If you are seeking an educated opinion on popular topics from a man who has worked side by side with some of the best leaders in entertainment and arguably in the world, Patrick Riley is your guy!
Patrick’s resume alone caused my mind to race interminably with questions before I had the privilege of interviewing him. Tokyo-born and raised wholesomely in Savannah GA, Patrick created quite a name for himself after graduating from Morehouse College. He is best known for his work as a freelance, senior field producer at “The Oprah Winfrey Show” for over 13 years. That’s right, thee Oprah Winfrey! His astounding work on the show eventually enabled him to interview Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton as well as many of his own idols - including Diana Ross, Mary Tyler Moore, Janet Jackson, Dr. Maya Angelou, and even Beyoncé.
He captivated me instantly with his friendly smile and warm tone. It was refreshing to witness how humble Mr. Riley was despite him working with the greats of our time. He has been recognized numerously for his work in the industry, including the 2014 Momentum Education's "Pillar of Empowerment" Award at Momentum Honors in New York City as well as several awards from the National, Atlanta, and New York Associations of Black Journalists.
Just last year Patrick released a book titled, “That’s What Friends Are For: On the Women Who Inspired Me.” NABJ deemed it "Outstanding Literary Work", and the NYC Pride organization awarded him its 2018 Trailblazer Award honor in Harlem at The Schomburg Center of Culture & Research.
So after learning about all of these amazing accomplishments, for a slight moment I wondered what’s next. Luckily, the emergence of the “The Happy Hour”, a talk show featuring five gay professional men discussing topics ranging from politics, dating, relationships, fashion and pop culture included Mr. Riley as one of the hosts.
“It’s worth qualifying that we are talking about what all of the other panel shows are talking about, but we are talking about it from our unique lens and it’s not just one lens, we are five gay guys who have a lot of different points of views, and it’s so rare that you even get one LGBTQ point of view on a panel show,” Patrick said.
His words touching on representation certainly rings true, especially since it’s already challenging to have our own families accept our lifestyle. Speaking of family, I asked Patrick about his upbringing and what his experience was like navigating towards success as a black gay man.
“When I graduated from Morehouse College in 1992, the vision is that I would be a local news reporter, which was a gig that I landed right out of college, and I would treat my career very separate from my sexual orientation. I would be a talking head on TV, and I would live my life behind the scenes and never marry who I was authentically to what I did professionally.”
He continued, “By my mid 20s, it was not going to work for me, and so once I made the decision to come out, I knew that the kind of work I wanted to attract was going to be able to receive me as the whole of me. And so, from that time to now I have only attracted the work that has had me be the gay man that I am.”
I thought it was amazing that Patrick was able to gain success simply by living in his truth, something that many gay men don’t have the ability or the option to even consider. However, being himself had its setbacks. Patrick described a time where he was field producing a project with Oprah titled, “When I Knew I was Gay”, but they asked him to turn the camera on himself and tell his personal story about how he came out.
“That [episode] came out to millions. Trust me, my family in Savannah would have preferred I kept my liberation to myself, instead it went all over the world. And it would be a day where I wouldn’t get one call from Georgia because my homophobic family just wasn’t happy about that moment. And yet If I had let that be something that got in my way that episode would not have won the GLAAD award and that person who came up to me 6 months later wouldn’t have thanked me and told me that the episode changed his life.”
I asked about how his family feels now after so many years that moment happened, and he replied enthusiastically, “They are great, they are wonderful! My family has evolved and are very much affirming and accepting of my personal life and what love looks like on me.”
With Patrick’s life coming full circle, I was even more anxious to hear what he wanted viewers to take away after watching the Happy Hour. After all, it’s not often you see a diverse group of gay men in front of the camera voicing their opinions for all the world to see.
“For me, in these trolling times there can be so much hateration [hate] and so I made a decision in my career that I want to be the celebration and the clarification for anything that I attach my name to. The Happy Hour Talk show will be a n opportunity for me to have an opinion that hopefully brings love, light and understanding to people even if it’s an uncomfortable conversation. And I came to be that in everything that I do, and this project is no exception.”