Letters: Charter Schools, Memorial Day, StoryCorps

Tony Cox and News & Notes producer Christopher Johnson respond to listeners' letters. This week, they read letters about charter schools, our Memorial Day coverage, and this week's Storycorp Griot subject, Omar Leech.

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TONY COX, host:

Time again now for your letters. And with me, of course, is producer Christopher Johnson. Hey, Christopher.

CHRISTOPHER JOHNSON: What's happening, Tony?

COX: So what do we have this week?

JOHNSON: Well, you know, some folks got a little upset about our recent story on charter schools. Now, listener Mike Castanza(ph) of Rochester, New York, found that segment a little one sided. He emailed to say: One of the strengths of most charter schools is the ability to pick its students. If you'd ever worked with a child with behavioral problems, you'd know how much of an advantage that can be. Though I'm not a teacher, I have worked with such children before. Why didn't Miss Chideya raise such questions?

COX: Well, Mike, she will. We are already planning a segment that lets African-Americans critical of charter schools speak out, so listen up for that.

JOHNSON: And as for our Memorial Day show, Hillary Maroon(ph) of Oakland, California had some problems with our focus. She wrote: Memorial Day is a holiday for remembering those lost in war, and for dealing with the lost felt by those left behind. This should be the theme every Memorial Day, especially while this country is at war. Instead, your show focused on veterans. But this is not Veterans Day. Have the guts to deal with the actual subject matter that the holiday marks.

COX: And you know what, Christopher?

JOHNSON: What's up, Tony?

COX: She's right. We blew it, plain and simple. And for that I apologize, because I hosted the show that day, and the distinction went right past me as well. While it was never our intention to disparage or ignore those who died in combat, our interviews with some veterans focused on how our subjects managed to survive.

And there were some very good, compelling stories. But in hindsight, we should have had the segments that focused on the stories of soldiers we lost, the families that were impacted and the way our culture has to continually keep finding ways to heal from the tragedies of war. It was Memorial Day, not Veterans Day.

Thanks for that letter, Hillary. It's a point well taken.

JOHNSON: Now, as you probably know, every Tuesday, we've been presenting our StoryCorps Griot Initiative. That's a project that features first person's stories from blacks across the country. Now this past Tuesday, we heard from Omar Leech. He grew up in Ohio, where he started gangbanging at a very young age.

(Soundbite of archived NPR clip)

Mr. OMAR LEECH (Resident, Ohio; StoryCorps Griot Contributor): By the time I was 25 I had three prison numbers. All this time I did in prison, did a person from my gang ever write me one letter? Send me one penny? That's not family.

JOHNSON: After Omar finished his third prison sentence, he decided to leave the gang life behind. He moved to Atlanta and started his life over. Omar Leech passed away just a few weeks ago after a car accident. Now, a lot of you were moved by Omar's story.

Aaron Martin(ph) of Pompano Beach, Florida, wrote to say this.

I'm sad to know the world lost a great man, no matter his past. For it is his past that allowed him to grow to who he became. I tried to bring the lesson from any situation, even if it is years later, and it sounds like Omar and I have a lot in common for being true believers in giving everything to someone we love and hold dear only to realize they wouldn't notice if we went missing tomorrow.

JOHNSON: Thanks for that, Aaron.

(Soundbite of music)

COX: That's it for our letters. Please keep writing. And you can also leave a voicemail for us at 202-408-1271. That's 202-408-1271.

JOHNSON: And don't forget our News & Views blog. You can post your comments there by going to npr.org/newsandnotes and clicking the News & Views blog link.

COX: There's also email. Just log on to npr.org and click on Contact Us. It helps a lot if you tell us where you're writing from and how we should say your name.

Thanks, Christopher.

JOHNSON: No problem, Tony.

(Soundbite of music)

COX: That's our show for today. Thanks for being with us. To listen to the show or subscribe to our podcast, visit npr.org/newsandnotes. To join the conversation, visit our blog, News & Views. Just check out the link at the top of our Web page. NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.

Tomorrow, the first white graduate at an all-black high school in Alabama.

(Soundbite of music)

COX: I'm Tony Cox, in for Farai Chideya. This is NEWS & NOTES.

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