Rochelle Riley receives $75,000 SPJ Pulliam Fellowship

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.” Continue Reading

Cleaning garage offers closure and an end to hoarding

So, I have come to realize that I was, indeed, a hoarder.

How else to explain that the old notebooks that I was required to keep for even years after doing stories at The Washington Post still lived in boxes in the garage?

How else to explain decades of receipts, paper scraps and knick-knacks whose purposes had long since ended?

How else to explain that the excuse I gave for not tossing out nearly 200 banker’s boxes of junk in the garage was because one of them held a bag of magnets from Broadway shows, magnets no longer available that I refused to part with?

Really? Really. Wow.

Seeing an empty garage for the first time in 10 years gave me more than a sense of relief. It gave me a sense of closure.

I took bags and bags of clothes that no longer fit to the Salvation Army.

I gave away art work and a recliner whose story time duties had ended.

I decided to cut pieces of art out of frames and place them in a portfolio where I could look at them rather than have them sit unnoticed like wallflowers at a dance.

As I sorted through letters from old lovers, remnants fro feeble attempts at various hobbies and souvenirs from dozens of conventions and conferences, I felt a sense of closing one door and opening another.

Every relic came with a story, but the stories no longer needed to be told.

I am no longer a hoarder… well, I won’t be as soon as I sort through the rest of the clothes I discovered and find soon as I find that favorite gray sweater I haven’t seen in five years.

Other than that, I’ve moved on.

ROCHELLE RILEY’s essays on this blog are personal. No reprints without permission. You can read her newspaper columns at
Follow her on Twitter @rochelleriley.

Another town placing legacy of hate where it belongs –
with those who thought South was right

When I arrived as a freshman on the campus of the University of North Carolina, I thought it one of the most beautiful places I’d ever seen.

I didn’t change my mind when I passed a statue whose origin I didn’t know and whose purpose I never questioned.

We girls were told why he was there within a week of arrival. He would, every upperclassman worth his salt explained, fire his rifle every time a virgin walked by.

He was Silent Sam. He has been silent since 1913.

But this week, thanks to a movement to topple symbols of hate across the country, Silent Sam will not be just silent, but gone.

He is but another statue honoring hate and division. And he is departure places the memory and legacy of another Confederate soldier right where it belongs – with those who thought they were right.

In life, he was John Wilson, another relic from a massive effort by the United Daughters of the Confederacy to keep alive the memory of a mission to retain slavery and continue the diminishment of black people.

John Wilson didn’t mean anything to me then, but he does now, now because when Donald Trump woke up sleeping hate and told those silently reveling in it that it was time to “take  our country back,” black people knew what he meant. So did white supremacists.

He didn’t mean those whom John Wilson sought to subjugate: He meant those who believed what John Wilson did.

The Daughters funded many statues and roads across America to ensure the memory of the side that lost the American Civil War. That memory is finally being forced where it belongs off public land where because this is America should not be celebrating it.

So from now on, every time someone asks me why don’t we leave slavery in the past, I can point to a statue and say: Why didn’t America?

ROCHELLE RILEY’s essays on this blog are personal. No reprints without permission. You can read her newspaper columns at
Follow her on Twitter @rochelleriley. Continue Reading