INDIANAPOLIS — Rochelle Riley, a columnist for the Detroit Free Press, has been chosen for the 2017 Pulliam Editorial Fellowship. Riley plans to spend the next year studying the effect of trauma and a toxic environment on children’s learning.
The judges were impressed by Riley’s long-standing commitment to putting a spotlight on problems afflicting the community she serves, and the powerful voice she has brought to the daunting task.
Robert Huschka, former Detroit Free Press executive editor, said Riley is a strong advocate for the state’s children, a crusader for equality and a community leader.
She spent the last year, with the Detroit Free Press, on a Solutions Journalism project that found nearly 14 children per day are victims of crime in Detroit; the average age of the victim is 13; and the most common crime is assault. Riley and her newspaper worked for more than a year trying to understand the children’s experiences.
“She is fearlessness and persistence as she fights to ensure Detroit’s renaissance sticks and its children benefit. She dares anyone to get in the way of ‘the new Detroit’ and the future this city deserves,” Huschka said.
Riley said the Free Press has been writing about the problems and programs to help the symptoms of “toxic stress,” but said in her cover letter she wants to dig deeper and look at how that trauma and a toxic environment affect how children learn and what we should do about it.
“I haven’t been able to stop thinking about what that might feel like and what that means for children in urban schools, whose underachievement is reported every year without enough context or care,” Riley said. “I want to change that.”
“Riley’s passion for exploring the connections between experiencing trauma, living in a toxic environment and a child’s ability to learn stood out among all the entrants,” said Jay Evensen, member of the judging panel and senior editorial columnist at Deseret News. “This is a vital concern that tears at the fabric of communities and families, and she has what it takes to move the needle. While her work will center on Detroit and Wayne County, I have no doubt she will uncover valuable information that will be applicable nationwide.”