BIO

Rochelle Riley ended a 20-year career as a nationally syndicated, award-winning Detroit columnist in 2019 to become the City of Detroit’s Director of Arts and Culture. In that role, she guides the city’s investment in the arts and creates opportunities for transformative artistic expression and support. Her most recent project was the nation’s first city-wide memorial to victims of Covid-19: 15 funeral processions that circled the city’s Belle Isle past 907 photo billboards of victims. But Rochelle also remains a writer. Her latest book “That They Lived: African Americans Who Changed The World,” hits bookstores on Feb. 2, 2021. The author, essayist and arts advocate still hosts conversations around the country (or did before Covid) with her current book “The Burden: African Americans and the Enduring Impact of Slavery,” hosting conversations about the burden America still bears by refusing to deal with the aftermath of American enslavement. She was just appointed to co-chair Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Black Leadership Advisory Council. She makes frequent television and radio appearances, including on National Public Radio and local television. She worked previously at The (Louisville) Courier-Journal, The Dallas Morning News and The Washington Post. Rochelle has won numerous awards, including two National Headliner Awards (2019 and 2004), numerous NABJ Salute to Excellence Awards and awards from Associated Press-Managing Editors and the Society of Professional Journalists. When she was recruited to the Free Press in 2000, her debut column called for the city school district to be shut down. In 2010, just months after Detroit voted to elect council members by district for the first time in a century, Rochelle – working with a data think tank and the newspaper’s design team – created seven proposed districts to show voters what their piece of the pie could be. She held town halls in each area to encourage residents to embrace their neighborhoods and the idea of improved accountability from council members. The city council later created seven council districts that looked very much like the ones she created. When the governor and legislature couldn’t balance the state budget without cutting education funding, she convened a kitchen cabinet of female financial experts who balanced the budget – in two days – without cutting education. And in 2015, she joined the campaign to raise funds to test rape kits that had been found abandoned in a police storage unit. She helped one women’s group raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for those tests. Rochelle received the 2017 Eugene C. Pulliam Editorial Fellowship from the Society of Professional Journalists to study a single subject and used it for her final Free Press project: an examination of how trauma impacts how children learn. She received the 2017 Ida B. Wells Award from the National Association of Black Journalists “for her outstanding efforts to make newsrooms and news coverage more accurately reflect the diversity of the communities they serve.” She received the Will Rogers Award from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists for community service, the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of Professional Journalists and the 2020 Daily Tar Heel Distinguished Alumnus award at UNC. Rochelle was a 2007-2008 Knight-Wallace Fellow at the University of Michigan, where she studied online communities and film. She was a 2016 inductee into the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame and a 2019 inductee into the N.C. Media and Journalism Hall of Fame. (Watch her acceptance speech here). And she is a co-founder of Letters to Black Girls, an initiative to give letters of advice and encouragement from women across the country to girls across the country. Rochelle lives near the banks of the Detroit River with her 16-year-old dog, Desi Arnaz. But the world traveler never stays at home long. She has visited 28 countries and 33 states … and counting.​