State of the Re:Union Spring 2014 Season
Things Fall Apart, Our Job Is to Bring Them Back Together
SOTRU is produced with generous
support from CPB and WJCT,
is presented by WJCT and co-distributed
by PRX and NPR.
The new Spring 2014 Season of State of the Re:Union with Al Letson opens January 2014.
SOTRU is hosted by Public Radio Talent Quest Winner and performance artist Al Letson.
With a journalistic, documentary-style approach, each hour-long program focuses exclusively on one city, region, or other community and features interviews, commentary, recordings, listener-generated letters, and music.
Please contact Deb Blakeley at 612-377-1207 for more information.
Black History Month Specials 2014
Air window opens January 17, 2014.Re:Defining Black History |
During a month selected to celebrate “history,” we certainly are treated to a lot of the same familiar stories: the battles won for Civil Rights, the glory of Martin Luther King Jr.’s words, the hardships endured by slaves. And as important as those narratives are for us to collectively remember, many others get lost in trumpeting the same heroic tales. In this hour, State of the Re:Union zeroes in some of those alternate narratives, ones edited out of the mainstream imagining of Black History, deconstructing the popular perception of certain celebrated moments. From a more complicated understanding of the impact of the Civil Rights Act of ’64 on Jackson, Mississippi… to a city in Oklahoma still trying to figure out how to tell the history of one particular race riot… to one woman’s wrangling with her own personal racial history.New Leaders |
Usually during Black History Month, we remember Civil Rights icons and reflect on their legacy. But over the past couple of years, SOTRU has met a new generation of African American leaders, people you may not see on TV specials or making nationally acclaimed speeches. Most of these men and women are on the front lines of their communities, rolling up their selves and diving in to what can be very unglamorous work. In this episode, SOTRU would like to introduce you to this group of leaders and what they’re accomplishing in their various corners of America.Who Is This Man? (Rebroadcast) |
August 28th, 1963 will forever be tied to Martin Luther King Jr.'s hallowed "I Have a Dream" speech. This historic moment would probably have never come to fruition if it weren't for a man standing in King's shadow, Mr. Bayard Rustin. Rustin was a man with a number of seemingly incompatible labels: black, gay, Quaker... identifications that served to earn him as many detractors as admirers. Although he had numerous passions and pursuits, his most transformative act, one that certainly changed the course of American history, was to counsel MLK on the use of non-violent resistancePike County, Ohio - As Black As We Wish to Be (Rebroadcast) |
*2013 Winner of Edward R. Murrow Award for News Documentary* Al Letson and guest producer Lu Olkowski visit a tiny town in the Appalachian foothills of Ohio where, for a century, residents have shared the common bond of identifying as African-American despite the fact that they look white. Racial lines have been blurred to invisibility, and people inside the same family can vehemently disagree about whether they are black or white. It can be tense and confusing. As a result, everyone’s choosing: Am I black? Am I mixed race? Or, am I white? Adding to the confusion, there’s a movement afoot to recognize their Native-American heritage.
Fall 2013 Season
Air window opens October 2013.The Southwestern Range |
A fifth-generation Arizona rancher
featured in the 'Home on the Range' episode.
Among the most iconic landscapes in American is the Western Range, a stretch of millions of acres of land, much of it remote and still undeveloped, distinguished by low rainfall, but abundant ecological diversity. In the 21st century, this land has become contested ground. Development pressures threaten open space as the Sun Belt continues to be an economic powerhouse. Border issues mean life in some of these rural places has been transformed by violence and politics. Ranchers and environmentalists alike are wrestling with what this land should be in the years to come.Portland, OR: A Tale of Two Cities |
There’s the Portland that many are familiar with, the city some residents praise as a kind of Eden: full of bike paths, independently owned small businesses, great public transportation and abundant microbreweries and coffee shops. And then there’s the other Portland: the city where whole stretches of busy road are missing sidewalks, the city that’s been getting whiter and less diverse, where some longtime African American residents feel as if decades of institutional racism still have not been fully addressed.Tulsa, Oklahoma: Reconciliation Way |
Tulsa, Oklahoma sits at a crossroads of American identities. In a special episode of SOTRU -- produced in collaboration with This Land Press -- we travel to the middle of Middle America to see what happens when these identities collide. We explore one of the country's deadliest race riots, a story that has been suppressed for 90 years; spend time in a native community that's resurrecting a language teetering on the edge of extinction; and visit a shrine for undocumented immigrants in a state with some of the harshest immigration laws in the nation.The Hospital Always Wins |
In this special hour from State of the Re:Union, we take listeners to a place that exists in every American city, but most of us have never seen the inside of it. Back in 2004, SOTRU producer Laura Starecheski visited a state mental hospital in Queens, New York, called Creedmoor. She met an artist there named Issa Ibrahim. He had no perceptible symptoms: he was talented, charismatic, funny, engaging. To be blunt, he just didn’t seem like your typical long-term mental patient. But he’d been at Creedmoor for more than ten years already, with little hope of getting out. Why was Issa still stuck in the hospital? Laura’s quest to uncover Issa’s story took almost a decade. In this special episode, State of the Re:Union takes a close-up look at love, guilt and forgiveness, revealing both the brightest and the darkest parts of human nature.Dropouts to Graduates: The Story of the Care Center (Rebroadcast) |
Say you meet a teenager. She’s 16, and she’s already dropped out of school. She’s pregnant, due in a few months, and she’s on her own. Her boyfriend disappeared with news of the baby. She doesn’t have a job, and is hoping her mom won’t kick her out of the house. What are your expectations for her? Prepare for them to be turned on their head. Welcome to the Care Center, an alternative school just for pregnant and parenting teens who’ve dropped out of high school. The surprise? 70 to 85 percent of Care Center students go on to college.
Spring 2013 Season
Air window opened April 26, 2013.Dropouts to Graduates: The Story of the Care Center - An American Graduate Special |
Students at the Care Center. Photo by Emily Fitzgerald.
Say you meet a teenager. She's 16, and she's already dropped out of school. Now, she's pregnant, due in a few months. She's on her own, as her boyfriend disappeared when news of the baby came out. She doesn't have a job, and is hoping her mom won't kick her out of the house. What would your expectations for her be? What do you think she'll achieve? If you're in Holyoke, Massachusetts, the answer to those questions might be very different from the predictable one of hopelessness and dim futures. That's because Holyoke is home to the Care Center, an alternative school just for pregnant and parenting teens who've dropped out of high school.Back to the Basics - An American Graduate Special |
In this American Graduate special, State of the Re:Union takes a closer look at school, community, and the drop out crisis in this country. With reporting from both urban and rural schools, and interviews with education experts, SOTRU goes back to the basics, looking at strategies that get to the heart of what makes students want to learn.Summer in Sanctuary - An American Graduate Special |
Every day in America, more than 7,000 students drop out of school. In a State of the Re:Union first, this episode combines radio drama and documentary to explore America's dropout epidemic. Based on the celebrated off-broadway show by SOTRU host Al Letson, this episode chronicles Letson's journey teaching at a summer camp at the Sanctuary on 8th Street, a community center in an economically challenged neighborhood of Jacksonville, Florida. Told through monologue, poetry, song and sound-rich reporting, this episode challenges perceptions about race, class and education, taking listeners beyond the statistics to reveal the unseen challenges and complexities facing students in communities across the country.Pike County, Ohio - As Black as We Wish to Be |
Al Letson and guest producer Lu Olkowski visit a tiny town in the Appalachian foothills of Ohio where, for a century, residents have shared the common bond of identifying as African-American despite the fact that they look white. Racial lines have been blurred to invisibility, and people inside the same family can vehemently disagree about whether they are black or white. It can be tense and confusing. As a result, everyone’s choosing: Am I black? Am I mixed race? Or, am I white? Adding to the confusion, there’s a movement afoot to recognize their Native-American heritage.Coming Home: Stories of Veterans Returning from War |
More than two million veterans have come home so far from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. For returning veterans, reintegrating into society can be a challenge. How do you find your place, when you've changed and the people you love don't recognize you? When that old life is gone and you have to start a new one from scratch. In this hour State of the Re:Union explores reintegration and asks the question: how do you come back home from war?
Fall 2012 Season
Air window opened Sept. 28, 2012.Summer in Sanctuary - An American Graduate Special |
Every day in America, more than 7,000 students drop out of school. In a State of the Re:Union first, this episode combines radio drama and documentary to explore America's dropout epidemic. Based on the celebrated off-broadway show by SOTRU host Al Letson, this episode chronicles Letson's journey teaching at a summer camp at the Sanctuary on 8th Street, a community center in an economically challenged neighborhood of Jacksonville, Florida. Told through monologue, poetry, song and sound-rich reporting, this episode challenges perceptions about race, class and education, taking listeners beyond the statistics to reveal the unseen challenges and complexities facing students in communities across the country.Tucson - Borderlands |
Tucson sits in the borderlands, the desert landscape where America and Mexico meet. This place is crisscrossed by boundaries, visible and invisible — from the US border wall that cuts the Sonoran desert in half, to live-wire political divides in Tucson itself. In this episode, we tell stories about what happens when people cross borders, risking their lives and their reputations to take a chance on the other side.Internet Communities - Virtual Reality |
At this point in the 21st century, it’s kind of impossible to talk about community-building without, at some point, talking about the internet. With this episode of SOTRU, we tell stories of the internet’s impact on community-building in human terms, on the messy level of people’s daily existence, where its effects are rarely solely positive or negative. In each of these stories, we look at a different way the internet has slipped into our interactions with one another, from wholesale social transformations facilitated by the web, to individual lives reconfigured, to more minor everyday happenings.This is an hour of exploring how the “virtual” has turned into the “real” in people’s lives.Jacksonville - Grinding the Gears |
Captain Happy talks to host Al Letson
and producer Laura Starecheski.
Jacksonville, Florida is a lot of things: a military town. A church town. A beach town. And it can be all those things because Jacksonville is the largest city in the whole country: 841 acres of sprawl, highways, and strip malls dotted with tiny, unique neighborhoods. How does a place this huge and diverse lurch forward to keep pace with the rest of the country? The quick answer: often, it doesn’t. But once in a while, in small surprising ways, this place can be an incubator for innovation. In host Al Letson’s hometown episode, SOTRU asks: is Jacksonville is moving backward, stuck in neutral, or shifting towards progress?Pike County, Ohio - As Black as We Wish to Be |
Al Letson and guest producer Lu Olkowski visit a tiny town in the Appalachian foothills of Ohio where, for a century, residents have shared the common bond of identifying as African-American despite the fact that they look white. Racial lines have been blurred to invisibility, and people inside the same family can vehemently disagree about whether they are black or white. It can be tense and confusing. As a result, everyone’s choosing: Am I black? Am I mixed race? Or, am I white? Adding to the confusion, there’s a movement afoot to recognize their Native-American heritage.
Fall 2012 Season
Air window opened June 1, 2012.
Host Al Letson, producer Tina Antolini, and intern
Julie Rawe in the control room of a nuclear reactor
in Southeastern Washington State
The Tri-Cities of Washington are Richland, Pasco, and Kennewick. We'll explore the secret history of the area, the surprising mix of residents, and what's drawn them here and why.Vermont - The Small Town State |
When the floodwaters rose during Tropical Storm Irene last year, Vermonters had a template for small-scale democracy and decision-making to work from. Together, each town confronted its own disaster. We hear a range of stories of the way Vermont's small-town-state identity manifests.Baltimore - Outsiders In |
Baltimore is a city of many neighborhoods, of intense racial divides not easily overcome. But all of that often overshadows the passion and dedication many Baltimoreans have for their city.Ozarks: Full Circle |
The Ozarks have long been an isolated place — steep mountains break up the landscape into hills and hollows, making each little town its own microcosm. In this hour we meet fathers parenting from prison, famous fiddlers passing on their craft, and people re-imagining the iconic Ozarks one-room schoolhouse — finding pockets of innovation in a place that much of America seems to have forgotten.
In this episode we explore a community where, when evil rears its head, someone finds a way to set things right. We tell the stories of real-life battles between good and evil in the world of comic books. From creators and whistleblowers to real-life superheroes who’ve brought comics to life, putting on their own capes and costumes to fight for justice in their cities.
Fall 2011 SeasonThe Bronx - Still Rising from the Ashes |
The Bronx has long been a symbol of America's failings. It's still the poorest urban congressional district in the nation, and for many who live in New York's other boroughs, the Bronx is usually a place to avoid. But despite the area's troubles, some have stayed and put down roots, intent on surviving and making their borough better. This episode looks at the hold-outs and the dreamers who've committed their lives to building community in the Bronx.
After Hurricane Katrina ravaged the area, Mississippi Gulf Coast residents were forced to come together to deal with the aftermath. Then, the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster resulted in millions of barrels of oil being dumped into the water just off their shores. These events have made environmentalists out of a lot of Gulf Coast residents who would never have considered themselves as such. We tell an hour of stories about how the fight for the natural world is bringing Gulf Coast residents together, sometimes with unlikely partners, and how, in some instances, that fight is turning out to be exactly what a community needed to survive.Wyoming - The New Old West |
Wyoming is the least populated state in the US. In this sparsely populated landscape where private property and self-sufficiency are prized, community is built on the (somewhat unwelcome) expectation that distant neighbors might need to rely on one another one day. When people come together here, they have to have good reason to. This episode will bring listeners to the towns of Laramie, Cheyenne and the surrounding landscape in Southern Wyoming, looking at how the things that happen in the small towns and countryside of rural America can change the country as a whole.Cleveland - The Way Forward |
From Rockefeller's Standard Oil to GE's first industrial park, Cleveland was a city made by entrepreneurs. But since the polluted Cuyahoga River caught fire in 1969, it's been trying to shake the moniker of "the mistake on the lake". Today Cleveland is being embraced by a new generation of entrepreneurs who are using their business sense to try and revitalize neighborhoods, clean up the environment and improve education.Sacramento - All Hands on Deck |
A company town, where the company is government. In a city where one in four households contain a government employee, the crippling state budget deficit, police layoffs, fire engine brown-outs and park closures could easily signal only the bleakest of futures. Through sheer force of will, residents and an enthusiastic mayor are keeping their major league basketball team around for another year. Despite the recession gloom, the numbers of chronically homeless people on the streets actually went down this past year. Residents are volunteering to maintain city parks when the Parks & Recreation budget is slashed. And people are figuring out ways — from clothing swaps to home shares — to deal with the hard new economic reality.
Spring 2011 SeasonLas Vegas:
Bright Lights, Big City, Small Town |
Competing versions of Las Vegas occupy the public imagination: Sin City, the bastion of entertainment, and the dramatic victim of the recent economic recession. Entire neighborhoods have been foreclosed, the jobless rate has shot up to double digits, and massive casino and hotel construction was suspended, leaving hulking ghosts to remind residents of the boom times. SOTRU explores stories of people cultivating community in Vegas.Birmingham - The Long Story Short |
Birmingham tends to provoke thoughts of Freedom Riders, church bombings, civil rights marches and police dogs. Nearly fifty years later, people in Birmingham still can't escape their history, especially the painful parts. Some have started to unearth the city's past in order to face the future.
SOTRU brings listeners into the courtrooms, churches and backyards of Birmingham to answer the question borne out by the lives of people here: Is Birmingham a monument to brutal segregation, or one of the few American cities willing to take a hard look at race?Utica: City with a Warm Heart |
Al & Tina with Rev. Scates & Rev. Meiers
A couple of decades ago, Utica was dying; a popular bumper sticker in the '90s read "Last One Out of Utica, Please Turn Out the Lights." Once a bustling textile city perched on the edge of the Erie Canal, Utica lost its mills in the mid-20th century and has been losing population ever since. But something has changed in recent years. With a surprising influx of refugees to this part of snowy, upstate New York, the newcomers have given Utica hope for second chance.Oakland - The Self-Made City |
Refugees, swindlers, visionaries, entrepreneurs chasing fast money — these are the historic roots of Oakland. The city has long been home to people building new lives and imagining even better ones, but dreams that have been deferred also haunt this place, in its empty post-boom skyscrapers, its infamous homicide rates, and deep budget cuts. In the face of these entrenched problems, Oakland answers back with diverse, revolutionary solutions, and SOTRU looks at the costs and rewards for people dreaming big in Oakland.
Photo by Tina Antolini
Dubbed the "Magic City" for its stunning growth rate and rapid proliferation of skyscrapers, Miami is also the third-poorest city in the nation, according to U.S. Census Bureau numbers. If you own a store in South Beach, your customers are equally likely to be billionaires as they are homeless, and they're very likely to have started life somewhere else. Miami is an incredibly international city that feels the impact of world events like the Haitian earthquake and the political situation in Cuba. SOTRU features an hour of stories of Miamians creating community across class, racial, and cultural lines.
Fall 2010 SeasonVeterans Day Special |
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are sending our veterans home with wounds and obstacles not always clearly visible to the rest of the country. These two current wars also illuminate how veterans of previous eras are still trying to come home years after returning from war. In this episode, State of the Re:Union explores how veterans are serving each other after they come back home from serving the country.Española - The Land Remembers |
Española, New Mexico is known as the first Capitol City in America. Settled by Spanish conquistadors in 1598, the area's rich cultural past is still evident today in its music, art and way of life. But changing demographics, along with a shift in the local economy, has left many residents without land, water or a sense of identity. SOTRU travels to the Española Valley to explore the area's history of dispossession, and to discover what the rest of the country can learn from this still-vital region of the American Southwest.Twin Cities -
World within Two Cities |
It isn't exactly Lake Wobegon anymore...Once known as the home of Midwestern Lutherans and Scandinavian farmers, the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul are now wildly diverse. With 14% of the population now foreign-born the look and culture of Minneapolis and St. Paul is beginning to change. SOTRU explores the rich range of cultures and communities coming together in the country's middle.Austin - Growing Pains |
Austin is a town wrestling with its identity, not as a result of a natural disaster or economic meltdown, but rather its success. The population has spiked and so have its economic advantages, but many residents worry that the development and growth might jeopardize the city's unique countercultural feel. SOTRU explores the balance of culture and success in the Texas capital.
Lori McKinney, founder of the Riff
Raff Arts Collective, shows SOTRU
producer Tina Antolini Mercer St.
in Princeton, W. Va.
Los Angeles is a city known to many outsiders as a dizzying, sprawling and superficial. But when looked at beneath the surface, LA reveals itself as a place of purpose, humanity and dignity. SOTRU travels to the City of Angels to tell a series of stories detailing what home really means and the way it connects people and community.Appalachia Rising |
SOTRU explores the misguided portrayal of the rural Appalachian region as a place of victims — a people at the mercy of the region's poverty or bigotry. We travel to southern West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky to examine how residents are balancing deep ties to their history while facing the future in a new way.
Spring 2010 Season
Greensburg - To the Stars through Difficulties |
One night in May of 2007, a tornado wiped Greensburg, Kansas, off the map. The town's residents have decided to not only resurrect the town, but to rebuild in a true spirit of renewal. State of the Re:Union examines the profound devastation and the rigors and rewards of this innovative rebirth.Brooklyn - Change Happens |
State of the Re:Union visits New York City's most populated borough to examine how this diverse collection of communities handles the friction of change, the pull of tradition, and discovers that special something that makes this neighborhood so celebrated.Oakridge - A Work in Progress |
Back in the timber industry's heyday, small mill towns in Oregon were thriving. Business was booming. Then in the early 1990s, the saws stopped. The mills shut down and their economies crumbled. State of the Re:Union surveys how a town that has lost its identity reinvents itself.Milwaukee - City of Vision |
Once the toolbox to the world, Milwaukee has suffered the fate of many American rust belt cities. But despite shuttered businesses, and high unemployment rates, Milwaukee and its resilient people are poised for a rebirth. State of the Re:Union visits Milwaukee to explore it's industrial past and to learn of its post-industrial future.New Orleans - The Big Easy |
The city of New Orleans is as proud of its traditions as it is steeped in them. But since the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, the city and its residents have been thrust into new relationships with those very traditions they hold so dear. State of the Re:Union visits the Big Easy to explore how the city is negotiating that tension between the old and the new — from music to po boys to combating crime — five years after the storm.
Black History Month Special
Winner of the top radio honor from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association's 2011 Excellence in Journalism Awards.
August 28th, 1963 will forever be tied to Martin Luther King Jr.'s hallowed "I Have a Dream" speech. This historic moment would probably have never come to fruition if it weren't for a man standing in King's shadow, Mr. Bayard Rustin.
Rustin was a man with a number of seemingly incompatible labels: black, gay, Quaker... identifications that served to earn him as many detractors as admirers. Although he had numerous passions and pursuits, his most transformative act, one that certainly changed the course of American history, was to counsel MLK on the use of non-violent resistance.
Pilot SeasonBold New City of the South? |
Visit host Al Letson's hometown and explore the colossal city of Jacksonville, Florida. We look at how the past and present vie to shape the future of Florida’s First Coast and try to capture some of the city's spirit. Unlike previous State of the Re:Union episodes, our Jacksonville show uses three major stories to confront the difficult issue of race in the South.
Zach Mannheimer and Matt Maguyver
of the Des Moines Social Club
Travel to the surprisingly metropolitan and remarkably progressive city of Des Moines, Iowa. Discover an immigrant Iraqi family's take on the American dream, hear how traditional farming techniques have once again become relevant to 21st century business and get a Middle-American take on the gay marriage debate in Heart of the Heartland.Motor City Rebound |
If you listen to the news, you've heard a lot about Detroit in recent years, none of it very good. Host Al Letson travels to Detroit to move beyond the headlines and explore the Motor City.Welcome to D.C. |
This first episode of the series familiarizes the listener with a side of the capital city that most visitors never get to see — a thriving metropolis removed from the politics that govern this nation. The District is filled with arts and culture unique to the area, individuals striving to make the city a better place, and neighborhoods struggling to return to their former glory.
About the Show
There's so much talk about "community" that we can lose perspective of what that means, and of the stories of real people making homes, lives and neighborhoods across the country.
In State of the Re:Union (SOTRU), host Al Letson travels to find those stories, and tells them with grace, perspective, and deep curiosity. The show is a journey of new Americana through music, poetry, interviews, and contributions from residents of the featured area.
When much of today's news and media outlets highlight the divisions and conflicts that separate us, SOTRU explores the resonating themes, stories, challenges and cultural components that create communities across the country and celebrate the commonality that links us as a people.
About Host Al Letson
After winning the Public Radio Talent Quest in 2007 and producing his first episode, Welcome to D.C., Al received a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to create three more episodes, visiting Detroit, Des Moines and Jacksonville. His company finished their first grant in August of 2009 and has just been awarded one of the largest public radio grants ever given to a single project to produce a full season of shows.
Early in his career, Al established himself in the Poetry Slam Movement, reaping artistic credibility and renown. He has performed on a number of national, regional and local stages, including HBO's Def Poetry Jam (YouTube), CBS's Final Four PreGame Show and commercial projects for Sony, the Florida Times Union, Adobe Software and the Doorpost Film Project.
Now, in addition to hosting, producing, editing and writing State of the Re:Union, he works as a professional playwright, actor and director. His plays have been performed across the country to critical acclaim including Summer in Sanctuary, Julius X and Griot: He Who Speaks the Sweet Word (YouTube). Letson has directed several stage productions and three movie shorts, one of which, Sign Language (YouTube) was a semi-finalist for the Fox filmmaking reality show On the Lot.
Airing State of the Re:Union
Willie Cammack (L) and Amos Horton (R)
once mined together on Red Mountain.
Patrick Barry/State of the Re:Union
The one-hour programs follow the standard NPR Specials (:20/:40) clock and are newscast compatible.Carriage Confirmation
Carriage reporting is essential to secure funding for additional production. Please confirm carriage of State of the Re:Union by contacting Joan Miller 650-966-1957, or Deb Blakeley, 612-377-1207.Carriage Fees
The programs are available without charge to all public radio stations.Streaming & Excerpting
The programs may be streamed live on station websites but not archived. Excerpting is permitted for promotional purposes only.Broadcast Rights for the Fall 2013 Season
Air window opens October 2013.Broadcast Rights for Past Seasons
Past seasons of State of the Re:Union are available free upon request. Please contact Joan Miller 650-966-1957, or Deb Blakeley, 612-377-1207 for more information.