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

DJ ! CONGRATULATIONS and HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MY BROTHER !

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)

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
http://skdesigns.com/internet/articles/quotes/williamson/our_deepest_fear/ 

60 Years and Counting: What a Blessed Life!

For those of you who weren’t able to attend my 60th birthday party, I wanted to share what I wrote for the occasion, which was beautifully read at the party by my brother Wayne.  I hope you enjoy it!

Much love always,
DJ

DJ's 60th Birthday - group picture.

DJ’s 60th Birthday – group picture.

60 years ago almost to the day, my village started in Long Branch, New Jersey.  The original villagers were my mom and dad, my sister Joanne, my brother Wayne, myself, my great grandmother Sissy,  my grandmother, Granny, and my Aunt Sis.  Almost immediately, we formed a union that would carry me through my first 18 years and deliver me to a lifetime of accomplishment, exploration, and I hope contribution.  Along the way, God has introduced me to angels that have made a huge difference in my life.  Please allow me to acknowledge some of these people and some places and events of substance.

 

First, my home instruction tutors, who helped me get accepted to college.  All my life, my mom has promoted the importance of education as a gateway to a successful life.  In the beginning, I had  several tutors, Ted Krulikowski, Mr. Majistro and Mr. Brew.  Joanne and I went on home instruction from junior high school until high school graduation.  Those 5 years with Jo-Jo, the tutors, and Sissy were very special.  Throughout that time, we had many wonderful friends that made our encumbered lives more manageable.  People like Steven Russell, my godbrother who I miss dearly, Richard Hebron, who attached himself to us in high school, got us through many social engagements, and kept us involved in our community and academically, always with the support of my mom and dad.  Our other brothers Jeffrey, Leonard Bell and later on, Lance Gaynor became integral parts of our development and helped us build our courage to face what lay ahead of us.

 

WOW, then came 1976, high school graduation, the bicentennial year.  Mom’s encouragement and insistence that college would be possible and make a difference in our lives became a reality.  Friends of the family (villagers) introduced us to UC Berkeley, my second substantial academic blessing.  Mom, dad, Granny, and my Uncle Chops delivered me to the campus.  Cal Berkeley had a special program that included residential assistance for people with substantial disabilities, which helped students academically and also assisted their transition into adulthood by preparing them for life in the surrounding community.  Aside from my primary family, Cal Berkeley was the major blessing that made all the difference in my life.  In addition to the people in the disabled student program and students in the dormatories, there was a place we called The Wall, where the few black students attending Cal could congregate and interact with each other on a daily basis.  It was there that I met my big brother Baron, who became important to all of us on campus as a mentor, friend, comrade, and facilitator.  He remains that kind of person to so many to this day, 42 years later.  I love Baron so much.  If you look around, everything that’s happening here today is because of him, my brother Wayne, my parents, and my good friend, Ira Hermann, my strongest supporters and faithful allies.  At Cal Berkeley, I also met “cats” like George, Ted, Cardell, Desmond, Piya, Ellis, Ben, Charles Douglas, and Ira.  These brothers have remained so special to me for 40 years.  Thank God, they’re here with us today.  Academically, my mentor and academic father was Harry Edwards.  There were others, but this group formed the nucleus that led to great times, maturation, accomplishment, and brotherhood throughout my adult life.

 

God’s third major shift and blessing occurred in 1981, when I was accepted to the graduate school in public administration at USC, in L.A.  Thankfully, my brother Leonard was available to come to L.A. and helped me successfully make that transition, and Baron, Cardell and eventually Ted helped as well.  Other people who were very important and supportive to me during this time were Peter Gordon, Margaret Harrington, Connie Rodgers,  Bernard Walker, Anthony Brown, Paul Jordan, Max and Dorene Cleland, Sam Mills, and my good friend Richard Yarbough.  My graduation from USC in 1984 would be my last major event with Granny in attendance.  Coincidentally, Sissy passed away the year I went to Cal. Berkeley back in 1976.  I miss them both every day.  I also still miss the Bay area to this day, but USC and living in L.A. led to a lifetime of world travel, exploration, and growth.  So much happiness, so many wonderful and supportive people!

 

In 1997, I earned my second Masters degree (in social welfare, my true calling) at UCLA.  In this program, I continued to have the support of many individuals, including Diane DeAnda and my friends Brian, Robert, Robin, Hyacinth, Teresa Cowles, Peggy, Marc Jackson, and John Smith.  While at UCLA, I also had the opportunity to do a radio talk show for UCLA Radio.  This gave me an opportunity to meet numerous celebrities and leaders, including Muhammad Ali, Nelson Mandela, Jesse Jackson, Julius Irving, Magic Johnson, Don King, and Jay Leno.  I traveled all over the United States, including Hawaii, and to Jamaica, and eventually attended jazz junkets to Amsterdam and Switzerland where I became acquaintances and eventually friends and associates with people like Wynton Marsalis, Elvin Jones, Miles Davis, George Benson, George Duke, Roy Hargrove, Grover Washington, Billy Higgins, and Sade, among others.

 

Along the way, my brother Wayne would meet and marry Marcia, who became my sister.  Her sisterly/daughterly love filled a gaping void left in our village when Joanne passed away some 20 years ago and helped to complete our primary family.  Wayne and Marcia also gave us Tommy and Jordan, two sons, grandsons, and nephews whom we love dearly.  I want to acknowledge Tommy turning 21 just last week!
I also want to acknowledge my nurses, especially Natalie, Alma, Rahel, and Eugene, caregivers, and doctors like Dr. Toiserkani and Dr. Axline, who have meant so much to me and kept me going all these years.  Finally, I want to take a moment to reflect on and remember a few of my peers who are no longer with us: Steven Russell, Charles Douglas, my girl Lisa Rawls, and my friends Curtis Moore and Sam Mills.

 

If you look around, you’ll see that the majority of my village (including many of the people mentioned in this speech), with God’s blessing, have come here to celebrate this momentous occasion with me and my parents.  That’s what makes this day so special.   It is extra special since we are also celebrating my parents’ 60 year anniversary almost to the day.  What a wonderful and remarkable life they have shared!

 

l have a daily chant/prayer that I have developed for the past 5 years:

THANK YOU GOD FOR SO MUCH, FROM SO MANY, FOR SO LONG.  I say that daily and throughout each day with my normal prayers of acknowledgement and thanks.

Know how much I thank you and love you for making this man’s life one of accomplishment, involvement, and love.

 

God has been so wonderful to me.  For some reason, God chose to take away most of my voice.  So I guess that means it’s important for me to become a better listener to all the people that love me.  Hopefully this will be a chance for you guys to say some things for me that you know I would have said to you if I could still speak.  Please take some time to listen to the testimonials that have been sent to me from people that love me that couldn’t be here.  Also, if we have some time, please take the mike and say some things to me about how I made a difference in your life, because you’ve made a difference in mine.

I love you all!

DJ

Happy Father’s Day 2018

For those of us who are blessed to have fathers and extra blessed to have grandfathers, Father’s Day is a special day.  My brother Wayne and I have been blessed to have a wonderful father who is our #1 cheerleader!  Many of my friends were also raised by outstanding fathers.  I have to say the essential thing that makes a father great is that he complements a mother’s love.  My mom and dad have been complementary for 60 years.  Wayne and Marcia are on their way to similar success.

My father has always exclaimed the importance of mothers.  His relationship with Granny was special and his success is a prime example of what a man can attain with the love and devotion of a great mother.  Wayne and I are blessed to also have such a mother.

Many of the people I’ve met over the years have been raised in single mother households.  My father served as a wonderful example and filled a void for many of my friends who were fatherless or lost their fathers.  Now my father is teaching many of them how to be a grandfather.  As I am 60 years old now (grandfather age), many of my friends are embracing grandfatherdom.  Especially in the black community, grandfathers are a prize and supreme blessing.

We are living in trying times now and witnessing some disturbing things that are happening that go against the values of our forefathers.  Our country is one founded by immigrants and dreamers.  Our country has the reputation of being the place where dreams come true (the “American dream”).  It’s a place that should embrace everyone!  Surely, our immigration laws and policies need to be changed.  People still come and risk their lives to come here because of how we promoted ourselves.  Surely, we can come to a more humanitarian resolution for our current Dreamers and other immigrants.  Our President is supposed to serve as a symbol of the best of what our forefathers envisioned.  Can Donald Trump truly be considered the father symbol of our entire nation?  I THINK NOT!  It’s up to our democratic society to save us from his shortcomings and lead our nation to GREATNESS.

For those of you who are fathers, always strive to be great and look towards your own great examples to figure out how.  Observe and listen to your children and consider their happiness and accomplishments as indicators of how great you’re doing.

Dad, I was blessed to have a great father!  I love you and thank you so much!!

Mother’s Day 2018

60 years ago, I began the most significant and substantial relationship of my life with my mother (yes, this July 2, I’ll be turning 60 years old).  My relationship with my mom has changed over the years.  My first 17 years, I was dependent on her, my dad, and my grandmother.  My mom encouraged me to overcome my challenges and amplified my strength.  She encouraged me to think about and helped prepare me to go to college to start a more independent and contributory life.  Once I got accepted to Berkeley, she and my grandmother brought me to California.  The next 40 years became a totally blessed and outstanding life.

Through all those years, my mom was always there for me, encouraging me and loving me unconditionally.  Because of her, I gravitated towards people who had similarly great parents.  I have to say that most of my relationships are with people who have been blessed with great moms and great fathers.  Most of you who have read my past emails know about my mom.  I am so proud of the woman that she has always been.  I’m so grateful for all that she has done and all that she continues to do for me.

I appreciate all of you that read my emails and have taken the time to adapt to my life changes and maintain a relationship with me.  I am thankful for all of you and I encourage you to reach out this weekend in one way or another and give your mom the kind of appreciation that she deserves.  For those of you who no longer have your mom, I encourage you to reach out to a sister, cousin, aunt  or friend who has given their all to nurture their child or some children that mean a lot to them.

Happy Mother’s Day.  I love you all!

Always,

DJ

Happy Mother’s Day 2017

Most of you that know me, especially those of you who are on my Contacts list, know how special my mom, my dad’s mom, and my mother’s grandmom have been to me and how they have helped make me the person I have become in this life.  To me, Mother’s Day is the ultimate holiday, and nothing comes close.  That’s been reared in me by the man I most revere, my father, and been shown to me by my mother’s example and the example of friends, family, and associates throughout my life.

pepper_and_granny

Those of us who have the ultimate blessing of a mother who’s always been there for us and that we can count on are especially responsible to make the most of ourselves as an offering and homage to the contributions our mothers unselfishly and constantly bestowed on us.  I am blessed to say that I know through many examples the important influence a mother has on a person’s life.  Most of you that have read my Mother’s Day messages are aware that I have chanted and testified to this throughout most of my life.

I am also moved this year by my young six year old friend, Peyton Farwell and her older sister Summer, who recently lost their mother, and to all my other good friends (Jeffrey, Brian, Dominic, Leonard, Cardell, George, Lisa, Leslie, Natalie, Peggy, Lance, Jason, Mike, and Roxane) that have also endured the ultimate pain from the loss of a mother.  You are some of the people that I hold most dearly that have shared the experience of a mother’s major influence in their lives, and I thank you for that.  Honestly, the just and loving God that I believe in would take me before my mom.  I pray every day that he will keep my mom alive and happy to continue taking care of my dad, my brother and his family and all those other people we love.

I would also like to take a moment to acknowledge those special mothers that I’ve been blessed to know, those friends, family members and nurses that do the WHOLE job, the hardest job, by themselves or with little support from the fathers.  You know who you are and know how special you are to me.  I am in awe of your strength, resilience, and ability to assemble bigger resources to provide what’s needed for your children.  You’re amazing!   All of us know women like this, that take God’s ultimate responsibility on by themselves and raise children that become accomplished, contributing, and successful members of society.  I believe it’s a special responsibility to do what we can to assist and support them and to give their children whatever we can to help them show appreciation for their mothers.

I love all of you and your mothers that I’ve had the opportunity to know.  On this special day, we should take the time to express love and appreciation to the special mothers in our lives and those wives, sisters, cousins, and friends that we know who are doing the best they can to be the best mothers they can be.

Once again, this message is especially dedicated to my sweet Peyton, who will no longer get the opportunity to experience the kind of support and love that we get from our mothers, as well as to those of you who have prematurely said goodbye to those mothers that helped to make you who you are.

God bless all of you!

Much love always,
DJ