Laura Ellis

Producer

Laura has been with WFPL since 2004. During her time with the station she has booked talk shows, produced news specials, engineered remote broadcasts, shaped the minds of impressionable interns, and even changed diapers for guests whose babies accompanied them to the studio.

When she's not making radio, she's making a spectacle of herself on stage (or making theatrical sound design) for any number of local theatre companies—most frequently Pandora Productions and Looking for Lilith Theatre Company. When she's not making theatre or radio, she might be found making Prohibition-Era jazz with Billy Goat Strut Revue, while burlesque dancers shake what their mamas gave 'em.

When she's not making any of the previously-mentioned things, she's usually making tiny dogs shake her hand in exchange for cookies.

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Strange Fruit
10:00 am
Sat June 22, 2013

Strange Fruit: Black Gay Southern Men, Podcast Crossovers, Afro-Puffs & (of course) Paula Deen

This week we're joined by Linda Golden and Melissa Chipman from the Louisville Not Kentucky podcast! They interviewed us for an upcoming episode of their show, so we invited them to sit in for Juicy Fruit this week.
 

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Local News
2:46 pm
Wed June 12, 2013

WFPL's Defining Fairness Series Wins National Diversity Award

WFPL's Defining Fairness series, the project Phillip M. Bailey and I co-produced last Spring, has been awarded the Unity Award by the Radio Television Digital News Association. The Unity Award is a national award which recognizes outstanding journalistic achievement in the coverage of diversity, and will be presented at the RTDNA Edward R. Murrow Awards dinner on Oct. 14 in New York.

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Strange Fruit
12:23 pm
Sat June 8, 2013

Strange Fruit: ACLU Says African Americans Disproportionately Arrested for Marijuana Possession

A report by the ACLU this week confirmed what many of us already suspected: Although marijuana usage is similar between black and white folks, black people are more likely to be arrested for possession (in some counties, much more likely). 

In the nation as a whole, black people are, on average, 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for pot than white people. Zoom in to Kentucky, and you're six times more likely to be arrested for possession if you're a person of color (Kentucky's disparity is among the largest; only four states and the District of Columbia were worse).

To help make sense of these numbers, we spoke this week with Amber Duke from the Kentucky ACLU. She says the disparity largely has to do with larger police presence in certain parts of town - usually African-American neighborhoods. So although crime rates may be similar, there are more cops around to see them.

Plus, when someone is found with a small amount of marijuana, it's up to the officer's discretion whether to issue a citation or take the person to jail. Any time you have discretion of this kind, officers' own prejudices can come into play.

Given the staggering amount of resources we pour into the "war" on marijuana (Kentucky spent $19.5 million in 2010 on marijuana enforcement) it's fair to wonder whether this is money well spent or money spent on racially biased law enforcement activity. 

Also this week on our Juicy Fruit segment, we talked about the heckler and Michelle Obama, and why a white lady was so "taken aback" when the first lady politely but firmly asked her to stop yelling while Mrs. Obama tried to give a speech at a fundraiser about children. 

And we learned about Louisville's first-ever Derby City Black Pride Weekend, going on this weekend, and co-founded by our very own Jaison Gardner!

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Strange Fruit
11:30 am
Sat June 1, 2013

Strange Fruit: Urmi Basu of New Light India; Kaitlyn Hunt, Statutory Rape & Queer Relationships

Credit New Light India

  

Activism runs in Urmi Basu's family; her grandfather was a doctor who set up a school for dalit  children (India's untouchable caste) in his own home. Urmi says her family "always challenged everything that's traditional in India."

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Strange Fruit
11:36 am
Sat April 27, 2013

Strange Fruit: Who Counts as a Terrorist? (Hint: White Guys Don't)

Terrorist.

What image pops up in your mind when you hear that word? "When we think of the word 'terrorism,' most people get an image in their head of somebody who, of course, is a foreign national or somebody who's immigrated to the United States, who's Muslim, typically," explains clinical psychologist Dr. Kevin Chapman. "We think of things like violence. Guns. We think of airport screening."

Defining terrorism is challenging (even for the United Nations, apparently), but in common usage, it's an act of violence intended to intimidate or coerce, often for ideological reasons. The word itself has a long and emotional history, but this week, we were interested in how that word is applied, or not applied, following mass killings like the Boston bombing.

"We in America tend to react differently to terrorism depending on the ethnic, demographic, religious, and national profile of the alleged assailant," explains David Sirota. David is a political commentator who wrote a piece for Salon called Let's Hope the Boston Marathon Bomber is a White American. In it, he points out the double standard in public reaction to mass killings.

If the perpetrator is white, like in many recent shooting cases, it will be seen as an isolated incident, an aberration, possibly related to mental illness. We'll likely hear folks on TV mention how many hours a day the shooter spent playing video games. Any political fallout will probably be limited to gun control debate and will not involve taking action against the attacker's nation of origin, or adding surveillance against people who share his background. Or as Tim Wise wrote last week, "[I]f he's an Italian American Catholic we won't bomb the Vatican."

We spoke to Sirota this week about his piece, and the fallout from it. "My email box has been filled with the worst kind of anti-Semitic, racial epithets from the n-word to everything, for simply raising a point that should be obvious."

That reaction reveals just how deeply invested some folks are in their need to believe these acts are committed by people who are not like them. To understand what it is in our psychology that spurs this need to categorize "them" and "us," we called on friend to the show Dr. Chapman. "It's human nature to categorize, and unfortunately we dichotomize too often: ingroup, outgroup," he explains.  "We lump groups of individuals and profile them as a result, and that maintains our ingroup ideology."

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Strange Fruit
10:00 am
Sat April 20, 2013

Strange Fruit: Kentucky Schools Unsafe for LGBTQ Students

Credit GLSEN.org

Did you feel safe in middle and high school? Were you ever physically harassed, or even assaulted, because of your LGBTQ identity? A report released last month by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) confirms what many of us already knew: Kentucky schools are often hostile and unsafe for LGBTQ students.

The study is called School Climate in Kentucky (PDF), and the results show lots of work still needs to be done. For example, 9 out of 10 students in the Commonwealth say they regularly hear anti-gay slurs in school. 36% report regularly hearing that language from school staff members.

Nearly 6 in 1o students were physically harassed (like being pushed or shoved), and 3 in 10 were physically assaulted (like being punched, kicked, or injured with a weapon) because of their LGBTQ status or gender presentation. 

So instead of just rattling off numbers and feeling disheartened, we decided to speak to the folks who compiled the research. Mark Bartkiewicz is a GLSEN researcher who worked on the state reports, and he joined us by phone this week to talk about the results, how Kentucky's numbers compare to other states, and what can be done to help (spoiler alert: it's gay/straight student alliances and enlightened faculty members).

We also spoke more this week about the closet door in professional sports (for people who know next to nothing about them, we sure do talk about them a lot). This week, NCAA breakout star & top WNBA draft pick Brittney Griner came out of the closet. "I wouldn't say I was hiding or anything like that," she told Sports Illustrated in an interview. "I've always been open about who I am and my sexuality. So it wasn't hard at all. If I can show that I'm out and I'm fine and everything's ok, then hopefully the younger generation will definitely feel the same way."

Who doesn't feel the same way? Male professional athletes, it would seem. In fact, this same week, NFL player and University of Louisville alumnus Kerry Rhodes has been the target of gay rumors after MediaTakeOut.com released pictures of him looking affectionate with another man while on vacation (they helpfully illustrated the story with an NFL logo in which the football has been covered in pink sequins).

Rhodes told The Advocate that he's not gay, but he's an ally. "I know a lot of people are recently talking about athletes struggling to come out to their fans right now," he said, "and I support them, as well as wish those individuals comfort." It seems like the world is waiting for an actively-playing male athlete to come out, so in our Juicy Fruit and closing thoughts segments this week, we did some unpacking of the situation. How do sexual politics play out in the hyper-masculine culture of pro sports (especially football), and why is it so very different for women athletes than men? 

Strange Fruit
11:48 am
Sat April 6, 2013

Strange Fruit: A Look at the Transatlantic Slave Trade through "Spirits of the Passage" Exhibit

"He looked at me and smiled and put his hand in the sand, and put some sand into my hand. I didn't think much about it. And I looked at it, and it was full of trade beads. It was  full of the beads that were actually traded for people."

Even after studying it for years, Madeleine Burnside says the reality and magnitude of the Transatlantic Slave trade hit her in this moment, at the bottom of the ocean, exploring the shipwreck site of the Henrietta Marie. Dr. Burnside is the Executive Director of the Frazier History Museum, and she curated their current original exhibit, Spirits of the Passage

Dr. Burnside has studied the history of the slave trade for the last twenty years. "It's one of those subjects that when you start at all, it will not let you go," she says. For her, the story begins once you get past the horrific (but dry) statistics you learn in school. "You start to think about maybe just 200 people on a ship," she explains. "You start to imagine that you know these people as individuals, and I really sort of started to feel a really big responsibility to tell that story."

This week we went to see the exhibit, then sat down for a chat with Dr. Burnside about putting it all together. She says for her, it's not about the past at all (strange words coming from a historian!). "There's only one reason to study history, and that's to understand the future, not the past." To that point, she draws comparisons between the rebellion and resistance of enslaved Africans straight through to the struggles we still face today. "There's Civil Rights, there's women's rights, there's gay and lesbian rights, and then there's ADA. All of those people really built on Civil Rights and that struggle. And the 1960s struggle comes out of the 1860s struggle comes out of the 1760s struggle."

  One disturbing part of the exhibit is a collection of shackles that were used on enslaved people during transport. Within this case, among the battered-looking metal ankle and wrist restraints, is one very tiny set of shackles that could have only been used on a very small woman or on a child. But even this somewhat heart-wrenching artifact points to a strength of spirit. "There's no reason to restrain someone who doesn't fight," Dr. Burnside points out. "These people fought back."

While at the museum, we also ran into friend to the show Brian Lee West (you might remember him from our conversation about his work in the play Top Dog/Underdog). For the Spirits of the Passage Exhibit, he portrays Olaudah Equiano, a Nigerian man who was captured as a child and sold into slavery. Brian tells us the story of Equiano's life and the amazing series of events that lead to his eventual freedom and authorship of The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, a major work among North American slave narratives.

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