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The KMUW News stories that shaped 2022

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KMUW reporters and producers highlight the stories that made an impact on them in 2022.

If 2021 was a year of recovery, 2022 was a year where the realities of a post-lockdown life were felt. Local communities and businesses continue to settle into a new normal, all while trying to confront a world that has changed. At the same time, many are taking stock of what they have lost and what they can rebuild as they move forward.

As we usually do, we asked our reporters and producers to share the stories that shaped their year. These are pieces that offer an insight into the state of community, sports, art, labor, health and education in Wichita over the past year.

Here is KMUW News in 2022:

Wichita’s neighborhood associations are shrinking. What does that mean for civic life?

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Celia Hack
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KMUW
Volunteers help at a clean-up in A. Price Woodard neighborhood, led by the neighborhood association. (Photo credit/Celia Hack)

In Wichita, neighborhood associations are a valuable part of civic life. But over the past decade, community leaders have had a hard time keeping them alive.

"This story is really important to me because it’s so different from most of the articles I report," says reporter Celia Hack. "A lot of times, as reporters, we are asking questions of elected officials, non-profits and businesses. But over the last decade or so in our country, a lot of us have just as many questions for each other.

"I wanted to look into the heart of one of our city’s historically important civic building blocks — neighborhood associations — and ask why they are struggling, what the city loses when they no longer exist and what the plan is to turn that around."

Union drive at Wichita Starbucks part of a larger, revitalized labor movement

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Daniel Caudill
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KMUW
Unionizing workers at the Starbucks at 21st and Amidon created custom bumper stickers for their union drive. The workers will have an official ballot count in August.

In July, workers at the Starbucks at 21st and Amidon became the first store in Wichita to file for union representation, joining a nationwide effort to unionize the giant coffee chain.

"This year has been a historic one for labor unions and workers' rights," says reporter Daniel Caudill. "Motivated by the pandemic, stagnant wages and poor working conditions, workers across companies like Starbucks and Amazon have come together in one of the biggest surges of union drives in decades.

"While workers at this Wichita Starbucks ultimately voted not to unionize, covering their organizing effort was an insightful experience that highlighted some of the motivations for not only this union drive, but many of the others around the country."

Wichita’s Phoenix gym provides community for those struggling with addiction

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Kylie Cameron
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KMUW
Senior Program Coordinator Maria Nelson picks up weights around the gym after an open gym time.

When you think about addiction recovery, an image of bleak meeting rooms or sterile clinic settings might come to mind.

A gym in downtown Wichita is working to change that perception

“When covering addiction, it’s just as important to write about the stories of resiliency as it is the hardships," says reporter Kylie Cameron. "Everyone at The Phoenix had a story to tell that left a lasting impression. Plus, they’re the nicest people you’ll ever meet.”

Adrian Belew looks back fondly on his relationship with David Bowie

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"Adrian Belew is one of my favorite musicians and his work with David Bowie is of course immortalized on the album Stage, where Belew really shines," says Strange Currency host Jedd Beaudoin. "He's spoken a lot about his relationship with Bowie but he was really patient while discussing his old friend and employer one more time."

Angry players, cranky fans: The life of a minor league umpire

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Hugo Phan
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KMUW

"I always wondered what drove minor-league umpires, who work for low pay and in front of hostile crowds every night," says news director Tom Shine. "Turns out, they love the game as much as the players do."

Starkly Beautiful: A Kansas doctor details his life at the South Pole

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Courtesy photo
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We first talked with John Michael Watson in January 2022, while he was preparing to travel to a National Science Foundation research station in Antarctica.

When we corresponded with him again in May, he was living out a childhood dream among the antarctic landscape.

"I checked in with John-Michael Watson, who was spending nearly a year at a research station in Antarctica," says Tom Shine, host of The Range. "The temperature when we talked: -80 degrees."

After Black infant mortality surged in Kansas, birth workers jumped into action

Peggy Jones-Foxx, president of the Wichita Black Nurses Association, teaches prenatal education classes as part of a new initiative to reduce Black infant mortality.
Rose Conlon
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Kansas News Service
Peggy Jones-Foxx, president of the Wichita Black Nurses Association, teaches prenatal education classes as part of a new initiative to reduce Black infant mortality.

Kansas has one of the highest rates of infant mortality in the U.S., and for Black babies, the picture is especially dire: They’re over three and a half times more likely to die before their first birthday than white babies.

"Statistics around a sharp rise in Black infant mortality in Kansas during the pandemic are incredibly disheartening. But I’m glad we got the chance to highlight what different local community groups are doing to address it, particularly those led by birth workers of color like the Wichita Black Nurses Association and the Kansas Birth Justice Society," says news reporter Rose Conlon.

Research shows social-emotional learning in schools pays off, but conservatives see a liberal agenda

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Suzanne Perez
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KMUW
Kasey Curmode, a second-grade teacher at Enterprise Elementary in Wichita, helps lead a social-emotional learning lesson during a summer school program.

Kansas school kids get lessons on more than reading, math and science. Teachers are also trying to help them keep their cool and play well with others. However, those lessons became a flashpoint in the classroom this year.

"In many ways, public schools have become ground zero for the ongoing culture wars," says news reporter Suzanne Perez. "Politicians made social-emotional learning a talking point this year, so I spent time in several schools to show what it is and why education experts say it’s important. My favorite stories are always the ones that show what’s actually happening in classrooms."

A new documentary sheds light on Louis Armstrong's secret daughter

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"I thoroughly enjoy learning about people in our community and sharing their stories. This year’s stories included interviewing a third-generation Black doctor in Wichita, a Mariachi band that filled up the KMUW studio with lively music, and an African American senior who started a Black Student Union at a high school in Maize, KS. I was able to produce those stories through my signature segment, In The Mix, for The Range," says Director of Organizational Culture and Soulsations host Carla Eckels.

"Perhaps the story I received the most questions and comments about was my interview with a woman from Florida who’s written her memoir and hosts a jazz radio show. I spoke with Sharon Preston-Folta, the daughter of jazz great Louis Armstrong. There’s a movie out about her life her called 'Little Satchmo.'"

KMUW News is a team of dedicated on-air and digital reporters working to tell the stories of Wichita and its residents.