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%.

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.

Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing is among those attending the US Conference of Mayors in Washington D.C. She says a common idea being heard is that municipalities are crucial in providing innovation and fiscal stability. In Illinois she says that's particularly true given the nearly 2-year impasse preventing a state budget.

The result of the presidential election has caused many people to get more involved politically. On January 21st, the day after president-elect Donald Trump is to be officially sworn in as commander-in-chief, thousands of activists are expected to gather in Washington DC for what's being called the "Women's March on Washington."  

Marc Nelson is a junior high art teacher in Kewanee, Illinois. His own art has largely focused on war, he's been awarded for his paintings of scenes from the Holocaust. The current crisis in Syria however has been his latest war of focus. It's led to numerous pieces depicting atrocities happening there.

A group of nuns in Springfield is participating in a long-term medical study. For those involved, it’s another way to serve others.

During a time contentious rhetoric abounds and many people say they have fears about the worst of humanity, here's a story about a man making a life-saving sacrifice for another - someone he didn't even know:

"I was shot, my car was stolen, it was not a good night." So says Kathryn Harris while explaining her try at being a police officer. Tonight she got in a patrol car and pulled over an officer/instructor who went through a couple of challenging scenarios, like the ones police face regularly.

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.

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