“The Burden” Book Tour launches February 1 at The Wright

The book tour for “The Burden: African Americans and the Enduring Impact of Slavery” kicks off on February 1 at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. The event will feature a reading of excerpts from the book and a conversation between Rochelle and award-winning New York Times writer and MacArthur Genius Nikole Hannah-Jones and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. Tickets, which are $25 and include a copy of The Burden, are available here. Best-selling author Kareem Abdul-Jabbar calls The Burden “one of the most comprehensive, enlightening, and thought-provoking books I have ever read on African-American history. The insights into how slavery affects every aspect of America today from politics to economics to culture is powerfully presented by this remarkable essay collection.” Ibram X. Kendi, National Book Award-winning author of “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America” said: “As much as Americans want to deny it, slavery sits with us. It burdens us, as these essays brilliantly reveal. We need these striking essays to strike down our denial over the lingering effects of slavery.”

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 www.freep.com/rochelleriley.
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 www.freep.com/rochelleriley.
Follow her on Twitter @rochelleriley. Continue Reading

We must all channel the spirit of Ida B. Wells

On Friday, August 11, I was honored to receive the Ida B. Wells Award from the National Association of Black Journalists at our annual convention in New Orleans. In accepting, I felt it necessary to remind people of the fighting spirit of Ida B. Wells and offered a challenge to my colleagues on what we must do to protect our profession – and our story. Here are my prepared remarks, delivered, for the most part, intact.

I stand on the shoulders of giants, some from 100 years ago, some from 20 years ago, some from last year. But the most important thing is: I also stand on the shoulders of NABJ babies I’ve helped teach for 25 years who are becoming giants.

I stand here in honor of a woman who taught us that journalism can and should be, in some cases – a crusade.

Ida B. Wells Barnett was born the child of slaves in Mississippi. She became a teacher whose first righteous complaint was that white teachers made $50 more a month than she. Rosa Parks was not the first to refuse to give up her seat, not in 1955, not in our history. Wells sued the train company that kicked her out of her first-class seat that she bought. She won, but after the verdict was overturned on appeal, she wrote: “O God, is there no…justice in this land for us?” But her greatest and most heartbreaking work came after a black friend was lynched by a white mob whose initial anger was that his grocery store was competing successfully against a white store. Wells urged black people to leave Memphis. More than 6,000 did. Thus began an anti-lynching campaign that must continue today.

They are still lynching us.

They are STILL lynching us.

They stopped using ropes and trees.

They stopped celebrating – out loud.

They took off their hoods.

But they are still here.

Those times we thought were gone are just a tweet away.

Hate crimes are rising. The Fourth Estate is under siege.  People cannot tell the difference between those of us trained to help them find the truth and some guy sitting in his underwear in a basement in Wisconsin declaring that his new is real. Continue Reading

R.I.P Mr. Owens. Thanks for helping me find my voice.

One of the sad truths about living far from where you grew up is that you sometimes miss things: bits of news, classmates’ birthdays, passages – and tragedies. 

I missed a big one, and want to thank an old friend for sharing through Facebook the death of someone who changed my life.

His name was Lloyd Owens. I didn’t know until after I’d graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill that he had any other name by Lloyd.

No matter. He was just Mr. Owens to those of us in chorus.

He was Mr. Owens to those of us who worked on the stage plays at Tarboro Senior High: Lil’ Abner, Guys and Dolls.

He was Mr. Owens to those of us whose lives he touched, whose spirits he lifted and whose personas were molded by his generous spirit, his huge love of life and his constant nurturing.

He was one of those teachers, coaches, mentors who took seriously the job of nurturing children. It wasn’t just a job. We could tell that he loved it, and he loved us.

As for me, he helped give me my voice.

It was my greatest challenge, my dual personalities: I was secretly shy. No one knew it because I participated in everything: student government, athletics, cheerleading (Yes, I know some consider it a sport.), drama club, French club, band and – gloriously – the chorus.

And since most of the singers who auditioned for roles in the annual spring play were from the chorus, I got to watch up close something I’d wanted to do forever.

One year, we were doing “Guys and Dolls,” my favorite musical for years. “The Color Purple” and “Hamilton” have since stolen my heart. But back then, Guys was everything. I didn’t want a starring role. I just wanted to sing on stage.

The first auditions were in Mr. Owens’ office – and I was so nervous. He listened for a just a few seconds, stopped me and said. “Come back when you’re ready. Know the words. Feel them. Make them yours.” And with a flick of his hand, I was dismissed. Continue Reading

Rochelle Riley to receive Ida B. Wells Award

WASHINGTON, D.C. _ The National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) announced Tuesday, July 11, that Detroit Free Press columnist Rochelle Riley will receive the prestigious Ida B. Wells Award. Riley will be presented with the award at the Hall of Fame Luncheon on Friday, Aug 11, 2017 NABJ Convention and Career Fair in New Orleans Aug. 9-13, 2017.

“NABJ is proud to honor Rochelle with the Ida B. Wells Award. She is the epitome of someone who uses her voice for positive change. Her columns remind news executives, news managers, reporters and producers of the importance of our responsibility to be inclusive and accountable in our coverage,” said NABJ President Sarah Glover. “Her consistency and assertiveness in her reporting is so necessary. You can be sure what is read in one of her columns will spark a conversation and more importantly lead to some sort of action.”

The annual honor is given to an individual who has made outstanding efforts to make newsrooms and news coverage more accurately reflect the diversity of the communities they serve.

Rochelle is being recognized for her strong efforts in advocating for press freedom. She has spent 20 years crusading for better lives for children, government accountability, and improved race relations. She also has spent 16 years promoting the need to increase adult literacy, helping to raise nearly $2 million for literacy causes in Michigan. She is the author of “The Burden: African Americans and the Enduring Impact of Slavery” (Wayne State University Press, 2018). She has worked at The Washington Post, The Dallas Morning News and The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky.

The Ida B. Wells Award is named in honor of the distinguished journalist, fearless reporter and wife of one of America’s earliest black publishers. Medill, Northwestern University co-curates the Ida B. Wells award with NABJ.

“Rochelle Riley’s stellar career as a journalist and as a mentor to scores of up-and-coming young journalists represents the kind of passion and commitment,” said Charles Whitaker, associate dean at Medill. “The Ida B. Wells Award was created to recognize and celebrate. She is a role model to all of us who care about the present and future of our field. And she is an extremely worthy recipient of this honor.” Continue Reading

Happy Father’s Day, Paw-Paw!

I’ve written about my grandfather before. I’ve talked about him – all the time. You don’t really know me if you haven’t heard me mention Mr. Bennie Pitt, the consummate, hard-working, God-fearing patriarch of our family. He raised us in Tarboro, N.C. with a firm hand and a demeanor that put the fear of God in any potential suitors the entire time I was in high school.

I called him Paw-Paw. All my friends called him Mr. Bennie Pitt – yes, all three names, such was their respect. He called everybody Charlie, no matter their name, and they always answered.

Every time I came home, we sat on the porch and talked about my adventures. And he always asked what kind of car I was driving. He bought me my first car, a Ford Maverick, but he didn’t fuss at me for driving a Honda. He would have loved that I am working in Detroit, where we write about cars all the time. He would have loved that I’m walking streets that Henry Ford and Joe Louis once walked.

He would have been 112 years old this year. I wanted him to live forever, walk me down the aisle at my wedding – if that ever happens. But he passed in 2000 and was buried on my birthday. I miss him all the time.

But he did get to kiss his granddaughter, hear stories about the famous people I let and ask me about my adventures, smiling as if he’d been there with me.

And I thank him for all that he put into me because all the success I have is thanks to the love and character he and Lowney Pitt instilled in me, that they put into my mother, Marva Jeanne.

They invested in me. I am their dividend.

Happy Father’s Day, Paw-Paw!