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%.

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.

 

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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