What a Glorious Day!

On June 30, over 100 people in my village came together for my 60th birthday. The party was outstanding. People came from Jersey, Atlanta, Seattle, Phoenix, the Bay area, and all parts of Southern California to participate in our family celebration. People sent greetings from Africa, England, and the Netherlands. I am still humbled, grateful, and overwhelmed by the occasion.


I feel like so many people have given so much to me, and this event was no exception. My brothers Wayne, Baron, and Ira joined together to provide the necessary support (food, entertainment, etc.) to help make the day truly special for me and my parents. I can never say enough about their love and support. They are my brothers, my angels. I can count on them for anything and know they will always be there for me. I also thank the Calloway family for providing the venue for the wonderful afternoon celebration. I’ve been in Los Angeles since 1981. I’ve been going to the Regency West in Leimert Park for various events and occasions. It was the perfect place to bring my villagers together.

We also celebrated my mom and dad’s 60 year anniversary that day. We have flourished, accomplished much together, and supported one another all these years. I was happy to see everyone congratulate my main supporters. My oldest nephew Tommy celebrated his 21st birthday the prior Saturday. He and his brother Jordan spoke nicely about me and what I mean to them. Others spoke far too generously about my contributions to their lives. I was truly touched! My professor, Harry Edwards, my brother Wynton Marsalis, and my lady love Sade sent special messages for the occasion. My brother Bernard sent a wonderful greeting from Ghana, Africa, and my sister Marianne sent a touching sentiment from the Netherlands. And my home instruction teacher Ted Krulakowski sent a stellar address from Long Branch, NJ. Those messages, among others, can be found on my website (djriley.net), and pictures from my celebration can be found on my Facebook page (DonaldRileyJr). Please check those sites out, even if you weren’t able to attend the party. My brothers Wayne, Jeffrey, and Mitch did their best to capture the essence of what was truly a glorious day!

I had the blessing of meeting up later with some out of town guests at the Sheraton in Culver City, where I expressed my appreciation and gratitude for their coming to L.A. and supporting me and my family. I want to give recognition and thanks to God for bringing all my people together and getting them home safely.

Finally, I want to mention two current events. The first is the miracle that just took place in Thailand. Getting those 13 boys and their coach out of that cave was a true blessing! I thank God for bringing all those people from different continents and cultures together to make that happen. I also have to comment on the new Supreme Court nominee. The President and the Republicans want to weight the court towards conservative policy. I can only hope and pray for divine intervention and that the court will continue to support moderate and more liberal established decisions of the past and not dismantle equal rights and other gains that have been fought for, which represent the true essence of what America is supposed to stand for and what we should all be about.

I love you!


A birthday note from Wynton Marsalis

Wynton Marsalis shared this essay, which was read by DJ’s brother Wayne at the celebration of DJ’s 60th birthday:

DJ: a sitting prince in the spiritual aristocracy of the world. He raises the soul quotient of a room by merely entering. He has led a rich and passionate life and remains deeply engaged with the sweet and sour facts of life. Having known him for over thirty-five years, I have to say that the intensity of his optimism and activism has increased with the same velocity that he has outpaced the life expectancy of someone with Morquio Syndrome.

Photo of Wynton Marsalis and DJ Riley

DJ catches up with his friend Wynton Marsalis.

Of the many and best salutations that he has received this evening, I would like to second and third them and add that he is all of the best of what has been observed and even more, because of his beliefs and of his belief, not because of, or in spite of, his physical limitations. DJ’s greatest achievement is himself. What he has overcome to achieve the depth of personhood that we all celebrate and cherish has nothing to do with any disease. He has manifested such deep personal growth for such a long time because of the size of his heart and, because he is willing to grapple with uncomfortable internal problems until they are resolved.

You know, a disability can be a smokescreen for all types of things. Well, it’s understandable because we all wear masks that play to our strengths and cloak our fears. It could be a suit, a car, clothing that shows off positive attributes, makeup, a fancy home, a clannish way of speaking, tattoos, all kinds of stuff. We think we can protect ourselves with the make-believe armor of style or with a cultivated group of like-minded friends. But underneath it all, we are only spirits that animate the bodies we are born into. The spirit is the largest and most definitive part of who we are; that’s why people always seem so tiny in the casket. DJ wears no mask. For those of us who are fortunate to know him, he is as ubiquitous, free and affirming as the wind. I just love him and love knowing him and having known him.

At the risk of boring you, let me conclude with a story. In the late 90s our orchestra played a swing dance a few hours from LA. DJ came to check us out. The dance was well under way, but people, being shy and not really knowing how to dance the style, were just standing around looking at the empty floor. Here comes DJ breaking out there cutting values with his electric wheelchair, and absolutely doing his thing with so much joy and insouciance. It was unforgettable and absolutely for real. Next thing you know, here come people onto the floor. He got’em out there from a wheelchair!

Damn! We talked about that for years.

After the gig, as we laughed and joked about his dancing style, I asked, “Why did you do it?” He said, “Man, I came here to dance. That’s what I wanted to do and that’s what I did.” And that’s what he does. Makes stuff happen while also talking a pile of shit. Sixty! Damn!! His old ass shouldn’t even be here. What a blessing for all of us. Happy Birthday, DJ. Whatever greatness is, you are it.

Happy 60th Birthday to DJ from Dr Harry Edwards


I have known all manner of men over my 75 years on this planet – from Dr. King, to Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, H Rap Brown, Huey Newton, Bill Russell, Jim Brown, and Kareem, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, Barack Obama, NFL HO F Coach Bill Walsh, and today’s activist heroes Le Bron, Steph Curry, and Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid – all men of courage, character, vision, and commitment who I count as friends. And through all of those acquaintances and relationships, I have found one judgement – stated of course by a woman – to be ABSOLUTELY CORRECT : “Courage is the greatest of ALL virtues – because without it, no other virtue is possible !”. By that measure, I count you in this group as well. In living your life, in continuing to learn and teach, to grow and reach for all that you can be, you have come to epitomize and model that MAN that we all want to BELIEVE that we are — while, frankly, hoping all along that we will never be truly tested as to the validity of that view of ourselves.

DJ , you are everything that I hope to be as a man, as a friend, and as a model for all of the young brothers coming along behind us. You are my hero !

Happy 60th, my Brother – And God Bless !
HarryEdwards ( and family)

Photo of Dr Harry Edwards interviewing Bill Russell and Jim Brown.

Harry Edwards, Professor Emeritus of the University of California in Berkeley, right, Jim Brown, Hall of Fame running back for the Cleveland Browns, left, and Bill Russell, Hall of Fame center for the NBA, discuss sports issues at the Civil Rights Summit at the LBJ Presidential Library. (Photo by Eric Draper – PUBLIC DOMAIN)

“Trying times” means time to keep on trying – don’t give up!

I’m troubled by the recent decision by the grand jury in Cleveland, OH, where the group of policemen were not indicted or substantially reprimanded for the killing of an unarmed African American, contributing to the further devaluation of African American and other minority lives.  Also alarming were the cases in Baltimore and Ferguson, MO, which erupted into public disobedience due to frustration stemming from the incident.  We’re still waiting for the verdict of the grand jury and investigation in the case of a 12 year old African American boy in Cleveland.

I’m turning 57 years old next month and have seen much police brutality throughout most of my life.  One of the earliest encounters I had was when my godbrother, Steven Russell, was killed by a police officer while in high school, unarmed and on route to the arcade from an after-school job.  His killer was not indicted and the whole process of investigation was heavily weighted toward accusing the victim, not much unlike the recent Trayvon Martin case in Florida.

All of this victimization and racial abuse seems even more sad in the times of an African American president.  The kind of disrespect and false accusations that have been hurled at him for the past six and a half years create the kind of climate where diminishing the value of African American lives is acceptable.  If the person holding the highest office in the U.S. can be disrespected, ridiculed, and made less of by his political peers and the common man, what chance do regular “John Q. Public” African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and homeless have to be treated with respect and common decency from police officers and the military establishment?  What kind of message does this send to all of our young people?  What type of stability does this establish for the foundation of households and domestic relationships?  It’s a disheartening time.  It seems like Eric Holder was just beginning to scratch the surface on developing policy that could lead to fundamental change in how the political and punitive systems deal with lesser enfranchised people.  I can only hope that Loretta Lynch can continue his investigations and add to the development of more positive and fair treatment of my brothers and sisters.

Social media, cell phone cameras, and other technologies are going to help eliminate the problem.  Eventually, the right type of evidence from the wrong kind of victims is going to be made available and ignite even further social unrest.  I’m hoping and praying that better policy and more egalitarian treatment take place before things get any worse.

I love you all.  Thanks for reading.  Let’s make it better!

A Message from Dominic

Hey DJ … Whaddup! …

I am glad to know you’ve been hanging in there, enjoying some of your familiar pastimes, and friends. I too was saddened by the passing of our man “Dukey Stick”. I think back with fascination about the many albums we enjoyed from George and the genre of music he helped to foster.

I have been quite behind in correspondence with so much to do and so little time. But I’ve recommitted myself to rekindling cherished old friendships and hope to soon make it to Los Angeles to check on a few folks. You know you’re one of the first if I can just see a break in the frenetic pace of life. I hope that your folks are well and your circle of friends continues to infuse and generate the zest for life that I remember you to always have. Though we haven’t spoken in much time, I carry in my heart the spirit and vibe that you’ve always managed to exude. Your positive thoughts and encouragement have never left my being all these many years and I am sure it’s there to stay. Keep on Keeping On … I read every one of your communications, sometimes not timely, but I do. Thanks for keeping me plugged in and tethered to your appreciation of the simplest of life’s happy moments. I truly appreciate you.

I have not been to So Cal since Mom passed but hope to get there by Summer. We just returned from Boise, Idaho where Aria took 2nd Place All_Around in her division … pic attached.



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

60th Birthday reflections from DJ’s former nurse Marianne

Photo of DJ and Marianne

DJ and Marianne – Such good memories!

Dear D.J.

I always told you I’d be here to celebrate your 60st birthday and I am terribly sorry I cannot make it.

In February 1994 I lived in a strange new country, not feeling at ease with the city and the language. Being totally frustrated, since I didn’t have a job, and studying to become an RN was boring, I responded to an ad in the Daily Bruin, in which someone was looking for an aide. 

I called the number, couldn’t quite understand what was said (due to the Bi-PaP) and complied to a job interview- which was the start of a long friendship. 

Our working relation was not always easy, me being an experienced nurse, thinking I knew perfectly well what was good for you, and you being DJ (need I say more?): my smartass patient who knew perfectly well what he wanted. And never the twain shall meet… 

I clearly remember the day we had a fight and I was yelling at you. You calmly replied that you somehow understood what I meant, but could I please yell in English the next time I was mad at you?

I worked for you during the OJ Simson trial. We, together with your roommate Dennis, talked a lot about it. I ‘stupid white girl from Europe’ knew close to nothing and didn’t understand the impact of this trial. I learned so much from you. About the judicial system, American society, music, movies, really really bad TV shows (I can’t believe you still like them!) 

And of course you taught me to love LA. We had a good time, even when we quarreled. 

I learned to understand you, your eloquent use of the language. I remember you teaching me a new word every day. I helped you staying (sort of) healthy. I still do not approve of pizza for breakfast, but I did feed you lots of it. And the tiramisu which I sometimes made for you was probably even worse…

You helped me by sending me to ESL–class where I not only became more confident about my English, but also made lots of friends. You met quite a couple of them and we loved to party together.

You were concerned about me: you hated my smoking and bicycling to town. 

Instead of a paying me a big salary, you introduced me to American culture: I remember getting tickets to the Alvin Ailey dancers in the Wiltern Theatre. You sent me to the To Night show when George Clooney was guest. And you were mad at me that I hadn’t asked for a picture- but I never was that keen of pictures like you… (and I was also a bit shyer than you)

We were and are friends. I’ll never forget the day that I turned up at your apartment clearly upset and you immediately canceled a date, mentioning that you had to stay home since your nurse really needed you that day…

You visited us twice in the Netherlands. We went to Amsterdam, Scheveningen and The Hague.

I remember John wanting my neighbors in Utrecht to play chess with him, and Baron who was looking forwards to a nice hotel bed, but ended up on a mattress on the floor… And yes: even then we quarreled. You had not arranged everything as I would have liked, but of course everything went smooth. Like you told me once: “who is going to stop a black man in a wheelchair?” So you succeeded in going to a totally sold out North Sea Jazz Festival without tickets…

We have been back to LA several times, and I always try to see you. Each time I’m amazed that you are still hanging in there, enjoying life. Every time I’m amazed by how you get me to work for you again: calling people to arrange dinners at places who do not take reservations, and are not well equipped for wheelchairs, but in the end we’re always having a good time. 

I’m so happy that I read that tiny ad all those years ago. What a lucky girl I was to have met you and what a lucky woman I am to still know you. 

I love you so much.

Thank you for teaching me how to love life.

Big hug