Rachel Otwell

Rachel's reports focus on the arts, community, and diverse culture. She produces NPR Illinois' original program, Illinois Edition. She also hosts The Scene, which airs on Thursdays and features cultural happenings in the central Illinois region.

She's a graduate of the Public Affairs Reporting Program at the University of Illinois Springfield. While working toward that degree she spent a session covering the state legislature for NPR Illinois and Illinois Public Radio with a focus on fracking. Rachel also holds degrees from UIS in Liberal & Integrative Studies, Women & Gender Studies, and African-American Studies. She's tutored Rwandan refugees in Ohio, volunteered at a Kenyan orphanage,  served as an activities assistant at a nursing home, and volunteered at an elephant sanctuary in Thailand. 

Rachel started a career in public media in 2011 when she interned for the National Public Radio program Tell Me More with Michel Martin in Washington, DC. Her reports have also appeared on NPR's Weekend Edition, NPR's All Things Considered, NPR's Morning Edition, WorkingNow.org, and 51%.

http://www.rajanzed.org/

Each day of session in the General Assembly starts off with a prayer from a minister or chaplain. For the first time, a Hindu will be sharing a recitation from his religion. Rajan Zed is the President of the Universal Society of Hinduism.

He's prayed before government councils and groups all over the country, including the United States Senate. He says Hinduism is misunderstood by many Americans, and seeing as it's the third largest world religion after Christianity and Islam, Zed wants to change that.

 

Advocates say progress was made this year when it comes to rights of Illinois residents who are LGBTQ+.

While across the country hate crime rates rose after the presidential election, Illinois has passed some laws addressing the issue. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center and FBI statistics - the last quarter of 2016 saw hate crimes go up more than 25% in the U.S.

80% of the families served through Habitat for Humanity of Sangamon County consist of women and their children. Shayne Squires is the development manager for the organization. She says a new initiative wants to build a home funded entirely by women - and built by them as well.

From now until March 20th primary - the race for governor has candidates buying advertising slots and pounding the pavement to get their names in front of voters.

In the wake of Harvey Weinstein's downfall due to sexual assault and harassment claims from numerous women - it's glaringly apparent that the issue is not limited to a certain industry or segment of society. Statehouses across the nation have joined in the #MeToo movement. Some are saying state legislatures harbor environments where such activity is commonplace.

Nearly everyone will visit a cemetery at some point in their life - but most don't realize the rich diversity of history they have to offer. They contain insights about folklore, religion, art and society at large. So postulates Hal Hassen, who has been a cemetery enthusiast since his youth. He grew up in Brooklyn, New York where he would explore historic cemeteries. 

The Springfield City Council stalled on considering a resolution that would have declared it a "Welcome City" for immigrants. Seven members voted to table the issue - while only three supported a vote.

Since this past weekend, women and men have been sharing their accounts of sexual violence with the hashtag #MeToo. While many assumed the movement started with actor Alyssa Milano's tweet about Hollywood producer/mogul and alleged sex offender Harvey Weinstein, some are pointing out that a black woman named Tarana Burke used the same terminology for a project also mean to address sexual assault.

A new effort to get kids more active and in touch with their thoughts has come to Springfield's public school district - in the form of yoga classes. It could also have implications for how students are disciplined in the future.

A measure has been introduced in Illinois as a response to the deadly summer rally of white nationalists in Charlottesville.

About a hundred students traveled to Washington D.C. last week to urge Congress to pass the DREAM Act. Among them was Bruna Cardoso, a University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign graduate student,

Across the country, some cities are giving up Columbus Day and replacing the designation with ‘Indigenous Peoples’ Day.” The state of Illinois has tried to find a middle ground.

A duo that's performed hundreds of times across the country sharing a unique blend of classical, hip hop and other contemporary music will be in Springfield on Saturday, Sept. 23rd. During performances Black Violin consists of a D.J. and backing band; at its center however are Wil B. who plays viola and Kev Marcus who plays violin. This tour in part is promoting their newest album, called Stereotypes

Over 200 people rallied outside the state capitol building in Springfield over the weekend to show support for immigrants.

Illinois is getting tougher on those convicted of hate crimes. In the wake of Charlottesville, the legislature passed resolutions taking a stand against hate. But resolutions are not legally binding.

Hate crimes will be more punishable under a new law the governor signed this week.

The measure was a result of suggestions from the state’s bi-partisan Holocaust and Genocide Commission. It was introduced to the legislature well before the events in Charlottesville. However, State Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago, said it sends a strong message to those considering acting out their hatred.

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Hate crimes will be more punishable under a new law the governor signed this week.

The measure was a result of suggestions from the state’s bi-partisan Holocaust and Genocide Commission. It was introduced to the legislature well before the events in Charlottesville. However, State Representative Sara Feigenholtz, a Democrat from Chicago, says it sends a strong message to those considering acting out their hatred:

LGBTQ rights activists say two pieces of legislation should be signed by the governor. Both passed the General Assembly unanimously.

Over the weekend nearly 500 Springfield residents awoke to news that the state's top leaders had been ousted. Of course, it's untrue. It's a headline generated from James Pepper Kelly.

Since last weekend's events in Charlottesville, Virginia – politicians and everyday citizens across Illinois have spoken out against the violence and hateful rhetoric.

Even though a state budget was finally passed earlier this summer - the process for payment is not automatic. Social service agencies are waiting on money owed to them by the state.

Rachel Otwell/NPR Illinois

About 300 people gathered near the fountains outside city hall in Springfield last night. They were there to hold a vigil for racial unity in the wake of violence in Charlottesville Virginia.

Illinois remains a battleground over women's rights.

Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of  sex. 

—   The proposed Equal Rights Amendment. It might sound simple. It’s not.

Activists from South Korea are bicycling through Illinois as part of a journey meant to draw attention to certain victims of war crimes.

After the first day of a special session on education, Democratic lawmakers and the Republican Governor Bruce Rauner appear no closer to resolving the dispute that could hold up money for school districts. Rauner continues to demand Democrats send him the funding plan so he can change it and remove additional money for Chicago teacher pensions.

A website that popped up this month asks a question as its URL: arethereanywomenrunningforilgovernor.com. It then very simply answers it with a bright red "NO." A group of professional women in the state are behind the effort to draw attention to the issue.

Across Illinois - social service providers are having to make cuts. The head of one shelter says without a state budget, its future is bleak.

Yesterday activists who had been marching from Chicago since May 15th arrived in Springfield. Some of them represented groups like Fair Economy Illinois and The People's Lobby

Lavender Country is the name of a band and an album that came out in 1973. It rattled some conservative cages, and then for a long while it seemed to be erased from the history books. Patrick Haggerty is the singer/songwriter, he had help with production from the Gay Community Social Services of Seattle. "At the time that we made Lavender Country we knew very well what it was. We also knew that the audience that was going to hear it was going to be out (of the closet), or coming out, and that the rest of the world was going to reject gay country music," says Haggerty.

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