Bernard Walker’s ode to DJ Riley on his 60 Birthday

 First, I have to share the poem, “Invictus,” which is Nelson Mandela’s favorite:

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods may be     
For my unconquerable soul. In the fell clutch of circumstance     
I have not winced nor cried aloud. Under the bludgeonings of chance     
My head is bloody, but unbowed. Beyond this place of wrath and tears     
Looms but the Horror of the shade, And yet the menace of the years     
Finds and shall find me unafraid. It matters not how strait the gate,     
How charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate,     
I am the captain of my soul.


I love this poem, too.  It is one of a few that I have memorized for constant motivation.  The ideas expressed in this poem kept Mandela strong.  It has kept me strong, and I believe DJ in doing all that he has done has represented the ideas and qualities in this poem, and continues to represent this mindset lived true.

Meeting at USC

First, I must say who I am in order to say who DJ is in my mind’s eye.  

I love Black people.  I love people.  I am purpose driven.  I really believe my actions matter.  I believe we can change the world.  I believe in living to a higher purpose.  NOW is always the time to do, to be, and to have all that God has for us.  I love life.  I love music.  I love good food, especially soul food, which I am missing a whole lot living here in Ghana.  😊 I love people of action.  I love being in the action, where the action is for positive change.  It is in these beliefs lived out BOLDLY that I met DJ.  DJ is all of this and more.  DJ is all of that and an order of chili Cheese fries from Tommy’s at 2 am.  

The Law of Attraction is true.  Like energy, like mindsets ATTRACT.

  • So, we met at USC in the 1980s during controversy and the movement for change.
  • The Office of Black Student Services.  The Protest to remove Dr. Pam Porter
  • African Black Student Statewide Alliance (ABSSC)
    • Movement of Black student unions in California to come together (1983 to 1985)
  • 1984 Run Jesse Run: Rev. Jesse Jackson for President.  Leading Students for Jackson, Southern California.
  • The anti-Apartheid Movement.  South African Divestment Movement.  Los Angeles Frees South Africa Movement (LAFSAM)

As a youth leader that did not always ask and demand all that was my due, DJ was a great help.  It was DJ that said, “Bernard: let’s go to the convention.  You and I have put in all this work, we should be there.”  So, I owe to DJ the daring ask, for Yes we did receive a place to stay, while at the National Democratic Party Convention in San Francisco California in 1984.   Staying in the office for the Jesse Jackson California Campaign and not knowing we were the in the office.  We made history.  We were a part of history making. 1984.  During that campaign, DJ told me something I have taken as a life lesson, which I in turn share at every opportunity with young leaders over the years.  He advised me that as a youth leader, “don’t limit yourself to being a youth leader only for young people, or a student leader only for students, because all people just need good leadership.  Our communities need leaders.  So, be the leader for all the people.  Don’t limit yourself!”  This was and still is some good stuff!

So, DJ has been someone, who I could depend on to be always on my side.  So, thank you for that.

In summary, DJ has been my brother in struggle in the freedom movement in in California.  Occupying the USC Bovard Administration building for a week to demand the Board of Directors Divest from South Africa.  Working for Assemblywoman Maxine Waters and being the Co-chair for the Los Angeles Free South Africa Movement all included DJ Riley

DJ and the stars

Thank you DJ for all the cool hookups!

Attending the NBA Championships Lakers versus Pistons 1986.  My one and only NBA Championship Game was due to DJ’s hookup!  Thank you.  DJ.

George Benson Concerts by the Sea. So many Jazz artists and Reggae artists.  DJ: How do you do what you do?  Thank you for being you. 

How can I forget going to see Eddie Murphy and going back stage.  Even when I lived in Texas before coming to Ghana in 2014, Brother DJ hooked a brother up with tickets to see Sade in Dallas in 2013.

Our life is nothing more than directed thought, misdirected thought or undirected thought.  These three forms of thought energy we manifest by our assumptions.  Generally, DJ seemed to know what he wanted, and asked, cajoled, influenced and persuaded others to give him whatever he asked.  DJ is and has always been a seeker.  He likes to make things happen in a world of great happenings.

Maybe it was natural for us to find each other.  Years after we met at USC, I wrote, and began to teach in workshops, panels or wherever someone was foolish enough to give me a microphone, “Either you make things happen or they happen to you.  When things happen to you, it is usually not the way you want.”   I am sure you are also familiar with the phrase, “It’s not what happens to you that matters, but how you respond to what has happened to you.” DJ has happened to this world.  DJ has responded to this world.  He has not and probably never will respond the way we think is politically correct as maybe we think is “right” but he expresses and impresses his presence on us.  We are better for it.

So, two final thoughts before I close on this “short” Ode to DJ.

First, it is written:

“Ask and it shall be given to you.  Seek and you shall find.  Knock and the door shall be open.”  Also, “the Law is no respecter of persons.”  Without pretending that DJ is a saint, because he like me is more often than not a part of the “Bad Boy” posse that includes Will Smith and Martin Lawrence.    I use these scriptures to make a simple point.   

  • DJ dared to seek answers, support, access, and inclusion.  
  • Because DJ “dared to ask,”  and because he “dared to knock” persistently:
    • The Cause that is DJ effected “the happy receiving,”
       “the glad finding,” and 
    • “The bold opening” of door in so many areas. 

 I am thankful for that example!  I love you DJ and I am thankful for your friendship all these years.

Second, and lastly, I will end with words that have been spoken by Nelson Mandela, although the actual author is Marianne Williamson.  Since Mandela is a common string that has connected our quilted lives together, I will end with his inspiring presences as I began this Ode to DJ because, DJ has given me and others permission shine our life lights, so that we each individually and collectively demonstrate that we too are “brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous”:                                                     

 Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Our Deepest Fear
by Marianne Williamson 

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