworks. Beyond the romanticization. I’m going to find time to think about our country. How it serves me. How it serves those like me and unlike me. We’re at a moment of truth. How we face the many truths before us will determine how great this country is and can be.

And how, when we dig just under the veneer, we are more alike than not alike.

Joys of Fatherhood

With COVID19 Father’s Day 2020 in the rear view mirror, I’ve had some time to give my life as a parent some thought. It’s a responsibility for which we had little training. We did, however, train heavily for the giving birth part of our first child. Lamaze, a path to natural childbirth, was THE in thing of the 80’s. But after that, man, you were on your own. Julie and I did some reading. Dr. Spock, of course, was great for medical advise, but his theories on raising kids just confused us. It was reading John Rosemond’s column that we really found our inspiration. He wrote a book in which he espoused six points you need to follow to raise healthy and happy children. He was more focused on parent-centrist advice. Number one on his list…take care of your marriage…first and foremost. The best thing you can do for your kids is to provide them a loving, happy home. Second, don’t parent from your chair. Your arms aren’t long enough. If your kid is acting up, get up, get them and take them away from what they want to be doing. Last on the list, remember, what you’re doing is raising your kids up so that they can leave you. That’s your job. 

Anyway. We all find our way somehow. We make mistakes. We do the right thing. We love ’em. And then, they leave us. If we’ve done the right things over and over again. 

It won’t surprise you that I’ve kept a journal for quite sometime. I want to share with you some short stories (short for me) that give you a peek into what I most enjoyed…being a dad to Clark and Blair. Being with them. Watching them grow from precious little ones into two great kids who graduated into life as pretty swell grown ups in whom we take great pride and joy.

The Pull of the Moon

April 6, 1993. Family vacation at Ocean Isle, NC

Partial Crew: Steve, Blair, Julie, Clark, Lauren, Mel, Johnny, Momma Rudy, John. Not sure where the Mitchells were.
Kids testing the chilly springtime waters of the Atlantic.

Going to bed after watching “Field of Dreams” took a bit of a trip toward bad dreams.

Clark wanted no lights. The other cousins wanted night light. So they kicked him out with some help from his Aunt Mel.

Of course, flexibility presents a great challenge to our boy Clark at times. He reasons like his father, and those reasons don’t understand why anyone going to sleep needs the comfort of seeing anything. 

He came out of the “dorm” room with a “Fine! I’ll sleep on the couch,” which turned on a dime into a beautiful 30 minutes for the two of us.

I sat in a rocker while he rested on the couch. We talked about why we do what we do, and how, through it all, we love each other.

I told him about how I quit playing golf, kinda like Ray, the main character in the movie, who quit playing baseball when he felt his father’s pressure too heavily on his shoulders.

“Gee. That’s so weird,” he said. “You quit just like the guy in the movie? And he turned out to love baseball. And now, you love golf, although you do say “no” to playing sometime, like last week when we had hockey.”

I just held him in my lap like I used to cradle my baby boy and we talked on.

Then, in the darkness I looked out the window and he glanced out at the same time.

“Dad, what time is it?”

“About 11:30,” I replied.

“Wow! It looks like it’s getting daylight.”

The moon, full and bright, was glistening on the surf. I asked Clark if he wanted to go outside to the end of our pier.

“For real?” he asked. “Sure,” I answered as we got up from the rocker. We put on our sweatshirts and walked out together. We took a seat at the top of the steps leading down to the beach. The tide was out and the beach was at its widest. We talked about the moon and how it made the tides, and how wind created waves. Then, we got cold and went back inside. I turned out all of the lights. Clark laid down on the sofa with the moon lighting up the room. Even still, he fell asleep but not before mentioning that the moon seems to follow us everywhere we go. I said, “Thank goodness for that. For where would we be without the pull of the moon? 

“I love you Clark. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight Dad.”

I felt the pull of the moon drawing me back into our bedroom. I peeled back the covers and wrapped my arms around Julie who was fast asleep. I thought of one of our favorite children’s books, “Goodnight Moon.” The next thing I knew, it was morning. The sun was up, the moon was gone, and we were halfway through our week at the beach. 

A Rainy Monday

April 28, 1997 Pittsburgh

I rolled over, checked the clock, counting down to 6 a.m. when I usually get up, walk down the hall to Clark’s room and open the door, if not his eyes, to the day. He and I talked recently about him using his own clock to rise and shine. Well, today, just before my alarm went off, I heard the shower in his bathroom come on. I lay there, smiling, and thought, “Another step towards independence.” Nudging his mom, I said, “Hear that?” 

“Uh huh,” she groaned.

“That’s the sound of your little boy growing up.”

I got up and walked down the hall to the kid’s bathroom. I knocked on the door. Clark heard my knock through the noise of the shower. 

“Good morning glory,” I said, like my dad used to say to me. 

“Morning Dad!” He yelled back. I could hear a sense of pride in his voice even through the door. He knew he had made a big step on his own. I smiled and walked down to Blair’s room. I gently tickled her awake, sitting on her bed, watching her eyes blink into the day. I asked her, “When was the last time you knew that I loved you?” Without opening her eyes she smiled, “ I always know that, Dad.”

What a great start to a rainy Monday. 

You Never Know

May 21, 1997 Pittsburgh

The sun cut through the window like little butter knives with yellow rays running in and around the quilt on her bed,

Dripping in and out of crevices,

Just barely tickling her chin,

Yet she still slept on,

That quiet soon-to-wake-up-sleep

Ending the night,

Starting the day.

I sat on the edge of her bed,

Holding her retainer container.

She rolled over, took out a clear, juicy, slobbery appliance,

Without so much as opening her eyes, 

Held it out and deftly placed it in the blue box.

Her eyelids fluttered like a sparrow’s wings.

I whispered, “Good morning.”

She smiled a stretch smile, clamping down her eyes even tighter.

“Morning Dad,” she said. 

“I love waking you up,” I said, “because I like being the first person you see in the morning.”

“Why Dad?”

“Well, you just never know what you will do today.

“You might draw a mouse

“Or a picture of our house.

“You might make a great grade in class,

“Or run up our street incredibly fast.

“I never know what you might do today.

“Only you know what you might do today.”

 “Dad, you ought to write a poem,” she said. 

“I just did. I wrote it for you and now it’s in your head for you to have always.”

I love waking Blair up in the mornings.

Could you come over?

June 24, 2020

How I met your mother…to borrow a riff. 

Yesterday, Julie had to have some dental surgery that required the removal of a tooth. That removal opened up a memory in my first waking moment this morning. It started with a morning phone call 43 years ago. 

“Steve, this is Julie’s mother. I wonder if I could ask an odd favor of you. Julie hurt her back and can’t get out of bed by herself. She needs help getting to the bathroom.” 

I had just arrived in Charlotte for a job running camera on the early evening and late news at WSOC-TV. That is why I was home in bed when the phone rang around 9 a.m. and why Julie asked her mom to call me.

Not long before this call I had moved into Selwyn Village apartments next door to Julie and her roommate, Diane Helms. We shared a common entrance to our townhouse apartments. I had briefly met Julie the day that I moved in when I used their phone before mine was installed. Remember those days? 

Julie, sitting in her and Diane’s apartment next door to mine. Circa 1977ish.

Anyway, Julie’s mother called understanding that this was a very personal request, helping her daughter to the bathroom.

I got up and hustled over. Her apartment was the mirror image of mine. I went upstairs and found her and her mom in the front bedroom. Of course, Julie not only felt bad, she felt pretty vulnerable, in her pj’s and bathrobe, unable to take a step without help.

Oh, and why did her recent dental surgery surface this memory? Well, she had just had her wisdom teeth removed the day before. Her cheeks were swollen and bruised like a chipmunk with a mouthful. 

I did my best to make her feel at ease and helped her to the toilet, leaving her to her privacy until she needed help to return to bed. And then I left her to recover with her mother at her side.

And that was the real beginning of our beginning. And that’s how I met your mother. At her most vulnerable. 

First, we became neighbors, then fast friends, and then friends for a lifetime.

And, now, we’ve been inseparable all those 43 years as we come up to our 40th wedding anniversary on July 19th. 

More to come. 

Oh, Julie is way better off this morning, the day after, than back then.

Have a great Wednesday.  

Black Lives Matter and Why #BLM Should Matter to White People Like Me…

A Juneteenth Celebratory Post

People speaking out during this time of protests in the aftermath of the murder of unarmed Black men by armed police officers has raised the overall consciousness of the nation. 

More and more, White people are seeing that we are not nearly where we’d like to think the nation is when it comes to race and equal treatment under the law. As these young Black men have died right in front of our eyes, we cannot ignore nor deny the systemic racism bleeding through our institutions. And it’s not just in policing. It’s in access to healthcare. It’s in access to education. It’s in access to safe living communities. It’s in access to money and all things related to financial prosperity and building wealth.

And, it’s buried in the lack of trust, one race of the other. It’s the difference in real and imagined fear. The real fear of historic and deadly consequences Black people have endured for centuries, occurring even now in broad daylight and recorded for the world to see. The imagined fear of white people of what would happen if the shoe is ever moved to the other foot, if true equality for all somehow means less for White people. Fears encoded in the stories told generation to generation that continue to sow the seed of racism. Fears represented by every single monument to the Confederacy existing in our country today.  

From the peaceful marches and the inflamed chaos rises inspired serious conversation of the country. Here are the words of others on Racism, White supremacy, the Black experience and the inextricable link of peaceful protesting, looting and rioting. It’s the language of today, where we are in 2020 and where we need so desperately to go as one.

 “While I agree with people who say no one is born racist, it remains a powerful system that we’re immediately born into. It’s like being born into air: You take it in as soon as you breathe. It’s not a cold that you can get over. There is no anti-racist certification class. It’s a set of socioeconomic traps and cultural values that are fired up every time we interact with the world. It is a thing you have to keep scooping out of the boat of your life to keep from drowning in it. I know it’s hard work, but it’s the price you pay for owning everything.” — Scott Woods, African American author and poet

“As a white male of the South, I know all too well the impact of segregation and injustice to African Americans. As a politician, I felt a responsibility to bring equity to my state and our country. In my 1971 inaugural address as Georgia’s governor, I said: ‘The time for racial discrimination is over.’ With great sorrow and disappointment, I repeat those words today, nearly five decades later…

“People of power, privilege, and moral conscience must stand up and say “no more” to a racially discriminatory police and justice system, immoral economic disparities between whites and blacks, and government actions that undermine our unified democracy. We are responsible for creating a world of peace and equality for ourselves and future generations.

“We need a government as good as its people, and we are better than this.”

– From Former President Jimmy Carter, Atlanta Journal-Constitution “Political Insider”

Four U.S. presidents spoke this week about systemic racism and injustice. They used their platforms to illuminate the humanity in all Americans and to decry the dehumanization of some. And they summoned the nation to confront its failures, make change and come together.

A fifth U.S. president spoke instead this week about using military force to dominate Americans who are protesting racial injustice. He declared winners and losers among state and city officials trying to safeguard their streets. And, with his reelection campaign in mind, he sought to apply a partisan political lens to the national reckoning over racial inequities.

The outlier was President Trump.   – From the Washington Post

I don’t often post about political topics, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that this isn’t political. This is personal. I am the proud father of two Black teenage sons. Many in this country view them as threats, just as I have been viewed, as my brother and brother-in-law have been viewed, and my father and father-in-law have been viewed.

During the initial night of protest turned riot in Atlanta, I was watching the coverage live on TV. The White male anchor asked, “Where are the Black leaders that can talk to the people?” I am sure many other White people were asking the same thing. My reaction was, and still is, we do not need to hear from “Black leaders” because this is not a Black problem. We need to hear from the “White leaders” because racism and all its trappings, police brutality for example, are a White problem! – From Paul Goodloe, friend, golfing mate and Weather Channel Meteorologist 

How a White person should apologize

“I won’t insult your intelligence by saying, ‘I am not a racist’ becauseI know I am. As a white person in a society where every institution is geared to advantage people like me, it is literally impossible for me to be anything else. In that, I am like a man in a male-dominated society. He cannot help being sexist, his good intentions notwithstanding. Saying he’s not sexist is like a fish saying he’s not wet. 

“Many of us as white people struggle with that. That’s because we process racism as a loathsome character defect, when really, it’s the water in which we swim.

No, the question is not whether we are racist, but what kind of racist we will be. 

Will we be the overt kind, whose behavior marks her from a mile away? In many ways, her very obviousness makes her the least dangerous.

Will we be the racist in denial, who thinks that because he doesn’t use racial slurs and eats lunch with a black guy at work, he’s all good? He’s ultimately the most dangerous, because his racism is reflected in implicit bias but otherwise hidden, even from himself. 

Or will we be the racist in remission who knows good intentions are not enough, that he must consciously commit not simply to being nonracist, but actively anti-racist?

“That’s what I aspire to and what I hope I achieve more often than not. – Excerpt from Leonard Pitts Jr, writer/columnist for the Miami-Herald on how a white person should apologize for saying something racist.  

The civil rights movement was not purely non-violent. Some of its bravest, most inspiring activists worked within the framework of disciplined non-violence. Many of its bravest, most inspiring activists did not. It took months of largely non-violent campaigning in Birmingham, Alabama to force JFK to give his speech calling for a civil rights act. But in the month before he did so, the campaign in Birmingham had become decidedly not-non-violent. 

Though the Civil Rights movement won many battles, it lost the war.

Mass incarceration, the fact that black wealth and black-white inequality are at the same place they were at the start of the civil rights movement, that many US cities are more segregated now than they were in the sixties: no matter what “colorblind” liberals would say, racial justice has not been won, white supremacy has not been overturned, racism is not over. In fact, anti-black racism remains the foundational organizing principle of this country. That is because this country is built on the right to property, and there is no property, no wealth in the USA without the exploitation, appropriation, murder, and enslavement of black people.

Modern American police forces evolved out of fugitive slave patrols, working to literally keep property from escaping its owners. The history of the police in America is the history of black people being violently prevented from threatening white people’s property rights. When, in the midst of an anti-police protest movement, people loot, they aren’t acting non-politically, they aren’t distracting from the issue of police violence and domination, nor are they fanning the flames of an always-already racist media discourse. Instead, they are getting straight to the heart of the problem of the police, property, and white supremacy.

Excerpts from “In Defense of Looting” an essay by Vicky Osterweil published in The New Inquiry

Yes, protests often are used as an excuse for some to take advantage, just as when fans celebrating a hometown sports team championship burn cars and destroy storefronts. I don’t want to see stores looted or even buildings burn. But African Americans have been living in a burning building for many years, choking on the smoke as the flames burn closer and closer. Racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible — even if you’re choking on it — until you let the sun in. Then you see it’s everywhere. As long as we keep shining that light, we have a chance of cleaning it wherever it lands. But we have to stay vigilant, because it’s always still in the air. 

What I want to see is not a rush to judgment, but a rush to justice.

Op-Ed: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Don’t understand the protests? What you’re seeing is people pushed to the edge

There’s overwhelming evidence that the criminal justice system is racist. Here’s the proof.

Of particular concern to some on the right is the term “systemic racism,” often wrongly interpreted as an accusation that everyone in the system is racist. In fact, systemic racism means almost the opposite. It means that we have systems and institutions that produce racially disparate outcomes, regardless of the intentions of the people who work within them. When you consider that much of the criminal justice system was built, honed and firmly established during the Jim Crow era — an era almost everyone, conservatives included, will concede rife with racism — this is pretty intuitive. The modern criminal justice system helped preserve racial order — it kept black people in their place. For much of the early 20th century, in some parts of the country, that was its primary function. That it might retain some of those proclivities today shouldn’t be all that surprising.

In any case, after more than a decade covering these issues, it’s pretty clear to me that the evidence of racial bias in our criminal justice system isn’t just convincing — it’s overwhelming.  – From The Washington Post

White people have continued to cordon off Black people in where they live, school, work, play and seek healthcare. Advancements have been made. More people of color are in high local offices, from mayors to police chiefs to city council members. More people of color are rising in the ranks of business executives. And yet our prisons continue to be predominately filled with black citizens. 

The first step in eliminating white supremacy lies in eradicating the notion that freedom in America is somehow a level playing field in 2020.

White Supremacy is an environmental seed implanted in children by their parents and nurtured by their community. It isn’t genetic. But, once planted, that imprinting lives in the brain as if it was wired in. 

I know. I’ve spent a lifetime fighting that internal demon of racial judgement. Once I realized what racism was in my life, I’ve worked hard to keep it in remission ever since. Somehow I became racially aware at a young age, that it lived in our own home, our neighborhood, in my school, at the public golf course across the street, and downtown in the movie theaters, lunch counters, clothing stores and water fountains.  

Even still, at 67 years old, things of the past pop up in my brain that I must recognize and discard, again. It’s a never-ending process.

What I’ve learned, to borrow from Leonard Pitts, is my responsibility as the lifelong benefactor of white privilege: to consciously commit to be actively anti-racist

That means enjoin in the fight #BlackLivesMatter. Voice the requirement to fair access to healthcare, education and loans long withheld from African Americans. Eradicate Voter Suppression so that all have their say in the political future of our country. Hold our elected officials accountable to pursuing the overriding of these injustices. Learn how to talk to family and friends honestly about racism.

Right now is our time to put our shoulders together against the flywheel and generate the energy of real progress. It is time to stop wringing hands about history. It’s time to make history and ring the bell of freedom for all. 

Each of us have to help each other find a way to contribute to the overarching cause. Each of us have some gift that we can share in this cause, whether it is money, talent, ready hands, will, desire or all of the above. 

Some of that work is political. Legislative. Realigning the power structure of our country so that the party of Whiteness is overtaken by the party of Inclusion. 

Much of that work is personal. Reexamining and reimagining how we live our lives. Where we live. Who we sponsor. Who we invite into our personal life bubble. How we raise our kids…and influence our kids’ kids…how we share our lives and life experiences for the greater good of understanding. 

That’s the hard work and nothing could be more rewarding. And, we must do that starting right now. 

My niece voiced her well-intentioned desire to turn her “upset into action.” She asked if I had formulated a personal response plan and, if so, would I share it with her. It’s a great question. What I’m reading and writing about is making me more aware, more engaged and more communicative of how to interpret and act upon what’s going on in our country and the world regarding race and racism, and how we can get involved. In answer to her direct question, do I have a response plan. I’m working on it. Hard.

Thanks for reading these words of remarkable people in these necessarily changing times.

Paul Goodloe suggested a couple of books that I plan to read to grow my understanding and turn my upset into action.

The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander for the history of how we got here. “White Fragility” by Robin Diangelo speaks to how we can move forward from here together. 

I have some suggested reading as well:

And, I encourage everyone to listen to the podcast, “1619,” by Nicole Hannah Jones for The New York Times 

“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.”

― James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time

Big Floyd Comes Home

Known in life by his childhood friends and family as Big Floyd, George Floyd is now known around the world by how he died. Handcuffed. Faced down. On the street in Minneapolis.  A police officer’s knee to the neck. For 8 minutes and 46 seconds. 

I was compelled to watch the funeral service for Floyd streamed on Tuesday afternoon in his hometown of Houston. Many spoke, sang songs of hope and sorrow and read scripture.

His family of brothers, his aunt, niece and friends addressed the crowd who were dispersed throughout the large chapel, wearing masks and maintaining safe distance from each other. From their remembrances of George Floyd, the man, I learned what a central figure he was in their lives and in the community. A good hearted giant who loved playing sports. A man who was there for them. A man, now, who is gone from their lives forever because the law enforcement in Minneapolis failed him to death.

And, I could feel the need of the speakers to talk about George Floyd whose death is now the symbol of a movement, and about how he did not die in vain. 

The way that he died became the theme of the Movement calling for Justice

Those two sides of the story of Floyd get intermingled into the total conversation. First, a man. A man who had restarted his life, redirected his path living beyond troubles with the law in his past. A reporter for the New York Times said that his friends and family needed to celebrate and remember him as the man that he was before the symbolism took over his memory.

I can breathe.

Brooke Williams, Floyd’s teenage niece, declared, “I can breathe. And as long as I’m breathing, justice will be served. This is not just a murder but a hate crime.” 

She went on to talk about her uncle, how funny he was, how loving, how supportive. He was her Superman. “I want to share some memories of my uncle, because that’s all I have…memories.” She poured her young heart out and then she quoted Tupac Shakur. “You gotta make a change. You see the old way wasn’t working so it’s on us, to do what we gotta do to survive.” And then she closed with, “America, it is time for a change even if it must begin with more protests. No justice. No peace!” 

The Reverend Al Sharpton gave the eulogy as he did the week before at a memorial service in North Carolina. As Sharpton began speaking I started transcribing his sermon. I felt like what he was saying was going to be important. The Reverend is known for speaking the hard truth as an activist for racial justice. Below are his words as best as I could transcribe them.

Rev. Sharpton: I hear people talk about what happened to George Floyd like this was something less than a crime. This was not just a tragedy. It was a crime. 

They’re going to do everything they can to delay these trials. To delay the accountability. To try to wear this family down. And many of those coming here today, skinning and grinning for the cameras, will not be here for the long run. We must commit to this family, all of this family, that until these people pay for what they did, we will be there with them because lives like George will not matter until somebody pays the costs for taking their lives. 

There is an intentional neglect to make people pay for taking our lives. If four blacks had done to one white, if four black cops had done to one white what was done to George, they wouldn’t have to teach no new lessons! They wouldn’t have to get corporations to send money! They would have sent them to jail!

Until we know that the price for black life is the same as the price for white life, we will keep coming back to these situations over and over again.

Either the law will work or it won’t work.” 

Sharpton recognized the families attending today who have had fathers, sons and daughters killed by police officers around the country. He called them each by name and asked them to stand. 

These families understand the pain that the Floyd family is going through more than anyone because they have gone through the pain.”

The mother of Trayvon Martin, will you stand.

The mother of Eric Garner, will you stand. 

The family of Pamela Turner right here in Houston, will you stand, 

The father of Michael Brown of Ferguson Missouri, will you stand.

The mother of Ahmaud Arbery, will you stand.

All of these families came to stand with this family!

Until the law is upheld and people know that they will go to jail they are going to keep doing it because they are protected by wickedness in high places. 

The signal that they are sending is that if you’re in law enforcement, the law doesn’t apply to you. 

It’s nice to see that some people have changed their mind. Head of the NFL said, ‘Yeah, maybe we were wrong. Football players, maybe they did have the right to peacefully protest.’ 

Well, don’t apologize, give Colin Kaepernik his job back! 

Don’t come with some empty apology. Take a man’s livelihood. Strip a man down of his talents. And four years later when the whole world is marching all of a sudden you do a FaceTime talking about you sorry. Minimizing the value of our lives. You sorry! Then repay the damage you did to the career you stood down because when Colin took a knee he took it for the families in this building. We don’t want an apology. We want him repaired.  

I was working out this morning, white fellow exercising there said to me, ‘I see you on tv and you are always talking about race.’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘But haven’t we come a long way?’ I said, ‘Yeah, but what you’ve got to understand is how far we’ve got to go. And you gotta understand how deep it is. 

He said, ‘Whaddaya Mean?’

I said, about nine years ago a newspaper in NY did a background story on my family, and it found out that my great grandfather was a slave in Edgefield, SC. I went down there with the newspaper and other press. And we went to the graveyard. My great grandfather was owned by the family of Strom Thurmond, the segregationist. I went to the white church, the First Baptist Church, and in the graveyard…about a quarter of the cemetery’s tombstones were Thurmonds and Sharptons. And I said, you mean all of these…they said, wait a minute, the plantation of your great grandfather was about a mile away. They buried the slaves there. They put pebbles over their graves. 

So it occurred to me that every time that I write my name, sir, that is NOT MY name. That’s the name of who owned my great grandfather. That’s how deep Race is. Every time I write my name I’m writing American history of what happened to my people! 

I can’t talk about what my great grandparents did. They were enslaved. And we’re still being treated less than others. 

Until America comes to terms with what it has done and what it did, we will not be able to heal because you’re not recognizing the wound. 

God took the rejected stone and made him [George Floyd] the cornerstone of a movement that’s gonna change the whole wide world. 

If you had any idea that all of us would react, you’d a taken your knee off of his neck. 

If you had any idea that everybody from the 3rd Ward in Houston and from Hollywood would show up, you’d a took your knee off his neck. 

Sharpton addressed the actions of President Trump head on.

You’re sitting there trying to figure out how you going to stop the protests rather than how you gonna stop the brutality.

You calling your cabinet in trying to figure out how it’s going to affect your vote rather than how it is going to affect our lives.. 

You scheming on how you can spin the story rather than how you can achieve justice!

Wickedness in high places!

You take rubber bullets and tear gas to clear out peaceful protesters and then take a bible and walk in front of a church and use a church as a prop. 

Wickedness in high places!

You ain’t been walking across that street when the church didn’t have the boards up. You weren’t holding up no bible when Arbery was killed in Brunswick. When Taylor was killed in Louisville. 

Wickedness in high places!

August 28th we’re going to Washington on the anniversary of “I have a Dream”. George Floyd’s family, and all of these families will lead the march.

I pulled photos from the Houston Chronicle and the Washington Post for this article.