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%.

A new study done on one mound in particular at Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site in Collinsville shows that human remains interred there, which are around 900 years old, belong to both men and women. It was previously thought the mound was for elite warrior men. That means there are new implications to be explored.

A study released earlier this month by the National Partnership for Women & Families gave each state a letter grade based on its implementation of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. Illinois received a B letter grade, one of 11 states to do so.

Ryan Held will be competing in Rio for the USA men's swim team, as part of the 4 x 100m freestyle relay team. The 21 year old is a Springfield native and both his parents, Randy and Cheryl Held, are longtime employees of St. John's Hospital. 

Black Lives Matter is one of the largest activist movements since the civil rights era of the 1960s. The organization has garnered more attention in recent weeks due to protests over the fatal police shootings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. Meanwhile, attacks on police and the presidential election have shifted the conversation since Black Lives Matter got its start in 2012 after the death of Trayvon Martin. 

Kadeem Fuller organizes community engagement for the Black Lives Matter chapter located in Champaign-Urbana. He says the time for educating white people on the cause has passed - now is time for action.

In an open letter dated June 23rd, Marvin Lindsey writes to Governor Bruce Rauner that the budget impasse has, "...crippled Illinois' behavioral healthcare system." Lindsey is CEO of a non-profit called Community Behavioral Healthcare Association of Illinois.

Across the state, thousands of newspaper subscribers were met with a single word as the headline on the front page Wednesday: "Enough." 

About 300 people stood on Lawrence Avenue outside of Springfield's LGBTQ community resource facility, The Phoenix Center

Across the nation those in and who are allies of the LGBTQ community are mourning the loss of life in Orlando over the weekend. 

In Illinois, LGBT activists are speaking out in the wake of Saturday night's massacre in Orlando, in which a man shot and killed 49 people at a gay night-club.  Equality Illinois was quick to react to the shooting - saying on its website: "We should all feel safe in our homes, schools and places of business and entertainment." 

When most people in the U.S. hear the word immigrant they probably think of someone coming to the country from Mexico. However in Illinois cities, like Champaign, there are growing populations of immigrants from African countries as well.

This week, the Illinois General Assembly is considering several proposals related to the budget before both chambers go on a week-long break from session. Illinois Issues editor Jamey Dunn sat down with Illinois Public Radio's Rachel Otwell to talk about some of the budget issues that are in the mix. You will first hear Dunn describing a proposal to amend the state’s constitution to allow for a graduated income tax.

 

 

It's now close to a year since Illinois had a budget in place. The impasse has led to increased attention for what many consider a financial crisis. On Sunday, comptroller Leslie Munger announced pay for the legislature and its constitutional officers will be delayed, as have many payments for vendors and service-providers . The amount of unpaid bills is nearing $8 billion. Meanwhile, some members of the legislature are trying to pass a measure that would cease their pay as well - and make it contingent on passing a "balanced budget."

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Each year over 500 people in central Illinois who are victims of sexual violence are given counseling, legal and medical advice and support, and even clothing if needed, all at no charge to them.

NPR Illinois/Rachel Otwell

Survivors of sexual assault and rape have fewer resources as a result of the state's budget impasse. Across Illinois, service providers are having to stop or limit counseling, legal advice and other ways of helping victims.

The Prairie Center Against Sexual Abuse serves 11 counties in central Illinois ... and every year it helps over 500 people ... men, women, children and the elderly:

In Illinois, House bill 6073 would make it so transgender people can change the sex designation on their birth certificate without having to have reassignment surgery. Proponents of the measure say it's a needed change since not all trans people want the surgery, and many who do can't afford it. 

It had been a long time coming, but Illinois' pilot program for medical marijuana has finally kicked off last November. It's been slow growing for the industry so far, and there are many restrictions.  The business HCI Alternatives has two medical marijuana dispensaries in the state now. 

On Friday, Bernice King spoke to a group in Springfield representing the Abraham Lincoln Association - which regularly honors the president's birthday with scholarly symposiums. King was there to accept the "Spirit of Lincoln" award on behalf of her parents - Coretta Scott King and Martin Luther King Jr. 

Springfield Art Association and Prairie Art Alliance are becoming one, and will focus on rebranding and integrating in the coming year. If you've been part of the art scene in Springfield, there's a good chance you've heard this question: "Why don't local arts groups work more cohesively ?" 

Money is still being raised to help run the Illinois State Museum in Springfield - even though its doors have been closed to the public for three months. A not-for-profit that deals with grants and private donations continues to solicit, sending out pleas for donations in the mail.

In 2009 a movement was created by Blythe Hill, who had a unique idea to take on human trafficking. Human trafficking is the practice of using people, mostly women and children, against their will for work that includes everything from sweat-shop factory work to sex-slavery. You can see a TED talk Hill gave about her project earlier this year, below. She calls it, Dressember.

Muslims in Illinois are coping with increased scrutiny and incendiary rhetoric. We take you inside a local mosque and introduce you to a business owner in Champaign-Urbana during this two-part series.

Muslims in Illinois are coping with increased scrutiny and incendiary rhetoric. We take you inside a local mosque and introduce you to a business owner in Champaign-Urbana during this two-part series.

Dr. Valerie Hoffman has taught about Islam and the Muslim faith for three decades. She teaches religion at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana and has lived in the Middle East.

A fight over locker room access for a transgender student in a Chicago suburb has gained national attention. The agreement reached between one of the state’s largest school districts and the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights could have implications for the rest of the country too.

One of the nation's most historical instruments is getting back in working order.

Earlier this month, people across the country and state recognized Transgender Day of Remembrance. It was created by activists as a way to honor those who have been murdered in a hate crime. Transgender people say their biological sex does not match the gender they identify with. Studies show they are much more likely to face violence and discrimination than the general population.

Human rights groups in Illinois say they'll continue programming for Syrian refugees, despite the governor's calls to suspend accepting them. As of 2010 Illinois has welcomed around 170 Syrian refugees. 

A civil rights icon made a stop in Springfield yesterday to talk about activism and his new books.  John Lewis, a Congressman from Georgia, is the last living member of a group of civil rights leaders known as the "Big Six." Martin Luther King Jr. was also in that group, and mentored Lewis.

Hundreds of artists and administrators met last week to discuss the state of the arts in Illinois. Rachel Otwell reports:

Politics dominated the discussion, with a focus on ever-shrinking budgets for many arts groups, including the Illinois Arts Council Agency - the state department that oversees government spending on the arts.

Funding for the council has diminished from about $20 million dollars in 2007 to less than $9 million in 2012.

Pages