All Photos: Alan Mercer
Rolonda Watts is an Emmy and Cable Ace award–nominated journalist, television and radio talk show host, executive producer, actor, comedienne, voice artist, speaker, humanitarian, and author. She can currently be seen on Dr. Drew on HLN. She can also be heard as Professor Wiseman on "Curious George," as the announcer for "Divorce Court," and as warrior priestess Illoai in the latest League of Legends video game. In 2016 she will have a recurring role on the Bounce TV series "In the Cut." She holds degrees from Spelman College, where she was editor-in-chief of the school newspaper and graduated Magna Cum Laude, a master's degree from Columbia University, and an honorary doctorate from Winston-Salem State University. Rolonda lives in Los Angeles, California. 'Destiny Lingers' is her first novel.
After graduating from Columbia, Rolonda returned to North Carolina and began her career as a general assignment reporter at WFMY-TV in Greensboro, North Carolina. She later worked at WNBC, where she was nominated for an Emmy, and WABC-TV in New York as an anchor of a weekly political forum and reporter. In 1987, she began working as a host of ‘Attitudes,’ a talk show on Lifetime Television. The next year, she took a job on the news magazine ‘Inside Edition’ as a senior correspondent, weekend anchor and producer. King World Productions, the syndicator of Inside Edition and also The Oprah Winfrey Show, then asked her to start her own talk show. 'Rolonda' aired for nearly four seasons.
After leaving her talk show behind, Rolonda headed to Hollywood to pursue a career in acting. Her first break was in 1997 when she was cast as Vivica Shaw in ‘Sister, Sister,’ a role she played for six episodes. Since then Rolonda has had guest starring roles in dozens of television shows, including ‘The West Wing,’ ‘JAG,’ ‘The District,’ ‘Yes, Dear,’ and soap operas ‘Days of Our Lives’ and ‘The Bold and the Beautiful.’ In 2002, Soap Opera Digest named her "Scene Stealer of the Week" for her role as the cut-throat Attorney Cameron Reese on ‘Days of our Lives.’
Rolonda is also the CEO/president of her own production company, Watts Works Productions, which co-produced her talk show ‘Rolonda.’ In 2005, she hosted Lie Detector, a reality series for PAX-TV. That same year, she took over as announcer on Judge Joe Brown. She also appeared on ‘Live With Regis and Kelly’ where she traveled cross-country as a judge for the show's ‘Great American Co-Host Search.’
In commercials, Rolonda is the voice of Boeing, Wells Fargo Bank, Tropicana, Southwest Airlines, Big Lots, Children's Hospital, Wendy's, Aleve, and Alka Seltzer - and more.
New York City and Newark, NJ each established an official "Rolonda Day" for her journalistic, community, and humanitarian works. She has served on the Board of Directors for Literacy Volunteers of New York City, the Board of Advisors for the Rahway State Prison's Lifers Group, the Board of Advisors for New York University School of Dentistry, and the Board of Advisors for the United Negro College Fund. She has volunteered as a tutor for H.E.L.P. - the Hollywood Education and Literacy Project. She is a member of Women in Film, AFTRA, and SAG. The Spelman College Alumna Association awarded Ro for her community service. And the McDonald's Corporation honored her as a "Broadcast Legend".
AM: Rolonda, how is it that you can do and have done so many different things in your life?
RW: You know Alan I’m glad you asked that because I often ask myself the same question. I do believe that my partner is God. I don’t know any other way I could do all the things I’ve done without the help of Angels and God. It’s all about my faith. I really believe that. I also believe that when God gives you gifts he gives you the batteries to go with them.
AM: That’s a great way to look at life.
RW: I’ve always felt like a big toy chest full of lots of gifts. I believe my gift back to God is to use them for good. It looks like I do 50 million things but really I do one thing and that is I’m a storyteller, whether it’s ‘Inside Edition’ or ‘Eyewitness News’ or a talk show. Even voice over work and acting is storytelling or executive producing movies and now my novel. It’s all storytelling.
AM: How did you start writing the book?
RW: Actually the book has been in me since 1996. I survived Hurricane Bertha in North Carolina on Topsail Island where I grew up in the Summertime. My grandparents founded the first Black Beachfront community in North Carolina in 1949.
RW: We hadn’t had a hurricane since 1954. I was told to evacuate the island but I wanted to stay and cover it for ‘Inside Edition.’ That was dumb. If someone tells you to evacuate the island, do it!
AM: Uh oh.
RW: By the time the ‘Inside Edition’ crew arrived it was too dangerous to let them on and too dangerous to let me off. I had to ride out the storm. I had to eat at the Red Cross for three days. The police chief had to pick me up and take me to the food and water. We would be talking about the island and all the things we love about it and then we asked each other why we didn’t know each other. We realized it was because of segregation. We couldn’t have known each other.
AM: That is deep.
RW: I always thought about that and the phrase, “Time moves on but destiny lingers.” What would happen to two lovers who could not be together because the laws and attitudes kept them apart? What if there was an opportunity to go back and get a second chance at your first love? It’s really what’s happening today with race relations and the gay community. I’ve had many lesbians tell me this is their story.
AM: I can understand that.
RW: I also wanted to capture a certain time. I remember the Jim Crow era. A lot of the issues I talk about in the book are real stories from my life. I couldn’t always go places with my class because I was black.
AM: That is so harsh and unreal.
RW: I want to remind younger generations of that time. It hasn’t always been this easy to love anybody you want. I also wanted to deal with issues like racism and classism. It’s a call to action for the younger generation, “What will you do to stop all the thread of ‘isms’ in your own family? When will you put your foot down and say no more. When will love conquer all?”
AM: When did you finish writing the book?
RW: Oh let’s see…a little over two years ago.
AM: I wondered because you have the endorsement from the glorious Miss Maya Angelou.
RW: Yes she read the book about a year and a half before she passed. She had been reading it and she was very supportive. I hadn’t finished it yet. I was just piddling about. She told me not to die with this story still inside me.
AM: Wow! I bet that statement had impact.
RW: That hit me so hard. She loved the book and you can see what she said on the book cover, “Let the story continue.” I do want it to have a sequel. Praise God, she gave me one of her last endorsements.
AM: Did you just feel uplifted after her approval?
RW: It was a major endorsement. I felt like she was passing the baton. She had been my Auntie and I knew her for 35 years. She always helped me through everything, but a book! I was treading in some highly professional territory.
AM: If Maya Angelou says the book is good you know it’s good!
RW: I knew in my heart and soul the story was good. I worked on it for so long. It was a hobby for 10 years. I played with it and work shopped it. I met with a writers group. I passed it along to people that I really respected.
AM: And writing was something that you always wanted to do?
RW: I always wanted to be a writer or an author. When I was much younger I asked Auntie Maya how to become a writer and she told me, “You take a noun and you take a verb and ball it all up and smack it against the wall and make it sing.” I thought, Wow! I always wanted to follow in her footsteps. Her endorsement is one of the greatest achievements in my life. The book in general is one of the greatest achievements as well.
AM: So will we see ‘Destiny Lingers’ made into a movie?
RW: Yes, definitely. I like to challenge myself. I don’t believe in mediocracy or getting comfortable. That’s why I keep moving. You cannot get comfortable. So I wrote a novel so now I think, “Write the screenplay.”
AM: That would make complete sense with you.
RW: It’s very rare for a journalist to turn into a novelist and very rare that a novelist turns into a screenplay writer. I’m going to do it. I would love to see it as a movie and then spin off into a television series. You have an interracial couple, a cop and a journalist. Anything could happen.
AM: Talk about timely. You wouldn’t have had any idea when you started writing this book that it would be so relevant in the moment.
RW: Alan, that’s why I said at the very beginning of our conversation that I don’t do this alone. I’ve waited so long for this book to be on a Barnes & Noble shelf and it could not have come out at a better time. All those times I cried to myself, would this book ever happen. One year I even told myself to just forget about it, but Destiny kept calling me. These characters wanted to live. I had no choice.
AM: No you didn’t!
RW: Then when Dr. Maya Angelou is breathing down your neck, (Laughter) “Make sure you contribute to the literary world!” Well you contribute to the literary world and it’s got to be good. She taught me the book has got to be about bettering humanity.
AM: What is one of the best parts about promoting the book for you?
RW: It’s giving me a chance to talk with people about race and race relations. I’m finding people to be very open with their own personal stories. People stay calm because we are talking about this story but really we are talking about their own lives.
AM: You grew up in a white world didn’t you?
RW: I was the only black in an all-girl high school. I remember going to a debutant party at the Country Club and I couldn’t go because I was black. Five of my girlfriends stood up to their parents and said we’re not going to go if Rolonda can’t go. That’s wrong. They opened up the Country Club to me.
AM: This is in the Seventies!?!
RW: Honey, that was 1974.
AM: That’s insane.
RW: Insane! I watched 16-year-old girls stand up to their parents and the status quo and say it’s not right. That’s another thing Dr. Maya Angelou was all about. Stand up and lift. Use your voice. When it’s wrong, say it’s wrong. She was so upset over Trayvon Martin , but she was encouraged that people were speaking out. It wasn’t covered up like it used to be. Back then there wasn’t a consciousness like that. You didn’t have all the cameras. I think even for as horrible as things can be, we are moving toward a better place.
AM: Yes, I agree. I am disturbed by the violence but I believe we are going in the right direction.
RW: Any movement has the sacrificial lambs. Sadly, now they are children and moms and dads. We are moving to a better place but you have to hit a wall before you change and America is hitting a lot of walls right now.
To learn more about Rolonda Watts visit her web site /http://www.rolonda.com/