From Hometown Hero To Hollywood: Meet Rolonda Watts

Feb 5, 2018

Rolonda Watts, a Winston-Salem native, is nationally known for her work in television and radio.
Credit Courtesy of Rolonda Watts

Rolonda Watts began her career as a reporter for WFMY News in Greensboro, North Carolina. She moved on from there to New York City, where she is remembered as the local news anchor during the “Today” show.

By the mid-’90s, Watts had landed her own nationwide talk show where she tackled hard hitting topics and interviewed high-profile guests, like former Olympic skater Tonya Harding.

Soon enough Hollywood came calling, and Watts fulfilled another life-long dream of becoming an actress. Watts has starred in the “Days of “our Lives” and a host of other TV shows and cartoons.  She's the voice of “Divorce Court,” and published her first book "Destiny Lingers” (Iuniverse /2016)  last year. It captures some of her memories spending summers at Ocean City Beach on Topsail Island. 

 
Host Frank Stasio goes behind the glitz and glamour to meet the real Rolonda Watts, a woman who was born into a family of educators and helped integrate Triad area schools. Watts also talks about how she befriended Maya Angelou, the person who first encouraged her to be fearless.  

1948 I believe the land was purchased. Ten black families got together and dreamed of their kids playing on the beach.- Rolonda Watts
  

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

On her relationship with Maya Angelou:

It was just a blessing to be under the loving wings, I would say, of the great Maya Angelou who taught me not only about writing and about storytelling but not dying with the story still in you – doing something with those stories.  And I find that she was such a humanitarian, you know, and she was such an inspiration.  I asked her one time, I said: Well how do you write?  She said: Well you take a verb and a noun and an adjective and throw it against the wall and make it sing.  And I thought oh my God if I could just do that.  

On the legacy of the Rolonda talk show and her conversation with “Queer Eye” host Karamo Brown:

He goes: I was 14 years old, and I was a little gay boy, and I felt like I didn't fit in anywhere.  And he goes: And I would watch your show, and you made me feel like I did fit somewhere.  And I said: And look at you today.  You're a beautiful 30-something year old with your own show now because you're a proud gay man.  We helped kids not kill themselves back then.  When people weren't talking about being gay, and it’s very difficult for families.  But being in a family with a gay brother, I wanted to bring that experience and talk about it.

Rolonda on how her family helped integrate Topsail Island:  

 And at that time in North Carolina if you had a brown foot you couldn't put it in the ocean off our coast.  And that was just a travesty in many of our eyes.  And my grandparents, these other families and some white families quite honestly worked to bring integration to the island of Topsail Island.

Rolonda recently added author to her resume. Her book "Destiny Lingers" takes place on the beaches of North Carolina.
Credit Courtesy of Rolonda Watts

On integrating schools:

I was in kindergarten, and we were all excited because we were going to Tanglewood Park, and we were going to ride the ponies and do all this.  And I got a note that the teacher pinned on my sweater when I went home that night.  And the next morning, I don’t know why my parents decided to go see my grandparents when we had this big party planned at the park.  And my mother later told me  – I think I was 16 when she finally broke the news.  She said: You remember that little note on your sweater?  And I said: Yeah, the note that was probably telling me what to pack for lunch and wear a sweater and all that stuff?  She said: No, that’s not what the note said.  She said: That note said that the class is going to Tanglewood Park, but you can’t go because the park doesn’t allow blacks or Jews.

On choosing Spelman College, an HBCU in Atlanta:

When you’re educated in the American system, you learn a certain education, and that’s good.  That’s part of our history, but our history as a nation is so much richer than that.  And at that time   – when half the things that were anything about the black culture were not included in the historic books of the nation especially teaching children  – it was important to my family that I know what my culture has contributed to this great nation.  

Rolonda Watts tell HLN's Dr. Drew people thought her father was white.