Zia Kelly | KBIA

Zia Kelly

Zia Kelly studies journalism and public health at the University of Missouri - Columbia. Outside of the newsroom, she works part-time as a personal trainer and competes as an Olympic-style weightlifter.

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Many of us these days find ourselves looking around and asking ourselves how we got here: to this moment we’re in, today. How has our history, our choices, our culture shaped the moment that we’re in when it comes to disparities in our health, wealth, our neighborhoods and education. And when it comes to racial justice.

One easy thing we can do is to look back and listen to people who have lived these experiences over the decades.

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Today we’re checking in with our Small Towns in Missouri to see how we’re getting by - out in the highways and byways of out state.

In Mexico, Missouri - Mayor Ayanna Shivers is making history - Mayor Shivers was the first Black woman elected to city council in Mexico - she’s now in her second term as its Mayor. We’re talking about “rural” and “small town” values - according to Mayor Shivers.

We’re also joined by Sarah Low from MU Extension - we’ll talk about the research and data behind rural Main Streets and economies.

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When it comes to the coronavirus, our city, state and country are going the wrong direction. We are living, working, parenting and trying to stay healthy in a half-open society, while cases rise. It’s confusing. What do we do next?

Two of the key “pillars” in the effort at every level are: testing and contact tracing. That’s true for Missouri and for Boone County and Columbia, and public health officials at every level have been working to perform these vital functions.

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This week's Columbia city council meeting showed that Columbia is a microcosm of the rest of the world. 

Within the first half hour of Monday’s meeting, citizens had called attention to police funding, public health funding and disparities in policing and health. Then council members went on to pass an ordinance requiring the use of masks in public spaces in the city.

A lot of this is happening everywhere. 

In this episode, we explore all of the above - what gets funded in our city and disparities in policing and education in our culture.

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After weeks of re-opening our main streets and venturing out of our isolation, coronavirus cases are rising and things aren’t going the way we’d like. And now, the data show a changing picture of COVID-19 in Missouri.

It’s not the hot spots of Kansas City and St. Louis that have the largest infection rate - it’s Jasper County and McDonald County in the far southwest corner of the state that get a red- level-4 for highest risk. And other rural counties are also showing a fast upward trend in cases. 

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History is not written in stone. The way we view our history and its stories evolves alongside the evolution of our culture and values. Our legacies are shaped by our historians, teachers and students with each new generation.

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It’s been about 11 weeks since Boone County issued its initial stay at home orders and many businesses, schools, individuals and families went into isolation and lockdown mode.

Now, businesses are re-opening, clinics and hospitals are resuming routine health care, and in the midst of a social-justice movement and demonstrations, people are taking to the streets. 

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If you know just a little bit about journalism, you’ve heard the word “objective” thrown around. 

Journalists should show up, witness, observe and then go back and report the truth. But while the facts are king in our world, the mandate for being fair and objective makes us very cautious. Do our goals of objectivity - a thing which might not even exist - prevent us from telling it like it is? 

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As hundreds of citizens show up in town squares and streets to call for justice in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, many people are asking: How can this happen? How can police violence and the deaths of black citizens at the hands of police happen over and over again in our American democracy?

And before this, we were already in a pandemic that was disproportionately impacting black and Latinx communities, many of whom work as essential workers.

For answers, many are looking at how our systems work in the U.S. and calling for systemic change, from our policing and justice systems to health care and education.

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The world is coming off of a weekend of protests, rallies and gatherings calling for justice after the killing of George Floyd. They're also calling for attention to police violence against unarmed black citizens and continuing to call for action. 

Indeed, more than a thousand people gathered in Columbia Sunday at the Boone County Courthouse for a Black Lives Matter rally and march that included speeches, singing and music.

Zia Kelly / KBIA

Hundreds gathered in Downtown Columbia this weekend for several demonstrations protesting police violence after the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police. 


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In this episode, we're checking in with people who have been and currently are on the frontlines of the civil rights movements of today and years ago.

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We are in the midst of turbulent, and for many, dangerous times. And having the current crises played and re-played in the media and in real life for us day after day can take a toll -- especially for our black families and kids.

So how do we talk about the grief and loss that is part of life at center stage? What can we do for our kids who are feeling loss and even trauma from these events in their own lives as well as prominently in the media?

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It’s impossible to talk about the events unfolding today with this double crisis we’re in - the virus and the widespread public outcry against racism within American law enforcement - without wondering how we got here and whether history can help us understand it.

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This weekend was supposed to be graduation at MU. Typically, the month of May throughout Mid-Missouri is full of families celebrating -- students in caps and gowns and photo shoots at the columns. The coronavirus pandemic has halted all of that. These days, many students are packed up and living off campus awaiting plans for the fall, all while MU’s administration is tasked with deciding what’s next during this uncertain time. 

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Food producers, especially small-scale food producers, have been hit hard by the virus crisis. As farmers markets and other regular access points to consumers have been limited, local producers have had to find alternate avenues for connecting with consumers.

In this episode, we highlight one innovative project that’s been created to address a big problem that this pandemic has created: disrupted supply lines and distribution of food. 

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Last month, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson signed into law a $6.2 billion supplemental funding package to address the economic crisis brought on by the coronavirus. Now, the state will begin doling out some of those funds to local governments so they can be used to prop up healthcare, education, social programs and more during this challenging time.

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You may have seen the call-outs on social media or the messages from local charities in your email inbox. Today, May 5th, has been designated as a worldwide day of philanthropy and generosity - it’s Giving Tuesday. And this year, a lot of people are in need of our generosity. 

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Being in the midst of a global pandemic has a way of changing things. Our cultural landmarks and touchstones disappear, our way of life and things we hold sacred are disrupted, and sometimes fear can take over. 

We aim to maintain productivity, celebration and connections during a crisis - but sometimes as a culture our responses are not so helpful. What happens when your experience during a pandemic is not one of connectedness and cohesion but one of disruption and disintegration?

In this episode, we talk about cultural response to pandemics, historically and now, and how that response can sometimes involve discrimination, stigma, isolation and what we can do as a community to avoid those responses in favor of something more postive.

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As a community, we've watched businesses close, streets and campuses empty, and more people wear masks and gloves when they leave the house. We’ve watched our world physically change around us.

But for people who are incarcerated, this crisis has looked different. People who are detained in Missouri and elsewhere are largely at the mercy of the environment and whatever it is that’s happening inside prisons. 

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A Missouri entrepreneurial program is celebrating the graduation of its second class of participants. The 10 ASPIRE MO graduates are inmates at the Women's Eastern Reception, Diagnosis and Correctional Center in Vandalia. 

The 20-week program is facilitated by the Missouri Women's Business Center and the Missouri Department of Economic Development. Each woman entered the program with a business idea, and with the help of program staff and guest speakers, developed a business plan. 

Zia Kelly / KBIA

Right now when former offenders are released from prison into Boone County, they’re sent to a parole officer stationed in a strip mall on Providence Road. But early next year, their first stop will look more like a community center than a government office. 


For many people who are getting out of prison, reintegrating into society is overwhelming. It can be hard for many formerly-incarcerated people to get connected with the services they need. The Recovery Support and Reentry Opportunity Center, called ‘the Roc’ for short, will respond to those needs in Boone County. The center hosted a grand opening event today.

It is homecoming season, and that means the University of Missouri is honoring alumni with spots in what it calls the Homecoming Hall of Fame. This year, an honoree is someone close to our hearts here in public radio – and at the Missouri School of Journalism. Jim Lehrer graduated with the MU J-school’s class of 1956 and went on to become one of the most notable news personalities of his generation. Current J-school student and KBIA reporter Zia Kelly got a chance to catch up with him over the phone, and learned some things haven’t changed.

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