Commentaries

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Ways to Connect

 Susan Campbell was a victim of sexual abuse from age 7 to 13.
Chion Wolf / WNPR

I was 7 when the sexual abuse started, 13 when it stopped.  My perpetrator was my stepfather, a man unfit to raise chickens, much less children.

An ultrasound image of a 20-week-old fetus.
Michael Fürstenberg flickr.com/photos/biophon / Creative Commons

Many years ago, when I was pregnant and gender identity was not in the news, I struggled with ideas about my baby’s biological sex. 

Erin Valentino.
Joyce Skowyra / NEPR

I was having lunch with friends when one of them asked me if I was healthy. I didn’t know how to answer.

Jamil Ragland lives in Hartford's north end.
Chion Wolf / WNPR


My 10-year-old son Gabriel loves baseball. When I received free tickets to a game at Dunkin' Donuts stadium this May, I pushed aside my feelings of hypocrisy and took him out to the old ball game.

Connie Borodenko with a recently found stash of Hen in the Woods.
Tema Silk / NEPR

Foraging was a survival skill for my grandmother in war-torn Suwalki, Poland, and again after she emigrated to America in 1911.  

When The Shorter Days Get Us Down

Oct 24, 2017
As days grow shorter, many of us feel a sense of inner darkness.
Tony Webster / Creative Commons

Here in October, as the days shorten, we all begin to hunker down for winter.

Over his long life, Richard Wilbur was a writer of immense achievement.

Author and illustrator Grace Lin.
Alan Bradley / Courtesy Grace Lin

All children's book creators worth their salt know the history of Dr. Seuss. We know that his early career was filled with racist propaganda. 

Homes lay in ruin as seen from a U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Air and Marine Operations, Black Hawk during a flyover of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria September 23, 2017.
Kris Grogan / U.S. Customs and Border Protection

As we learn more about the devastations of the last three hurricanes, some of us are talking about the relationship of climate change and extreme weather events.

Bruce Watson drove a support vehicle for seven cyclists this past summer, starting at Puget Sound, over the Rockies, across Montana and the Great Plains to Boston. He was also searching for some reassurance about our country. He says he found it.
Bruce Watson / NEPR

Since the last presidential election, with all its ugliness, I’ve wanted to see a kinder America. An America where people work to improve their communities.

Corn meal mush.
David Orban / CREATIVE COMMONS

A number of years ago, a friend invited me to judge a cooking contest in Hawley, Mass. My friend is nothing if not enterprising, and had organized the Pudding Hollow Pudding Festival, an event commemorating a 1780 contest to determine who could cook Hawley’s largest pudding. 

Back of a Fairfield Beach Postcard from 1932
CardCow / CREATIVE COMMONS

According to commentator Rober Chipkin, every once in a while the wheels of progress turn so swiftly you don’t realize you’ve come full circle. This happened to him recently, while watching a TV commercial that came on during the news.

Life And Death On The Farm

Aug 15, 2017
A heifer named Bernie.
Courtesy / Aurora Rainette

Commentator Aurora Rainette says one of the things she loves about working on farms is watching life take hold and transform. But sometimes crops fail or animals are lost before their time. And for Rainette, that can really sting.

When an animal dies, farmers are left with a body. Sometimes, that body can become food. Often, it's full of medicine or too weathered.

Mount Greylock from Herman Melville's study.
Courtesy of Martha Ackmann

Friends tell commentator Martha Ackmann that she has odd pastimes. One of them is participating in literary marathons. That's when great literary works are read out-loud communally all the way through --from first line to last -- and sometimes around-the-clock.

The Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst hosts a marathon reading of her 1,789 poems. I especially like taking the night shift. There’s something deliciously eerie about being in the poet’s house after-hours, sitting with a clutch of other enthusiasts, and reciting poems written over 150 years ago. 

Grace Lin

A few years ago, commentator Grace Lin joined the Diversity Committee of her child's preschool in western Massachusetts . When one of the members asked dubiously whether race really needed to be addressed with young children, Lin knew the answer instantly.

When I was a child, the way adults dealt with race in my community was by not talking about it.

I remember in fifth grade, after I'd answered a question correctly, a boy burst in saying, “She just knows that because she’s Chin—,” only to be cut off by our teacher.

Settling In -- Not For -- Downtown Springfield

Jul 17, 2017
Steve Shultis, in downtown Springfield.
Joyce Skowyra / NEPR

After living both in the Mountain West and Europe, commentator Steve Shultis, came back home to settle in his native Springfield. Out West, Shultis says, he observed a sprawling, suburbanizing, car-dependent way of life. He far preferred what he experienced in Europe -- walk-able, bike-able cities. So he and his then-wife put down stakes in the Springfield's downtown. He's had no regrets.

Training wheels.
Emma Craig / Creative Commons

A three-year old doesn't realize it, of course, but at that age every day is a rite of passage, says commentator Robert Chipkin. And surely few can compare with the day that child leaves the tricycle behind and heads down the driveway on his very first bicycle.

"Kite Fying" is a 2002 release from Grace Lin.
Courtesy / Grace Lin

Commentator and author Grace Lin recently heard her 4 year old daughter announce matter-of-factly, “I know a lot of things. I’m very smart.”

Lin agreed. But immediately added a word about the value hard work and compassion. Her daughter's response was not what Lin was expecting. 

A Six-Year-Old Encounters Greatness

Jun 13, 2017
Robert Floyd, holding the ball signed by Jimmy Piersall.
Joyce Skowyra / NEPR

Legendary Red Sox center fielder Jim Piersall died earlier this month at the age of 87. Commentator Robert Floyd had an encounter with the heralded player he'll never forget. 

Booth and Dimock Memorial Library, in Coventry, Conn.
Courtesy / Neal Hughlett

In President Donald Trump's proposed budget, he eliminates federal support for public libraries throughout the country. The White House has said these cuts -- and others -- are about fiscal responsibility, and an effort to "redefine the proper role of the federal government." But the move has commentator Erin Valentino thinking about what she sees as the crucially important places that libraries take us.

Hannah Tran-Trinh is a 2017 graduate of UMass Amherst.
Joyce Skowyra / NEPR

Commentator Hannah Tran-Trinh graduated last week from UMass Amherst. She says she learned a lot there, but the best lessons were hard-won.

I grew up in Boston. My friends were quite the colorful bunch, but I never thought twice about the fact that we were a diverse group of kids. I just loved feeling comfortable. Being a part of something I felt I belonged to.

But then I showed up in western Mass. and it was the whitest place I'd ever seen.

A Sunoco road map of Boston, Mass.
photolibrarian / Creative Commons

For many drivers, GPS is the greatest thing since unleaded gas, anti-lock brakes and cup holders. But for commentator Martha Ackmann, not so much.

Finding Community, One Radio Variety Show At a Time

May 11, 2017
The last rehearsal before the first "Shad Ladder Radio Hour."  From left to right: Rae Ann Jenks, Holly Osborne, Gershon Eigner, Janet McKenna-Lowry, Carmela Lanza-Weil, Stephen Fruchtman, Christine Mirabal.
Submitted Photo / Sarah Kanabay

Finding cures for the blues can sometimes take some ingenuity. Commentator Sarah Kanabay wondered whether relief might come from putting together a radio variety show, a kooky Yankee cousin to "A Prairie Home Companion." She says it's worked wonders.

A Journalist's Challenge To Her Colleagues

May 10, 2017
Shaheen Pasha teaches international journalism at UMass Amherst.
UMass

Commentator and journalist Shaheen Pasha was a 19-year-old newsroom intern when a male colleague behaved in ways she felt crossed a line. As stories of sexual harassment in the media are surfacing more often these days, she's got some requests of her colleagues.

TV character Circus Boy as played by Micky Dolenz.
NBC / Creative Commons

Ringling Brothers' Greatest Show on Earth is slated to go dark at the end of May. Commentator Robert Chipkin says that in his childhood full of highways, malls and subdivisions, the annual appearance of elephants parading down Main Street, clowns piled into Volkswagens, acrobats and sword swallowers should have stirred his suburban heart, but there was serious competition. 

Toni Stone meeting her idol, boxer Joe Louis, c.1949.
MINNESOTA HISTORICAL SOCIETY  / CREATIVE COMMONS

The Red Sox open the season Monday against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Fans will head to Fenway for the 2:05 p.m. first pitch. Commentator Martha Ackmann says one of baseball's greatest fans was a player you've probably never heard of. 

Anjelica Jarrett is a senior at Mount Holyoke College.
Kristin Balboni / Mount Holyoke College

Commentator and college senior Anjelica Jarrett says her fellow students are jumping at ways to resist President Trump's policies related to science, health care and immigration. Jarrett says she's also passionate about these issues. But don't expect to see her at any protests.

The day after President Trump was elected, my friends and I gathered outside Mount Holyoke's majestic library. We were joined by students from all over the campus. A lot of people's eyes were puffy from crying. Many of us had been up most of the night.

‘Taking The Risk To Be Myself’

Mar 15, 2017
A debate on a transgender public accommodation bill drew crowds to the Massachusetts Statehouse on June 1, 2016.
Shira Schoenberg / The Republican

The Trump administration recently announced it was withdrawing the protections for transgender students established by President Obama. The decision comes at a tough time for commentator and high school student Jay, who’s known since childhood that he was a boy. The hard part has been trying to convince others that’s who he is.

It’s been obvious since the first day of kindergarten, when my mom dressed me in all pink and I hated it so much. As I saw it, I was the only boy dressed that way. 

Visiting the space center as invited guests of STS-63 Pilot Eileen Collins in 1995 are seven members of the Mercury 13 (from left): Gene Nora Jessen, Wally Funk, Jerrie Cobb, Jerri Truhill, Sarah Ratley, Myrtle Cagle and Bernice Steadman.
NASA / Creative Commons

The toy company LEGO recently announced it would release a new line of plastic figures immortalizing the women of NASA. The new NASA set will feature astronauts Sally Ride and Mae Jemison, as well as computer scientist Margaret Hamilton, astronomer Nancy Grace Roman — and mathematician Katherine Johnson of Hidden Figures fame. Commentator and author Martha Ackmann says, as laudable as the Lego’s move is, she’s got some advice.

Keep going.

Democracy's Doubters

Mar 4, 2017
Via Flickr by Scott / CREATIVE COMMONS

Commentator and law professor Austin Sarat is nervous. He says federal judges’ rulings to block president trump’s executive order on immigration were stirring victories for the rule of law. But he says no one should be resting on their laurels.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the federal judiciary retains the authority to challenge executive action. Its decision echoes one made by the Supreme Court more than 40 years ago, when it ordered President Richard Nixon to turn over evidence in the Watergate case.

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