When James W. Riles returned to Augusta from Vietnam in the summer of 1970, he realized how much he loved his hometown.
"The war gave me an entirely different outlook on life," said Mr. Riles, who was raised in the segregated South.
"I figured, if I'm good enough to risk my life in the war, I'm good enough to get what I deserve," said the 56-year-old known as "J.R."
He owns J.R.'s Stop & Shop Convenience Store at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. and Swanee Quintet boulevards.
It's at his store where for the past 10 springs, he has sponsored a block party for inner-city youth and their parents - marking the end of a school year.
"It's about doing things for children. When it comes from the heart, they'll remember you," said Mr. Riles, the seventh of 12 children raised in the neighborhood where his shop is located.
At the block party, he provides food, and beverages and gives away about 40 bicycles donated as prizes for the children.
"It's all free," he said.
Mr. Riles has had opportunities to relocate his shop to safer parts of Augusta, but he feels obligated to stay the course.
"It's important to show young children, especially black children, that we can be successful too. It's about demonstrating that you don't have to sell drugs to make it," he said.
A 1966 graduate of T.W. Josey High School, he's been married to Ella Riles for 30 years. They have an adult son, James D. Riles.
Though he has experienced his share of controversy and danger, he's not one to shy away from issues he believes in, he said.
In 2000, he joined three Augusta commissioners who went to Washington, D.C., to support former Augusta-Richmond County Fire Chief Ronnie Few's effort to run the fire department in the nation's capital.
He also initiated street-name changes honoring singer James Brown and The Swanee Quintet gospel group.
Last April, a masked man came to his store and robbed him at gunpoint.
"He was 19, and already throwing his life away," Mr. Riles said.
"That's why I throw these parties for the kids," said Mr. Riles
"You want to save them all, but you just can't," he said.
Reach Timothy Cox at (706) 823-3217 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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