Ja’Pheth Toulson

A stray bullet changed Ja’Pheth Toulson’s view of journalism when it struck and killed a 4-year-old boy who was watching a basketball game on a Bronx, N.Y., street.

Mr. Toulson, 21, who was an intern at The New York Amsterdam News in Harlem in 2012, was assigned to cover the shooting and the boy’s funeral. The story caught national attention, but for Mr. Toulson, who lived only nine blocks away, it hit home.

In the poverty-stricken neighborhood where he grew up, senseless slayings are not rare occurrences.

“I’m so used to it, that all I can do is write,” he said.

That shooting prompted Mr. Toulson to use ink on paper to expose social issues to try to ignite public change.

“As a journalist, it’s my responsibility to show the community that these people with guns need to be held accountable,” he said.

A month before the shooting, Mr. Toulson covered a silent protest about the city’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy. He interviewed the protesters, many of whom held signs showing the faces of victims of police brutality, about whether they believed the police’s tactics to be ineffective or discriminatory against African-Americans and Latinos.

Many community members, he reported, said they would be in favor of the police tactic if it meant fewer guns on the streets and more lives saved.

“There’s never going to be zero percent crime,” Mr. Toulson said. “But as a journalist it’s your responsibility to highlight those social issues and make an attempt to bring about change.”

He finds a social issue angle in each beat he covers. In college, as a sports intern for The New York Daily News and a sports editor for the SUNY Plattsburgh student newspaper, Cardinal Points, he reported about steroid use in major league baseball and the lack of inclusive athletic activities for physically disabled students at his college.

He said he plans to bring his passion for social-issue reporting to The Times institute.

“To the people in New Orleans, I hope my stories are a stepping point for change,” he said.