Rachel Otwell

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, NPR's All Things Considered, NPR's Morning Edition, WorkingNow.org, and 51%.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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."

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.

Earlier this week Governor Bruce Rauner issued an amendatory veto of gun legislation and added his own ideas, including a plan to reinstate the death penalty in certain cases. It would apply to mass shooters and those who kill police officers.

A measure to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment got approval from an Illinois House committee Wednesday, in what could be the final step before it's called for a decisive vote in that chamber.  

The measure has already passed the state Senate. Opponents argue it could mandate government funded abortions and force co-ed prison populations.

Chief sponsor and Democratic representative from Skokie, Lou Lang, says two of his colleagues told him they're worried a "yes" vote could be used against them in future campaigns.

Chris Quintana covers the "culture wars" on college campuses and other news for The Chronicle of Higher Education. He was intrigued by the story of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign's one-time icon, Chief Illiniwek. Quintana visited the school and surrounding area for a story released earlier this year.

A decades-long battle for state ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment is still waging on. On Tuesday, supporters traveled from different areas of the state to urge lawmakers to act.

Jason Rosenbaum / St. Louis Public Radio

The police captain in charge of security in Ferguson, Missouri, during the aftermath of Michael Brown's death recently spoke in Springfield. Ronald Johnson's message was one of building trust.

 

 

The Papers of Abraham Lincoln project announced on Thursday a revamped website with about 5,000 legal, personal and political writings and documents associated with the nation's 16th president.

LGBTQ rights advocates have been pushing a measure they say would amend school code in a way that would be beneficial when it comes to noting the community's role in state and national history. Last week those representing groups like Equality Illinois urged lawmakers to pass the proposal, which has yet to reach a vote outside of committee.

Those in favor of a measure they say would help get an amendment closer to being added to the U.S. Constitution will head to the Statehouse to lobby for it on Tuesday.

The Equal Rights Amendment, commonly referred to as the ERA, aims to end the legal distinction between men and women, something supporters say would enhance equality when it comes to issues like equal pay. Congress approved it in 1972, and then it went to the states for ratification. 38 states had to approve it by 1982, a deadline set by Congress. It fell short by three.

In a world where "fake news" is a term known by just about anyone paying attention to current events, journalism's importance and history is increasingly being questioned. For his book released this year by the University of Illinois Press, Fred Carroll takes a look at the history of the commercial black press and how it intersected with alternative ideologies.

Right outside Oak Ridge Cemetery, the resting place of President Abraham Lincoln, is the Springfield and Central Illinois African American History Museum

One of the capital city's oldest businesses is for sale. Recycled Records in downtown Springfield has a lot more going on than just what’s in the name. Old beer signs line the walls. There’s stereo equipment, collectible toys, historical books, vintage knick-knacks and more. It’s the kind of place you could get lost in for a day.

It's well known that the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign once used the depiction of a Native American chief as a symbol for its sports teams. The school retired Chief Illiniwek about a decade ago. But that hasn’t stopped some fans from using the likeness or even portraying the Chief. A new court filing alleges copyright infringement.

Led by students, the "March for our Lives" effort made its way across the nation and here in Illinois over the weekend. Hundreds of people gathered outside the state capitol building in Springfield on Saturday before marching downtown.

The nation's oldest civil rights organization, the NAACP, and Illinois police officials announced Thursday an agreed upon resolution they say took years to hash out. The "affirmation of shared principles" was inspired in part by the death of Michael Brown, who was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014.

Wednesday, some students from Springfield-area schools will leave class and stand in a common area on school grounds for 17 minutes - one minute to honor each of the lives lost in the mass shooting at a Parkland, Florida high school. It's part of a national push led by young people for stricter gun laws.

Student activists from Parkland, Florida, have toured the country speaking out about gun violence after a gunman killed 17 people at their school in February. They recently made a stop in Chicago and their cause has inspired students all over the country, including in the Springfield area.

Hundreds of people descended on the statehouse Wednesday to urge legislators pass stricter gun regulations. Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense has chapters across the country; it was founded in 2012 as a response to the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary.

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