Rachel Otwell

Reporter

Rachel's reports focus on the arts, community & diverse culture. 

She's a graduate of the Public Affairs Reporting Program at the University of Illinois Springfield, and while obtaining that degree she spent a legislative session covering news for Illinois Public Radio with a focus on fracking. Rachel also holds degrees 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, D.C. Her reports have also appeared on NPR's Weekend Edition, All Things Considered, Morning Edition, WorkingNow.org, and 51%.

Rachel Otwell

Athens is a town like many others in central Illinois. With a population of about 2,000, it’s rural, and encapsulated by fields of crops like corn and soybeans. Visitors driving into town off the interstate are ushered in by numerous American flags and a welcome sign listing several area churches.

LLINOIS STATE MUSEUM, DICKSON MOUNDS MUSEUM. ARTIST, ANDY BUTTRAM.

States like Hawaii, South Dakota and Alaska have replaced Columbus Day with the designation of ‘Indigenous Peoples’ Day.' It's a trend that goes back decades, and in 2017 a law was signed that brought Illinois up to speed with that trend. Sort of.

Rachel Otwell / NPR Illinois

Sam McCann is a man on a mission: to see Republican Governor Bruce Rauner end his reign in 2019. He's taking that head on, by running for the state's highest office himself, under the self-established Conservative Party banner.

Flickr commons: public domain

The next debate for Illinois nominees for governor is this Wednesday in Chicago. But two candidates are being left out this time around.

Rachel Otwell / NPR Illinois

There are two third party candidates for Illinois governor. And while four names will be on the ballot November 6th (or now, if you choose to vote early) - the efforts to get out messaging is one where odds are certainly stacked heavily against Sam McCann of the Conservative party, and Grayson "Kash" Jackson, running as a Libertarian.

Rachel Otwell

Earlier this month, Diane Nash told a full auditorium of University of Illinois Springfield students that she and fellow civil rights activists, “Loved you before we met you.” She said efforts to make the U.S. a more equitable place had been done, and are still being done, “For generations yet unborn.” And she urged others to join the cause, or risk sliding into what she sees as an increasingly authoritarian state.

Rachel Otwell / NPR Illinois 91.9 UIS

Students from a high school in Parkland, Florida turned trauma into activism and a get-out-the-vote campaign. Their high school was the site of a mass-shooting earlier this year. Their work has trickled down to Illinois and Springfield.

Rachel Otwell / Michael Christensen

A fiddling duo is playing Civil War era tunes on the Old State Capitol plaza in downtown Springfield. Near them is a log cabin on wheels (well, technically it's made of cardboard) with a large ball attached to it - fashioned to look as though it was made of iron or steel, with the words "link on to Lincoln." It's old-timey propaganda created by a contemporary Illinois artist.

Rachel Otwell / NPR Illinois

The Illinois Governor’s Mansion is recently renovated and has re-opened for tourists, who tend to go for the historical significance. There’s also a new reason for art enthusiasts to check it out.

Russell Hurst

Earlier this month, we reported on the 1908 Race Riot in Springfield and what's being done to remember and reconcile 110 years after the violence broke out. As part of that reporting, we spoke with Kelly Wickham Hurst, CEO and founder of the advocacy organization Being Black at School.

University of Illinois Springfield

It was announced on Tuesday that Innovate Springfield, a business incubator and social innovator that started four years ago, is now partnered with the University of Illinois Springfield.

Sangamon Valley Collection, Lincoln Library

It's been 110 years since the 1908 Race Riot erupted in Springfield. The violence and its aftermath inspired the founding of the NAACP, the prominent civil rights organization. A number of groups in the city recognized and remembered the violence and lives lost in a series of public events earlier this month. There are also plans to ensure more recognition in the future of a violent period many residents say deserves more attention.

Rachel Otwell

The National Bikers Roundup is the largest annual rally of its kind — one that is organized by African American motorcycle clubs. It was founded in 1977 with about 50 riders. Now, it draws around 30,000. This year the rally descended on the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield.

Rachel Otwell

Kathryn Harris remembers coming across a manila folder, tucked away in a filing cabinet. It was the seventies, and she was working at Springfield’s public Lincoln Library at the time. The newspaper clippings inside told a story of a city in flames, of lynchings and death  — something she hadn’t remembered hearing before.

Illinois House Democrats

Advocates of the so-called Illinois Human Rights Act "expansion bill" are urging Governor Bruce Rauner to sign that piece of legislation, which is currently on his desk. Otherwise, without his action, it would die by mid-August.

NPR Illinois / Rachel Otwell

Ever imagine going into a stranger's house and poking through their things? Well, that was kind of Allyson Packer's premise for her latest art show. 

Flickr: Brianna Laugher

Planned Parenthood of Illinois is speaking out against proposed changes to the only federal program that provides funding for birth control. Those changes include a so-called "gag rule" that could affect thousands of Illinois residents.

Illinois Department of Public Health

A first-of-its kind study is being done to track ticks in Illinois. Researchers want to know where certain illness-carrying types are most prevalent.

Mary Hansen / NPR Illinois

Rallies across the country, including Illinois, will take place Saturday. Attendees will call for the reunification of families separated at the US-Mexico border.

Flickr User: Victoria Pickering

In a 5 to 4 ruling, the US Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld President Trump's so-called travel or Muslim ban. A proposal that passed the Illinois General Assembly aims to protest that policy.

Mary Hansen / NPR Illinois

As news has centered on the plight of hundreds of families who have been separated while trying to enter the US through Mexico, concern has been raised over the ultimate destiny of about 1,500 children being held in detention centers and shelters. There are at least 66 of those children in Chicago, according to Heartland Alliance, a non-profit with nine shelters for unaccompanied minors there.

c/o Lorin Devine

For decades, women have been battling to break through the “glass ceilings” in their chosen fields. Females whose identities include an intersection of "minority" designations face increased obstacles when it comes to advancement. To the Front is an NPR Illinois series where we talk with female and nonbinary people about the way their identity intersects with their art and work. 

SAM DUNKLAU / NPR ILLINOIS 91.9 FM

Immigrants' rights advocates are close to celebrating what they consider a win in Illinois, especially for domestic abuse survivors. They are hoping Gov. Bruce Rauner will sign 'The Voices Act' soon, as it passed out of the state's General Assembly during the final days of the spring legislative session.

The Pharmacy / Jeff Williams

Nearly a century ago, a book was published by Vachel Lindsay called The Golden Book of Springfield. In it, he imagines a utopian version of the city, where by 2018 - its citizens have had religious and social awakenings. The ultimate message is one of unity.

Rachel Otwell

The Opening Minds Through Art program was started in Ohio in 2007 as a way to give people with Alzheimer’s and dementia a chance to be artists. The Springfield Art Association has now taught classes over a fall and spring session. A reception on Friday from 5:30 - 7 at the SAA Collective Gallery at the Hoogland Center for the Arts will display the latest work. 

Eric Rogers for NPR Illinois

A theatrical and punk rock venture in Champaign–Urbana has become an empowering part of the arts scene there.

Brian Mackey

On Wednesday, Illinois ratified the Equal Rights Amendment, a proposed change to the U.S. Constitution — 46 years after Congress approved it.

Rachel Otwell / NPR Illinois

A resolution that would have Illinois ratify the Equal Rights Amendment has yet to be called for a deciding House vote. The House sponsor, Democratic State Rep. from Skokie, Lou Lang, says he's close to reaching the 3/5ths vote needed, but there are still "attendance issues."

millikin.edu

Millikin University in Decatur has broken ground on a center to house classes and performances. It includes a new state of the art theater that can seat over 250 people.

Daisy Contreras / NPR Illinois

Governor Bruce Rauner has signed an executive order he says will mean more minority-owned businesses will get government contracts. But some are skeptical about his true intentions.

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