Growing up in St. Pauls in the 1980s to mid-1990s, Maurice “M.R. Motivation” Riggins didn’t know he’d be homeless under a bridge a few decades later.
That was after his time in the Air Force and before joining the Army.
It’s a time Riggins said he learned the most.
The oldest son with three brothers and a sister, he joined the Air Force in 1996.
“As much as I wanted to come back home, I was stuck out in Oklahoma,” Riggins said. “The irony is I never was big into geography, so I thought I was being sent overseas.”
After a few years in the Air Force, he decided not to re-enlist when his next orders were for Louisiana. He wanted the assurance of living near his daughter.
“I took on many jobs and became consumed by gambling,” Riggins said.
Within two years of being out of the military, Riggins was obsessed with trying “to hit it big.”
It was at that point that he found the bridge he lived under for three months in 2003.
“I could have reached out to come back home (to North Carolina), but I said ‘I have to tackle this. I have to beat this and not think about gambling,’” he said.
Riggins said he was fortunate to find a job at an item processing center in Oklahoma City despite having no address.
“Even with that first check I stayed under the bridge,” he said. “I always wanted to make sure I had something to provide for my kids, even if at one time it was an envelope with $5. I was fighting something; and after that, I just learned to gamble on me.”
Through his job he learned about economics, commerce and interest until he felt it was OK to come back home after about 18 months.
“I loved being home, but I wanted to explore the world.”
That’s one of the reasons he joined the Army in 2005. The other was to help people. He is now a senior leader at Womack Army Medical Center.
“It’s definitely the business of helping people physically, mentally and emotionally,” he said. “I wasn’t going to go back into the service unless I could be a servant to those that were fighting and those that were at home fighting an illness. My illness is gambling. I understand the dynamic, whether physical or emotional, it takes a toll on you.”
Another way Riggins hopes he is giving back is through comedy and motivational speaking.
After meeting his wife, Angel, at a comedy show, the couple established THOU ART LLC in July 2017, after Angel retired from the military. The name stands for Talented Humble Outstanding Unique Art, which was trademarked last month.
It strives to bring Fort Bragg and Fayetteville together.
“Everyone is an artist,” Riggins said. “We define art as a painting. We define art as poetry or comedy, but we don’t define art as a conversation. Something as simple as a conversation can change someone else’s outlook on that day.”
Riggins draws on his experiences, including being homeless, for motivational speaking and comedy.
THOU ART also is an entertainment hosting company that promotes other’s artistry or hosting open mic nights.
“You don’t have to be a star to be a star. We’re our own worst critics, yet we should be our biggest fans. That’s the mentality I’ve taken on. People might consider it rock bottom being homeless under a bridge, but that was the most fulfilling time in my life, because I found who I loved in me.”
Riggins is preparing to record his first comedy special during a Dec. 22 birthday bash at Let Me Cater To You on Pope Army Airfield. Saxophonist Reggie Codrington and comedian Jake Weddle are also on the lineup.
“There’s so much celebrity here in Fayetteville. … I remember growing up and seeing the hurt and pain caused by criminal activity … some of my best friends aren’t here because of it,” Riggins said of why he wants to motivate the area.
“I don’t let anyone talk bad about my cities — not where I’ve been, not what I’ve seen. Some may have looked down on me when I was homeless. But that catapulted me to the life I am at now and even to being the soldier I am.”
To check out THOU ART’s website, go to thouartllc.com/.
Staff writer Rachael Riley can be reached at email@example.com or 910-486-3528.