Welcome to Under-Told: Verbatim, an Under-Told Stories Project Podcast.
We report from all over the world for PBS NewsHour on the consequences of poverty and the work of change agents addressing them. We’ve done extended interviews with hundreds of experts and people making a difference in their communities. In this podcast we’re revisiting those under-told stories so you can hear changemakers around the world in their own words. This is Under-Told: Verbatim.
A Mother’s Love
Lisa Clemons is a former Minneapolis police officer who founded a non-profit called A Mother’s Love—a brigade of people in bright pink t-shirts trying to bring back the metaphorical village they say it takes to raise a child. Clemons dreamed of being a cop since she was young, but left the department 20 years ago for a broader advocacy. Our correspondent, Fred de Sam Lazaro, spent a cold November day with her as Clemons and her team passed out COVID kits of masks and toiletries, purchased hams or turkeys and organized an upcoming Christmas toy drive.
Bringing Back the Buffalo
Charging Buffalo is the first butchering facility on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota – the economic development alone is welcome in one of the poorest communities in the United States, but a place that treats the sacred animal with honor and respect means something more. Bamm Brewer is a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe. He runs the meat house, plus his own ranch and buffalo herd. Our correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro spoke to him in October about Lakota life, land rights and bringing back the buffalo.
The Condom King, Mechai Viravaidya
In the Bangkok restaurant Cabbages and Condoms, rubbers are everywhere: on sculptures, lanterns, even a condom Santa Claus at Christmastime. The place has become an icon for what’s widely regarded as one of the world’s most successful family planning programs. Bringing a little humor to a taboo-laden topic is the trademark of Mechai Viravaidya—or as he’s known in his native Thailand: the Condom King. No surprise, then, that in Thailand condoms are commonly called Mechais. He started out working to stabilize a growing population and reduce poverty through family planning—a key factor in Thailand’s growth into a middle income nation. When HIV/AIDS hit, a similar condom-based campaign became useful once more—one that’s widely credited with a dramatic drop in the number of HIV infections, from about 140,000 a year in 1990, to about 30,000 cases a year a decade later. Our correspondent, Fred de Sam Lazaro, has interviewed Mechai many times—most recently in April 2020 by video call to see how the school Mechai founded is faring during the COVID-19 pandemic. In this episode of Under-Told: Verbatim, we’ve collected some of our favorite chats with Mechai over the years so you can hear how he’s worked with bureaucrats, religious leaders, the media and directly with communities as an activist, while founding schools and businesses to sustain his mission.
Defunding the Police
After police killed George Floyd on May 25, Minneapolis and St. Paul saw weeks of protests that spread across the world. Never before has such a clear demand emerged from the demonstrations: defund the police. The Minneapolis City council unanimously advanced a proposal at the end of June to create a new Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention—their next goal was to amend the city charter, which mandates a police department with a certain number of officers. The council hoped to put that question before voters, but the Minneapolis Charter Commission, court appointed and not elected, had the ultimate say and voted effectively to keep the issue off the November ballot. That decision sat well with mayor Jacob Frey, who’s opposed the defunding campaign. Amid the debate, Minneapolis has seen a spike in violent crime and a record number of complaints against the department since the city erupted in protests after Floyd’s killing. Throughout the summer, we’ve followed the defund the police debate. To find out what a police-free future might look like, our correspondent, Fred de Sam Lazaro, has talked with city leaders and community members, like Tyrone Hartwell of the Minnesota Freedom Fighters and Lisa Clemons of A Mother’s Love.
“Minnesota Nice” if You’re White
Our team actually lives in St. Paul and Minneapolis…which, on a fateful day in late May, became the epicenter of a protest movement that’s swept the world since: the death of George Floyd. We’ve been on the frontlines of this story for the PBS NewsHour. Alongside NewsHour producers Mike Fritz and Sam Lane, we produced an in-depth piece on inequality in the Twin Cities, how ‘Minnesota Nice’ only applies if you’re white. If you haven’t seen it yet, you can watch the full story at undertoldstories.org. In this episode, we have a chance to expand conversations our correspondent, Fred de Sam Lazaro, had with community members after police killed Floyd and protestors burned the Minneapolis Police Department’s Third Precinct.
Molly Melching’s Breakthrough in Senegal
Molly Melching arrived in Senegal in the 70s as a student for what was supposed to be just six months, but instead spent the majority of her life working through the organization she founded, Tostan—which means “breakthrough” in the Wolof language, to convince more than 8,000 communities across eight West African countries to abandon female genital cutting, or FGC. The success she’s found is rare—Each year, the World Health Organization says, up to 3 million girls in Africa are subjected to genital mutilation, and up to 200 million women live with its consequences. We talked to her in 2011 about FGC and again in 2020 about COVID-19 in rural Senegalese communities.