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KERA's Best Stories Of 2020

Carlo and family
Paul Ratje for KERA
Carlo and his two daughters at the El Buen Samaritano Migrant Shelter in Juárez on Sept. 30, 2020. The family crossed the border in Mexicali, Mexico, but were sent to Juárez to await the Migrant Protection Protocols court process.

It's been a year full of news, dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic, social unrest and the election. KERA has been bringing you stories highlighting life in North Texas and beyond, seeing how these big, national events have affected us locally. Here is a collection of our best stories from 2020.

'I Had To Make A Decision': How Domestic Violence Survivors Are Navigating COVID-19

In late April, Stacey was faced with the choice to flee from abuse and violence, or stay home to avoid covid-19.
Keren Carrión

Christopher Connelly, KERA’s One Crisis Away reporter, says...

As Texans began sheltering in place to stay safe from the coronavirus, the shutdowns deepened an already dangerous situation. A ‘shadow pandemic’ of domestic violence accompanied COVID, filling abuse hotlines with harrowing stories of incredible violence and a demand for services that agencies struggled to meet. It also brought new challenges for shelter operators, who lost bed space to social distancing just as their clients needs were greatest.

Read the full story.

Abbott Went Against Some Supporters When He Said ‘No’ To Refugees, Records Show

Gov. Greg Abbott
Christopher Connelly

Stella M. Chávez, KERA’s immigration and demographics reporter, says…

It was difficult to find people willing to talk on the record about their concerns (and frustrations) that Gov. Greg Abbott might not allow new refugees to be resettled during the 2020 fiscal year. Some groups were concerned that if they spoke up too loudly, their pleas to the governor could backfire. That’s when it occurred to me to file an open records request for letters and emails sent to Abbott to see what was happening behind the scenes. I wanted to know who was lobbying for and against resettling refugees in Texas. The more than 50 letters and emails I got back revealed that some of the individuals and groups lobbying the governor included longtime supporters and powerful interest groups. KERA was the first news outlet to report on this.

Read the full story.

Why The Trauma Parents Experience In The NICU Follows Them Home

Courtney Wakefield

Courtney Collins, KERA’s special projects editor, says...

I really enjoyed getting to know Courtney and Hollis as well as baby Kepley (born at 24 weeks!) and learning more about the trauma that comes with a NICU stay — and why it follows new parents home. I was fascinated to hear how many precautions need to be followed, even after a baby is discharged. It was really interesting to hear how physicians at Children’s Health try to prepare families for those adjustments and the anxiety that comes along with them.

Read the full story.

Some Kids Blame Themselves For Mom's Sadness. Talking About It Can Help.

Denton resident Amanda Dolin and her children keep an open dialogue about how they're feeling.
Amanda Dolin

Syeda Hasan, KERA’s daily news editor, says...

I remember reporting on this story right before the coronavirus pandemic reached North Texas. It was one of the last times in 2020 that I invited a source into the studio for an interview, before we were all wearing masks and working from home. Amanda Dolin shared a powerful account of how mental illness has shaped her family for generations and how it informs her approach to motherhood. Research shows kids who blame themselves for their mothers’ sadness are more likely to internalize symptoms of depression and anxiety. Dolin works to counter that by keeping an open dialogue with her kids about mental health.

Read the full story.

The Asylum Trap: Stories From Migrants Forced To Wait In Mexico While Seeking Asylum

Cesar, Carolina & Donovan at a park
Paul Ratje for KERA
Carolina, Cesar and Donovan, from Nicaragua, visit a park in Ciudad Juárez on Sept. 26, 2020. The family came to the border seeking safety from threats received from paramilitary operatives involved with the Nicaraguan government, but their asylum case was eventually denied. They are currently trying to appeal.

Mallory Falk, KERA’s Report for America immigration reporter, says...

Just across the border from El Paso, thousands of asylum seekers are stuck waiting for their day in U.S. immigration court, under the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy. Their hearings have been postponed indefinitely during the coronavirus pandemic. Many have been living in dangerous conditions in Juárez for more than a year, and feel they’ve been forgotten. Freelance photographer Paul Ratje and I profiled several asylum-seeking families in a five-part series for KERA. It was an honor to share their stories and (we hope) draw renewed attention to a U.S. immigration policy that has left so many people in limbo.

Read the full story.

Grieving From A Distance: Remembering A Dad Lost To COVID-19

Dick Holter, father of Rick Holter, vice president of news, spent his last 15 years living in a retirement center in Frederick, Maryland. He died there on April 10.
Courtesy of the Holter family

Rick Holter, KERA’s vice president of news, says...

My father, a Maryland dairy farmer, died in the first COVID-19 wave in the spring. Like a lot of people across the country, I couldn’t travel to be with my family, and I shared that experience in a first-person essay. The audio version aired locally on KERA, across the state on Texas Standard and on WAMU in Washington, D.C., and the digital essay was picked up by Thousands of folks responded, either through comments or retweets or personal notes. Putting together the essay turned out to be a journalist’s way of grieving.

Read the full story.

John Cornyn Has Served In The U.S. Senate 18 Years. What's His Record?

John Cornyn walking in
Susan Walsh

Bret Jaspers, KERA’s politics reporter, says...

This story looks at what the policy accomplishments have been of someone who has spent 18 years as one of the most powerful legislators in the country. Now that he’s been re-elected, perhaps the past will serve as prologue of what to expect.

Read the full story.

A Denton Couple Wrote A Bilingual Book To Encourage Kids To Wear Masks

Martha and Dan standing on their front porch with their children Nataly and Nicolas. Nataly is holding the book the couple wrote.
Keren Carrión
Martha Samaniego Calderón and Dan Heiman pose for a portrait with their children Nataly and Nicolas, at their home.

Alejandra Martinez, KERA’s Report for America general assignment reporter, says…

Nowadays, grabbing your mask before heading out of your home is normal and routine. It’s hard to think about the before days. But there were days where going to the grocery store and showing our bare faces was the standard. 2020 has been a tumultuous year and this story and the book it introduces us to kind of sums it all up. From the beginning of the pandemic, the almost cancellation of DACA, protest against police brutality and political rhetoric. This story also allows us to see this year through the eyes of young children — what it meant for them to wear masks and understand all the news that happened this year.

Read the full story.

How Collin County's Growing Diversity May Have Shaped The El Paso Shooting Suspect

A police officer stands outside a home in Allen believed to be associated with a mass shooting at a busy shopping area in the border town of El Paso last year.
Jake Bleiberg

Hady Mawajdeh, KERA’s digital reporter, says…

I wanted to try to answer a question I couldn’t answer before: Why did this guy want to kill people who look like me? And Collin County, with its polarizing, often xenophobic political history and its rapidly growing non-white population, slapped me in the face and said, ‘duh!' I quickly discovered that the same place I loved to visit to eat dumplings or chana masala was in the thick of a culture war. The people who created this place — white upper-middle class people who fled inner cities during the 60s and 70s — did not like how their utopia was growing, and what they looked like. Sadly, that attitude seems to be the only thing we understand about why the suspect in the El Paso Walmart shooting wanted to kill “invaders from Mexico.”

Read the full story.

COVID-19 Won’t Keep These “Doctors” From Clowning Around

Doctors act as clowns to entertain a patient sick in bed at a hospital.
Photo courtesy of the Laughter League

Miguel Perez, KERA’s arts reporter, says...

I consider this my first feature as an arts reporter. I started working on it about a week before North Texas shut down due to COVID-19, which is why you can hear field tape I collected from Cook Children’s Hospital. I dropped the story in light of the chaos of those early days, but I picked it back up a month later when I learned the clown doctors had resumed their visits virtually.

Read the full story.

What One North Texas Community Lost When It Had To Say Goodbye To Its Newspaper

In this photo, two empty, dilapidated newspaper boxes sit side-by-side against a beige wall.
Miranda Suarez
Two empty newspaper boxes sit outside the former Mineral Wells Index building. The paper shut down in May 2020, and the publisher blamed financial pressures from the COVID-19 pandemic for the closure.

Miranda Suarez, KERA’s Fort Worth reporter, says…

The Mineral Wells Index covered the small North Texas city for more than a century. In May, it shut down, joining dozens of other newspapers that have been driven out of business by the COVID-19 pandemic. That has serious consequences for the town’s government and community, as the city gears up for a revitalization.

Read the full story.

Meyerson Symphony Center Virtual Tour

A bird's-eye view of the Meyerson Symphony stage shows DSO musicians performing, six feet apart.
A bird’s-eye view of the smaller, socially-distanced orchestra on-stage. Instrumentalists, who’re spread 6 feet apart, don’t share their music stands with fellow musicians as they usually would.

Dane Walters, KERA’s videographer, says...

In April, Art&Seek published its new virtual tour of the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony center developed completely in-house. We interviewed Morton Meyerson about the creation of his namesake hall, the backstage battles and the last-minute rush to finish.

See the full project.

Roger Horchow – Mail-Order Magnate And Broadway Producer – Has Died

Roger Horchow in his Dallas home in 2013.

Jerome Weeks, KERA’s senior arts reporter, says...

One of the big losses for Dallas this past year — and one of the best obituaries I’ve done. Roger Horchow invented the luxury catalog and created his very own Gershwin musical on Broadway. Listen until the ending.

Read the full story.

Edible Car Contest Teaches Students Engineering With A Fun Twist

some of the edible cars on plates
Bill Zeeble

Bill Zeeble, KERA’s education reporter, says...

This is the last story I did before the pandemic shut things down and changed life globally in March. The edible car contest has been an annual, fun student science event for decades and will, I assume, eventually return, maybe even this March. The annual edible car contest was held in Denton at TWU. If I did it right, you may actually laugh.

Read the full story.