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%.

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.

Pigs may soon fly in Chicago. That's if a massive piece of installation art gets approval to take off. The idea was inspired by the album Animals by Pink Floyd, which itself was influenced by George Orwell's "Animal Farm," political fable critical of inequitable social structures like class.

The name was chosen on a whim - because no one else would have it. That was over five decades ago. The band's initial success came after winning a contest that got them a record contract.

On Monday, a trio called The Peoria Three will present at the Hoogland Center for the Arts in Springfield. 

Last month, a Springfield police officer named Samuel Rosario beat a resident of east Springfield. It was captured by a body camera. Rosario is facing charges and is on unpaid leave. 

Chance the Rapper is on a mission to better fund education in the state, particularly in Chicago. The musician, who grew up on the south side of the city, has won three Grammys at the young age of 23, making him well-known outside just the hip hop world. He's been using that fame to hold Gov. Bruce Rauner's feet to the fire when it comes to the education funding issue. 

This week it was discovered that over 150 headstones in a Jewish cemetery in the University City suburb of St. Louis had been vandalized. It hasn't yet been officially called a hate crime and there are no suspects in custody. There's been speculation hate was at play however, and it comes at a time the nation is reportedly seeing a surge in related crimes.

This year at the Grammys - Chicago native Chance The Rapper took home multiple awards, including one for Best New Artist. But another Chicago based group took home its first win, though the category it took the Grammy for goes a little more under the radar.

Social media has proven an effective tool when it comes to organizing for advocates and activists. But it's also been proven effective at spreading misinformation, which now includes false warnings about immigration stings.

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