Arts Advocate
Arts Advocate

Rochelle Riley ended a nearly 20-year career as an award-winning Detroit columnist in 2019 to become the City of Detroit’s Director of Arts and Culture. She guides the city’s investment in its creative workforce and creates opportunities for transformative innovation.


Rochelle is the author of “That They Lived: African Americans Who Changed The World” (2021), and “The Burden: African Americans and the Enduring Impact of Slavery.” She has written for Essence, the root, USA Today, and other publications

Public Speaker
Public Speaker

Rochelle is a popular public speaker whose keynotes rise from the intersection of social justice, race, education and popular culture. She makes frequent television and radio appearances, including on National Public Radio. In addition to commencement speeches, she also has provided keynotes for national foundations, civil rights groups and education groups.

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rochelle riley

Rochelle Riley is a self-proclaimed writer by trade, warrior by necessity, who spent a quarter century challenging, encouraging and informing during a long-time career as an award-winning newspaper columnist. Now, she guides the City of Detroit’s investment in the arts as Director of Arts and Culture. She is overseeing transformative change across a city that is soaring through travails that might have leveled someplace else. Her office, the Office of Arts, Culture and Entrepreneurship, is commissioning murals across the city, transforming underused alleys into community gathering spaces and re-branding Detroit’s talent as a creative workforce. She says that treating artists like the businesses they are is the best way to embolden a new generation of artists to see the creative arts as a career. Rochelle also is writing her third book and will soon visit her 29th country.

Latest News and Updates

Still frame from video

March 29, 2023

Detroit community leaders transforming alleys into art spaces

In the past, alleys in Detroit were neighborhood eyesores. Now community block clubs are transforming them into gathering spaces. For 10 years, Victoria Thomas has been working to create a safe place for kids to play.

She had a dream to create a bike trail in a neighborhood alley, called “The Yellow Brick Road.”

Photo by David Guralnick, The Detroit News

March 29, 2023

From ‘forgotten places’ to ‘gathering spaces’: City announces new Arts Alleys

Many alleys in the city over the years have become “havens for illegal dumping,” and a city initiative aims to turn those “forgotten places” into arts-focused gathering spaces.

Rochelle Riley, the director of the Office of Arts, Culture and Entrepreneurship, announced four more new locations for the city’s Arts Alley initiative.

Rochelle Riley

March 28, 2023

Rochelle Riley ’81 to speak at 2023 Commencement for UNC Hussman

Rochelle Riley ’81 still remembers holding the green “Newswriting 101” book in her hand and knowing that she had found her path.

She was a high school student in eastern North Carolina with a love of writing and an interest in people. Those interests and talents tied together and eventually led her to UNC where she studied journalism.

Author announces major photo exhibit to celebrate African American greatness in history

In honor of Black History Month All Year, Church Street Media is inviting parents to help their children become icons for a new exhibit featuring selected photos of children embodying the spirit of Black heroes. The exhibit was inspired by “That They Lived: African Americans Who Changed The World” by Rochelle Riley, featuring photographs by Cristi Smith-Jones.

Parents and teachers are encouraged to share with their children and students the history of the African Americans they choose, African Americans that all children should know. Then they are invited to help their children dress as these icons and be photographed for a major exhibit in Detroit.

“If we want to change the way America deals with race, we must teach all children all of American history.” – Rochelle Riley

Send photos shot in black and white – and the photo that served as a model – and a letter granting permission for the photo to be included in a public exhibit – to:

Bankable Marketing

Deadline is September 1, 2022

Please enjoy the National Reading of Excerpts from “The Burden”

Please enjoy the National Reading of Excerpts from “The Burden” celebrating the paperback edition of the book. Presented Nov. 17, 2020 with a 40-second opening that allowed audiences to enter. Get your copy where books are sold.

Welcome to the digital home of force of nature, author, essayist and arts advocate Rochelle Riley. She spent nearly a quarter century as a columnist when she left the Detroit Free Press in 2019 to become Director of Arts and Culture for the City of Detroit. But Rochelle remains a writer by trade, warrior by necessity. She is at work completing her first novel and her third book on race.

Letters To Black Girls

“Black girls are under constant attack from racism and sexism. But they can survive. Better: They can thrive. Black women can help girls be healthy and whole if we approach them with love, honesty and vulnerability. There is no more powerful ally for a black girl than a former black girl.”