Audio Features | St. Louis Public Radio

Audio Features

Feature-length audio news reports from St. Louis Public Radio reporters.

Chris Worth works on a commisioned portrait of a couple who are active in the local disability rights community.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

All artists use their unique abilities and experiences in their work. Chris Worth is no different.

But Worth’s art is informed by a more complicated set of realities than most. Born in Connecticut along with a twin brother, Worth was diagnosed at birth with cerebral palsy. When he was 1, his mother had a stroke.

At first, a family friend cared for him. After that, he bounced through several foster families and an educational system that put him on a path toward unskilled labor. At 11, he was adopted by a West Virginia couple who saw his potential as a student and artist.

But even in a stable home, he was confused by his attractions toward women and men, an orientation for which he now uses the word “queer.” "Disabled" is the one-word description he prefers in talking about his cerebral palsy. They're part of a long list of identities folded his art.

John Jennings is a graphic desinger and the co-founder of the Black Speculative Arts Movement. He designed the cover for "Afrofuturism 2.0: The Rise of Astro-Blackness."
John Jennings

Harris-Stowe State University professor Reynaldo Anderson has spent years nurturing and cultivating a black creative community around speculative art.

In early February, members of that community showcased their musical work and celebrated Black History Month at Harris-Stowe State University. It was the first night of the 2019 Black Speculative Arts Movement (BSAM) in St. Louis.

“The term Black Speculative Arts Movement is kind of an umbrella term,” said Anderson, the co-founder of BSAM. “We’ll talk about philosophy, technology, even cosplay and performance.”

IN UNISON Chorus rehearsing at Powell Hall. Charter member Gwendolyn Wesley, lower left. 2/22/19
Jeremy D. Goodwin | St. Louis Public Radio

As St. Louis Symphony Orchestra musicians file into the Powell Hall stage door facing Delmar Boulevard, they’re striding along the boundary that divides a segregated city.

With IN UNISON Chorus, orchestra leaders made an effort in 1994 to bridge that divide and welcome more African-Americans into the predominantly white world of European classical music.

The St. Louis Symphony appears to be the only American orchestra to maintain a second full-sized chorus dedicated to music by African-American and African composers. Its members largely come from about three dozen black churches in and around St. Louis, where SLSO orchestra members also perform recitals throughout the year.

New recruits line up for outdoor lunch on a cold and windy day at Fort Leonard Wood. Some of them are wearing the current version of the boots, others are testing new designs.
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

Lt. Col. Alfred Boone saw a disturbing trend among the new recruits he oversees at Fort Leonard Wood in the Missouri Ozarks.

“Infected blisters, hairline fractures, hip strains,” Boone said, describing the increase in injuries among the new soldiers.

Boone said the Army had a hunch that its iconic boots — the tan, heavy, high laced footwear — were to blame, because so many of the new recruits have never before worn hard-soled shoes.

This image is believed to be the only know image of the old Stars Park that stood in St. Louis in the 1920s.
Missouri Historical Society

A rare find by a Missouri Historical Society archivist is proving to be a valuable link to a chapter of St. Louis’ baseball history from nearly a century ago. It’s the only known image of Stars Park, a baseball stadium that was home to a Negro National League team in St. Louis.

David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

Sarah’s son came home from high school more than a year ago upset about being bullied.

“He came in tears, (saying) ‘they’re calling me a name and someone’s impersonating me,’’ she said in an interview last month.

But the name-calling didn’t happen in the hallway or even in-person. Instead someone created an Instagram account online using a taunting nickname, according to Sarah. That’s when her “nightmare with Instagram” began.

Bill Schmutz, a former deputy warden at Algoa Correctional Center, poses for a photo at the Missouri Corrections Officers Association office outside Jefferson City.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri ranks just behind Mississippi for the lowest-paid correctional officers in the country.

The average annual pay for a correctional officer in Missouri was $30,870 in 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, well below the national average of $47,600. Even with a recent pay bump of $1,050 a year, the department is struggling to retain and attract correctional officers for the state’s 21 prisons.

A life-sized exhibit of President Abraham Lincoln and his cabinet discussing the Emancipation Proclamation at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield.
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

As Illinois celebrates the 210th birthday of favorite son Abraham Lincoln, officials with the Springfield presidential museum created in his honor hope to keep important artifacts from being sold to the highest bidder.

But they’re running out of time.

The relics are part of the 1,400-item Taper Collection bought by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation in 2007. The private foundation, which supports the state-owned Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, took out a $23 million loan to buy the historical treasures.

The balance of the loan is due in October, and the foundation is still $9 million short.

Kayia Baker leads a piano class for beginners at Pianos for People on Cherokee Street.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

There’s music in the air at Al Chappelle Community Center.

The St. Louis Housing Authority facility, which serves residents of the adjacent Clinton-Peabody housing complex, recently received a heavy delivery: a Kawai upright piano. The instrument is only about 13 years old and in excellent condition.

It was a donation, courtesy of Pianos For People.

The St. Louis-based nonprofit has distributed more than 250 pianos to private homes and public spaces since it began taking piano donations in December 2012.

Feb. 7, 2019. Ngone Seck studies for her Korean language class at her dorm room on Washington University's campus.
File Photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

When Ngone Seck graduated as Riverview Gardens’ valedictorian in May — the first in her family bound for college — it seemed nothing could slow her down.

A few weeks later, the Italian immigrant with West African roots began her classes at Washington University on a full scholarship.

But long-simmering and costly dental problems threaten the trajectory of the musically talented engineering major from Florissant. She lives with pain while working full time to pay for her dental care, and her grades are suffering.

Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site visitors can climb Monks Mound, which has more than 150 steps.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Assistant site manager Bill Iseminger stood at the base of 100-foot-high Monks Mound, bracing himself against an icy winter wind whipping across Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site in Collinsville. He was relating a story he’s told countless times: how the ancient Mississippians built the earthen mounds at Cahokia Mounds one basketful of dirt at a time.

Iseminger, 74, has worked at the site for 48 years and figures he’s climbed Monks Mound at least 1,000 times, though not as frequently in recent years.

David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri education officials released long-awaited school report cards Friday, and the good news is most schools are meeting expectations.

In fact, 97 percent of public schools scored in the fully accredited range, including Kansas City, Hickman Mills and Riverview Gardens — all districts trying to regain accreditation.

At the same time, fewer than half of public school students in Missouri passed the new, more rigorous math and English tests they took last spring.

Under a plan released Monday to merge St. Louis and St. Louis County, St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger would become the first "metro mayor" of the merged government.
File photo I Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

At the beginning of 2019, St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger was in a tough political spot.

The Democratic official was sworn in to a second term with no reliable allies on the St. Louis County Council. And county voters recently amended the charter to substantially reduce his power over the budget.

But if statewide voters agree to a plan laid out by Better Together next year, Stenger would be in line to become the first metro mayor — a position that gives him sizable policy power over the region.

An illustration of prescription drugs.
Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

To measure how healthy a community is, health experts often look to life expectancy – how long a person is expected to live assuming no major catastrophies occur. It’s what’s called an indicator, or a statistic that reflects overall well-being.

For decades, the life expectancy in the United States steadily increased as medical breakthroughs helped people live longer. But in the past few years, life expectancy has started to decrease – an unprecedented step backward in the modern age. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a trio of reports late last year, attributed the decrease to significantly growing numbers of drug overdoses and suicides. Missouri has followed the national trend.

Six years ago, a Missourian was expected to live for nearly 78 years. Now, that number is closer to 77. St. Louis Public Radio reporter Sarah Fentem talked to Rachel Winograd of the University of Missouri – St. Louis to find out what can be done.

Swiss Meat and Sausage has been butchering animals and selling meats in a small, unincorporated east-central Missouri town for 50 years. Co-owner Janice Thomas wants to expand, and to do that, she’ll need more business from out-of-town customers.

“If there is one place that has some room, it’s with our online ordering,” she said.

The community of Swiss has minimal internet access: It’s not high speed, and it’s unreliable.

Washington University outgoing Chancellor Mark Wrighton (right) will lead an effort to implement Better Together's recommendations for a St. Louis city-county merger. He spoke at a press conference Jan. 28, 2019 at the Cheshire hotel.
File photo I Chad Davis | St. Louis Public Radio

After decades of contemplation and debate, a group known as Better Together is recommending an end to the “Great Divorce” between St. Louis and St. Louis County — a move that dramatically changes how the region’s residents are represented and how they receive services.

Better Together is proposing an ambitious plan that would be decided through a statewide vote. Proponents contend it will scrape away layers and layers of local government that has been holding the St. Louis region back.

Opponents believe the plan will create an unwieldy and large centralized government that could be implemented against the will of city and county residents.

Cancer survivor Jim Nace poses in his Ballwin home.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Two decades ago, Jim Nace was a national ice cream salesman, on cross-country flights 20 days a month. He was on top of the world.

“I had a great lifestyle, lots of money, vacations; I was very caught up in the world I was in,” he said. “And then I got a sore throat.”

His wife, a dental hygienist, saw something that didn’t look quite right. A visit to the doctor confirmed the worst: It was tonsil cancer. Soon after his diagnosis, his company terminated his job.

More people are surviving cancer each year. But as patients face life after treatment, many find the burden of cancer doesn’t end when remission starts. Cancer can cause depression in patients just as the world expects them to celebrate.

J. Samuel Davis plays Antoine in New Jewish Theatre's production of "District Merchants." 1/24/19
Eric Woolsey | New Jewish Theatre

In a heated conversation during the first act of “District Merchants,” a white immigrant tells a black man that he understands the other’s plight: “I know what is to be poor, hated and looked down on just because you’re, you know, you.”

The African-American points out that he lives with that stigma every day. White people see the word “thief” written on his face, he says. The immigrant replies: “Not everyone sees that!”

A version of this conversation could have been had in 16th-century Venice or post-Civil War Washington, D.C. — or a Twitter thread in 2019.

That’s part of the point of “District Merchants,” Aaron Posner’s 2016 adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice.” A production by New Jewish Theatre begins performances Thursday.

Veteran Donna Rogers (left) and Tyler Klan (right) protest with federal employees outside the USDA building on Goodfellow Blvd. in St. Louis.
Donna Rogers

Donna Rogers hasn’t received a paycheck in weeks. An Army veteran who works at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) office in St. Louis, she’s among the 800,000 federal employees around the nation working without pay or on furlough.

The lack of a paycheck is weighing on her. The partial government shutdown is now the longest running in U.S. history, with no end in sight.

“Being a single mom, bills are still due, period,” Rogers said. “So whether you have kids or no kids, you have teenagers, grown folks, whatever; I mean, bills are still coming through.”

Children play in a preschool classroom at Commons Lane Elementary School in Florissant. The Ferguson-Florissant School District offers free half-day preschool but wants to expand offerings. Jan. 16, 2019.
File | Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson talked a lot about expanding early childhood education opportunities in the weeks leading up to his first State of the State address and budget as governor.

Nick Silver and Liz Houghton run 200-meter sprints at the St. Louis University Track on December 1, 2019.
Shahla Farzan | St. Louis Public Radio

Nick Silver started losing his eyesight when he was 4 years old.

He’s now almost completely blind, but the 33-year-old refuses to let his disability slow him down. The Lemay resident is training for his first half-marathon with the help of fellow runners, who jog with him and alert him to upcoming obstacles.

A group known as Better Together is proposing a plan to merge St. Louis and St. Louis County. They're planning to get the measure on the 2020 ballot.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

In January 2018, concerns over whether city resources are equally distributed among the entire population prompted an effort to measure equity between black and white St. Louisans. The results are in after a year of the Equity Indicators project: St. Louis scored a 46 out of 100.

The Equity Indicators tool measures racial equity across 72 indicators, focusing on priority areas selected by the Ferguson Commission: youth at the center, opportunity to thrive, and justice for all.

Meramec Valley Grotto members
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

On a cold, rainy Saturday morning, about a dozen people hopped out of their trucks with helmets, headlights and other climbing gear at the side of a gravel road in Summersville, a small Ozark town located almost 200 miles from St. Louis.

They arrived on a mission to find five caves off the trail of the state-owned Gist Ranch Conservation Area, relying on decades-old records from the Missouri Speleological Survey.

Many records of Missouri’s caves don’t contain precise locations, since a lot of them were reported before sophisticated mapping technologies were developed. The state largely relies on recreational cavers to help track them down.

People ride Lime scooters along Washington Avenue in downtown St. Louis Tuesday afternoon. Jan. 8, 2019.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Since electric rental scooters hit the streets of St. Louis last summer, emergency-room doctors have seen dozens of scooter-related injuries, including broken bones and serious head trauma.

Rental services Bird and Lime introduced St. Louis to the motorized scooters in August. Doctors at the Washington University School of Medicine started seeing an increase in scooter-related injuries almost immediately.

“We were seeing as many as 11 injuries in a week. And that caught our attention,” said Larry Lewis, a professor of emergency medicine who works in the emergency department at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson speaks after being sworn into office. June 2018
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

It’s rare that a Missouri governor gets their first opportunity to achieve some of their agenda in the third year of a four-year term. But that’s exactly where Gov. Mike Parson is going into the 2019 legislative session.

The Republican chief executive came into office last June after the scandal that knocked Eric Greitens from the governorship. With commanding GOP majorities returning to the Missouri House and Senate, Parson will get the chance to reshape state government that Greitens squandered.

Katelyn Fisher works with Abbie, the mustang she and her father adopted from the Legendary Mustang Sanctuary near Edwardsville.
Mary Delach Leonard | St. Louis Public Radio

Kathy Lewis was trying to coax a small herd of mustangs into a corral at her Legendary Mustang Sanctuary near Edwardsville. It was just after a dawn on a frigid December morning, and heavy rains were on the way.

“Nellie, Ciqala, Fred, Shiloh, Scooter,’’ she called. “Come on.”

Eventually, Nellie, a 9-year-old red-and-white pinto, moseyed in from the pasture to breakfast on dollops of fresh hay scattered about the enclosure. Behind her trailed four mustangs and a burro named Shorty that once roamed free out West. They’ve all found new lives — and their own herd — in the Madison County countryside.

David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

An early stage venture fund in downtown St. Louis is continuing to go global.

SixThirty, which launched in 2013 and invests in up to 12 startups a year, will formally announce this month that it’s opening a European office. It will be followed by a similar announcement in another part of the world.

Missouri Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven, right, looks over a student's work during a tour of the Jennings School District.
Bill McDonald, Jennings School District via DESE

It’s Margie Vandeven’s first day at the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, but she shouldn’t need any help finding her office. That’s because Vandeven is returning as the state’s top schools chief just over a year after her unpopular removal from that same job.

Vandeven was well-liked in the public education world and by the members of the state school board that then-Gov. Eric Greitens wasn't able to replace. After her removal Dec. 1, 2017, Greitens’ school board picks failed to install a replacement before running into opposition from the state Senate, leaving the opportunity for the board to bring Vandeven back.

James Clark, of Better Family Life
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

James Clark, vice president of community outreach at Better Family Life, has received national recognition for his efforts in reducing violent crime. Clark was one of 16 people to receive a Project Safe Neighborhood award this month from acting U.S. Attorney General Matthew Whitaker. The award was for outstanding community involvement, for the organization’s gun violence de-escalation program.

Washington University graduate student Anushka Mishrra tests water samples for chlorine in an lead corrosion study.
Shahla Farzan | St. Louis Public Radio

Dan Giammar collects something most people want to get rid of: lead pipes.

“This is just a great piece of lead pipe,” said Giammar, turning the smooth cylinder in his hands.

The Washington University professor of environmental engineering is testing ways to keep lead pipes from dissolving and leaching into drinking water. Using old pipes from across the country, Giammar’s lab is working to understand whether adding a non-toxic compound to drinking water could prevent lead release.