Vassar Quarterly - Spring 2018 - 40
"Being a reporter is not as
glamorous as it sounds. If my
beeper went off at 2:00am,
I had to respond."
because it means reconfiguring your life." Clearly, her leap
of faith worked. Baldeck's books, including The Heart of Haiti
(1996, second edition 2006), Talismanic (1998), Touching the
Mekong (2003), and Himalaya: Land of the Snow Lion (2008),
bear eloquent witness to an artist's singular vision and
Monica D. Riley '86
Broadcast journalist to holistic healer
'm living my passion," says Monica D. Riley, aka
Doctor of Holistic Medicine and Fountain of Youth
Guru Dr. Monica Bickerstaff Riley.
Her professional name may ring a bell: Several
years ago, Riley's mother,
Joyce Bickerstaff, Associate Professor
Emerita of Education and Africana
Studies, retired from Vassar.
Family legacy matters to Riley,
especially now. Over the last several
months, she's been rocked by the loss
of her beloved father and the
"101-years-young" grandmother who
inspired her encore career. She's
surrounded herself with healing
crystals, and a rainbow-hued spiral
diffuser scents the air with essential oils.
Riley entered Vassar planning
to study biology, but graduated summa cum laude with a double major
in English and Africana studies.
Hosting a public-affairs talk show on
Vassar's radio station, WVKR, steered
her toward broadcast journalism.
A fter attending Northwestern's
Medill School of Journalism, she
landed a plum job as a reporter on
Capitol Hill, working for NBC/ABC
affiliates nationwide. But "being a
reporter is not as glamorous as it
sounds," she says. "If my beeper went
off at 2:00am, I had to respond, in
full face, full hair, and some sem40
Monica D. riley,
Founder of Dr.
blance of a professional outfit. News doesn't stop."
She moved to WHMM-TV, the first African American-
licensed PBS affiliate, then Children's TV Workshop and PBS's
Program Resource Group, where she oversaw two award-winning documentary series, Repercussions: A Celebration of AfricanAmerican Music and Nightfighters: The True Story of the 332nd Fighter
Group: The Tuskegee Airmen.
When the rising media star went to Cleveland one
Christmas, her beloved nana noticed how tired she looked.
She pulled a Mason jar of homemade lavender essential oil
from her pantry for her granddaughter. The scent was
"When I was four, my nana would make oils and salves
in the kitchen, and I would help," Riley says. "If someone
walked in with an ache or pain, she would know just what to
give them. She was an intuitive natural medicine woman. I've inherited that."
Even as far back as college, Riley
used treatments she'd picked up
from her grandmother. A Vassar
friend reminded her that if someone
in the dorm had cramps or needed
to detox, people would say, "Oh,
Monica's got an herb for that."
It was after her grandmother's
intervention that she began her transition to holistic healing. "There's literally a moment when you're a blank
slate and you can rewrite your story," she says, citing one of her Wise
Woman Wisdom maxims. "To live
our lives to the fullest, we need to
connect the dots. The love I had for
biology and chemistry, I'm bringing
it full circle."
Riley studied traditional Chinese medicine at Flynn's School of
Herbology in New York City while
still working in network T V. She
didn't tell many people, especially
after one colleague asked, "So you're
studying witchcraft now?"
After intensive training at the
New York Open Center and an in-
Brian DeCania / Courtesy of Len Seligman
-Monica D. Riley