The 2023 moments that will stick with us: Reflections from the Gulf States Newsroom

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Highlights from 2023 Gulf States Newsroom coverage.

Highlights from 2023 Gulf States Newsroom coverage.

Photos By Rashah McChesney, Danny McArthur, Kat Stromquist, Stephan Bisaha And Drew Hawkins, Gulf States Newsroom

Over the past year, the Gulf States Newsroom’s team of reporters have brought numerous impactful stories from around Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi to local communities and national audiences.

But, as is often the case, a lot gets left on the cutting-room floor to make the best use of the limited time we have to fully inform you.

That’s where this story comes in. For the third year in a row, our reporters are giving these hidden moments from 2023 a chance to be heard for the first time. Take a listen to the moments our reporters say have stuck with them, and how they will help shape their coverage in 2024.

The nuance of small-town life 

Stephan Bisaha, senior reporter covering economic mobility, based in Birmingham

At the beginning of the year, I was doing a lot of stories about dollar stores. That brought me to York, Alabama, a town of about 2,400 people in Alabama’s Black Belt. In the downtown area, I ran into this guy named Daniel Rogers and asked him his opinions about dollar stores, and about York itself.

Despite its reputation as a quiet town, York is actually really loud. You’ve got this major highway cutting through with trucks carrying lumber and you’ve got the train intersecting the other direction. It was actually so loud that the trucks were drowning us out.

That nuance of small-town life not being easy to put in one bucket — it reminds me of these stereotypes I hope to dispel in the South and stories I want to continue telling in the new year.


Grappling with the past, searching for a way forward 

Maya Miller, community engagement reporter, based in Jackson

This summer, I traveled up to the Mississippi Delta to visit three historic sites where Emmett Till was kidnapped, tortured and murdered in the summer of 1955. This was around the time that President Biden granted these three sites a national park designation.

Alan Spears, with the National Parks Conservation Association, took me to Graball Landing — where Emmett Till’s body was pulled from the Tallahatchie River. I was struck by how peaceful and quiet the area was. I think about how something so calming and beautiful could also be a place where something horrific happened — that we’re still reconciling today.

The history of Mississippi is so complicated, and I think it’s important in my role as a community engagement reporter, that I visit communities that are still grappling with the past and searching for a way forward.


Pouring into the next generation

Danny McArthur, environmental justice reporter, based in Tupelo

Back in June, I was writing a story about aging Black farmers and how they’re passing on their knowledge to the next generation. I went to Louisville, Mississippi, and talked with Alonzo Miller, an older Black farmer who’s kind of become a mentor for other aspiring farmers.

We were just kind of going through his background and I asked him how he got to this point. Even after all these years, he remembers his band director, who showed him a way to get into college when he previously didn’t see a path.

“He said, ‘You can get a scholarship and go to school,’” Miller remembers. “He taught me how to play trombone.”

It showed me how this idea of pouring into the next generation of farmers is very personal for him. I’m looking forward to telling more stories of the different, unconventional ways people are pushing forth environmental justice.


Gaining trust 

Drew Hawkins, health equity reporter, based in New Orleans

This past summer, I did a lot of heat stories on the brutal temperatures that we were dealing with. I talked to farmers, I talked to EMS workers, but the stories that really stand out the most to me were the ones I did with unhoused people.

I went to a cooling center and I talked to a guy named Marcus and his partner, Queen, who were really wary and didn’t really want to talk to me at first. After a few moments of talking with them and kind of convincing them, they trusted me to allow them to be interviewed.

Marcus had had a couple of heat exhaustion episodes and he’d passed out because of it. I asked him if he was worried about it happening again, and he turned to Queen, sitting on the cot next to him, and he said, “No, I’m not because I got a queen.”

It’s just that intimacy that I hope to try to capture with my stories, with people who live at the margins and suffer some of the most inequity. And that’s what I hope to try to do with this job and what I hope to do in the new year.


The happiness and joy of the Magic City Classic 

Joseph King, Gulf States Newsroom sports & culture reporting fellow, based in Birmingham

In October, I did a story about the Magic City Classic, which is this annual football game between two Alabama HBCUs. But this year, it wasn’t just about football. I covered the fashion aspect, like a historical lesson going back from the 1980s — and even further back in time — to today.

In recent years, The Classic has developed a reputation of danger and violence — at the stadium or after the game. But people really liked how I highlighted the happiness and the joy that people had when it came to congregating and fellowship out there.

Going into 2024, I’m looking forward to writing and producing more stories to highlight the community and bring smiles to people’s faces and pride into their eyes.


Painting a much clearer picture 

Kat Stromquist, senior reporter covering justice, incarceration and gun violence, based in New Orleans

I’d gone to a media briefing for NOLA Full Circle, this project trying to use a public health approach to fight gun violence in New Orleans. We’d gathered under the I-10 Expressway as it begins to run along Claiborne Avenue. The highway has a controversial history for the way it affected Black neighborhoods in the city.

When the briefing started, Ansel Augustine led a prayer. As he talked, we could hear the heavy “chuck-chuck” of cars going by on the highway overhead.

I’m new to radio, and this was one of the first events I brought my recording equipment out to. It stuck out in my mind because, as a print reporter, I might not have registered the background noise. But here it was so evident and provided a much clearer picture in my mind: people coming together on a rainy morning in an emotionally charged place. I’m looking forward to more moments like that.

This story was produced by the Gulf States Newsroom, a collaboration between Mississippi Public BroadcastingWBHM in Alabama, WWNO and WRKF in Louisiana and NPR

 

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