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2020 Stories And Moments That Were Meaningful To Our Producers

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

We're going to take a moment now to look back at the work our staff has done this year. Like everyone else, the people who produce this program have had to find new ways to do their work this year. We asked some of them to tell the stories behind their stories.

(SOUNDBITE OF GAVIN LUKE'S "I WILL REMEMBER")

KAT LONSDORF, BYLINE: I'm Kat Lonsdorf, a producer on the show. And earlier this year, before the pandemic, I was in Fukushima, Japan, reporting on recovery there after the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster of 2011. In early March, I was there when the government officially reopened part of a town that had been closed for nearly nine years.

(SOUNDBITE OF GATE CLANKING)

LONSDORF: And after they pulled back this big, giant gate, I walked around. It was one of the more haunting things I've ever done. Everything was pretty much exactly as it had been left after the disaster, just abandoned and decaying. And it was so quiet. There are a lot of places like that in Fukushima - whole towns empty, without any people. It can be pretty eerie. I got sent home from that trip early, as the scale of the pandemic became clear. And it was particularly weird to then watch as so much of the rest of the world became versions of ghost towns too. I came home to an empty and eerie Washington, D.C., and that juxtaposition between that and where I was in Fukushima will always stay with me.

(SOUNDBITE OF GAVIN LUKE'S "I WILL REMEMBER")

SAM GRINGLAS, BYLINE: This is Sam Gringlas. I'm an ALL THINGS CONSIDERED producer. This summer, there was this big flood in Midland, Mich. Houses all over the city ended up devastated, and we wanted to give our listeners an idea of what that looked like. In a normal time, we might hop on a plane. Instead, I found a woman named Dawn Porter, and we asked her to get on a video call with Mary Louise Kelly. And this was probably the first time a host ever went on a virtual reporting trip.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

MARY LOUISE KELLY: All right. Here we are, rounding the corner down. I see the basement stairs.

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KELLY: Yeah, I see water. I'm so sorry.

DAWN PORTER: And so we have a floating basement, so it looks dry until I step on it. And now I feel like I'm walking on Mars.

KELLY: You're walking across floorboards, and they are...

PORTER: Floating.

KELLY: They're sloshing beneath you.

PORTER: Yeah. But here's our floorboard. So it's about a foot.

KELLY: About a foot up.

(SOUNDBITE OF WATER RUNNING)

PORTER: There's still a lot of things that are just ruined.

GRINGLAS: Hopefully, when you hear that water sloshing, the stress in Porter's voice, you understand what's happening in our world just a little bit better.

(SOUNDBITE OF GAVIN LUKE'S "I WILL REMEMBER")

JONAKI MEHTA, BYLINE: My name is Jonaki Mehta. I'm a producer for ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, and this election season, I worked on a series about Gen Z voters. And there was this moment that stayed with me when we were talking with 22-year-old James Butler. He's an activist, a YouTuber and a model. He's also queer and Black and talked about how coming up in the foster care system eroded his belief in the political system too.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

JAMES BUTLER: Why do you want to still bow down to a Constitution that was [expletive] up and written hundreds of years ago? We're not in hundreds of years ago. When that was written, women, children and Black people were property. Why do we still look at that as our, like, model?

MEHTA: When I look back at our work this year, I think this moment comes to mind because it felt so emblematic of 2020, of the racial justice movement and of what we heard in our reporting from a lot of young people this year - that they have had enough.

(SOUNDBITE OF GAVIN LUKE'S "I WILL REMEMBER")

VINCENT ACOVINO, BYLINE: My name is Vincent Acovino, and I'm a producer at ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. This year, I worked on a story that commemorated the life of Nashom Wooden, who was a drag queen and performance artist from New York City. He died from COVID-19, and I heard from several of his friends who were also candid about their relationship with him and their love for him. It just made me desperately miss also that feeling of going out and dancing with some of your closest friends. This is Frankie Sharp, a DJ in New York, reminiscing about the first time he met Nashom.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

FRANKIE SHARP: Nashom was one of the first people I met in New York, actually. He plucked me up from some weird dive bar after seeing me DJ and said, honey, let's get you out of this dump. Come with me. Nashom had me DJ and produce a weekly party at a different dump - the world-famous Cock, which, at the time, he was running. It was filthy, seedy and at times even downright disgusting. It was my favorite place on the planet.

(SOUNDBITE OF GAVIN LUKE'S "I WILL REMEMBER")

MIA VENKAT, BYLINE: My name is Mia Venkat, and I'm a producer here at ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. This year, I helped produce a series called Black Voices in America. We put out a call-out, asking our listeners to share their stories about what their experience has been like being Black in America. This was at the height of civil unrest after the police killing of George Floyd. I spoke with Rochelle Williams. She's a Black woman from California who was raised during the civil rights era. We spoke for an hour about her life growing up and all the struggles she faced, but one part of the conversation that really stuck with me was the analogy she told me she likes to use when she's talking to people about race.

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ROCHELLE WILLIAMS: When I hear them say things like, oh, that was a long time ago; you know, I didn't do this to you; get over it already; you know, it's not my fault that you guys were slaves, blah, blah, blah - and I say, you know, if you were dating a woman who had been abused in her previous relationship and there were certain things that, from time to time, triggered her and made her respond defensively, you would not dare say to her, I'm not your old boyfriend. You need to stop whining about this. You would never say that to someone because that experience is embedded in them.

VENKAT: I picked this part of our conversation because I'd never heard someone break down the embedded generational experience of racism like that. I hope her story helped put into perspective what exactly this moment of reckoning means.

(SOUNDBITE OF GAVIN LUKE'S "I WILL REMEMBER")

JASON FULLER, BYLINE: I'm Jason Fuller, producer with NPR's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. This past summer, I had the pleasure of working on a conversation with Alice Randall. She's the author of the novel "Black Bottom Saints," a love letter to Detroit's history. The conversation was timely and soothing as our country intensely wrestled with conversation surrounding racism and anti-Blackness, as protests engulfed streets all across the world. During the interview, we asked Randall what does she mean when she wrote, memory and stories are powerful tools of rebellion.

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ALICE RANDALL: It allows us to remember the strategies that helped us survive in the past that we may use in the present. It allows us to define ourselves by the interior values of our individual selves and our culture. One of the things that lets us know is love is the strut, and hate is the stumble.

FULLER: For me, that last line - love is the strut, and hate is the stumble - it encapsulates the constant rigors of life while having the audacity and grace to get back up and dwell in moments of joy.

(SOUNDBITE OF GAVIN LUKE'S "I WILL REMEMBER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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