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%.

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.

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.

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