Leah Donnella

Leah Donnella is a news assistant on NPR's Code Switch team, where she primarily blogs and assists with the Code Switch podcast production.

Donnella originally came to NPR in September 2015 as an intern for Code Switch. Prior to that, she was a summer intern at WHYY's Public Media Commons, where she helped teach high school students the ins and outs of journalism and film-making. She spent a lot of time out in the hot Philly sun tracking down unsuspecting tourists for man-on-the-street interviews. Donnella also worked at the University of Pennsylvania for two years as the House Coordinator at Gregory College House, which is the University of Pennsylvania's language and cinema-themed dorm.

Donnella graduated from Pomona College with a Bachelor of Arts in Africana Studies.

Ask some actors about their dream role, and they're likely to offer range of answers: a character from Shakespeare, a superhero, the lead in Phantom of the Opera. As for Daniel Dae Kim, a Korean-American actor who has had roles in Lost, Crash and most recently Hawaii Five-0, his dream is to play a romantic lead. Any romantic lead.

Lots of people pay traffic fines, but not everyone is affected the same way. According to a new report from the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, traffic fines in California have an outsize effect on low-income drivers and people of color. And those consequences are not just monetary. Unpaid tickets can result in additional fines. Failure to pay those fines can lead to suspension or loss of license, and even jail time for some if they continue to drive without a license.

In some ways, Yara Shahidi is a lot like Zoey Johnson, the character she plays on ABC's comedy Black-ish. Shahidi, like Johnson, is a 17 year old high school student with several younger siblings, so the two have hit some of the same social and familial milestones at the same time.

When Prince first signed with Warner Bros. Records, he didn't want to be categorized as a black musician. This was the late 1970s, before music by black artists was widely marketed to multiracial audiences; before kids in every household in America were glued to their screens watching "Thriller" on MTV.

If you had to rank Harriet Tubman and Kanye West in order of blackness, who would be first? Who's blacker, Malcolm X or Martin Luther King Jr.?

Two decades ago only about 9 percent of children's books published in the U.S. were about people of color. Things have changed since then, but not by much.

On Wednesday, the Cooperative Children's Book Center at the University of Wisconsin, Madison's Education School revealed that in 2016, it counted 427 books written or illustrated by people of color, and 736 books about people of color out of about 3,400 books it analyzed. That adds up to 22 percent of children's books.

On Jan. 25, President Trump signed an executive order instructing construction to begin on a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Environmentalists and civil rights activists say the proposed wall on the southern border with Mexico is a threat to the environmental rights of the people who live on both sides of the border.

Ben's Chili Bowl, a D.C. restaurant famous for its half-smokes, celebrity drop-ins, and ties to the civil rights movement, is preparing for some redecorating. This week, the restaurant painted over the giant mural of Bill Cosby, Donnie Simpson, Chuck Brown and President Barack Obama that has lived on its outside walls since 2012.

Opponents who spent months resisting the Dakota Access Pipeline were disheartened by President Trump's decision Tuesday to "expedite" construction of the controversial project. Dave Archambault, the chairman of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, called the move "reckless and politically motivated." Jamil Dakwar of the American Civil Liberties Union said it was "a slap in the face to Native Americans." Earthjustice, the law firm that represents the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, described it as "legally questionable at best" and vowed to take the Trump administration to court.

Shelly Fields is a 46-year-old white woman living in Richton Park, a racially diverse Chicago suburb. She says she's raised her four daughters, who are biracial, to see people of all races as equal, just as her parents raised her. Fields doesn't think that racism will ever disappear completely, but she's hopeful that it lessens with each passing generation.

"The more biracial children there are, the more equality we see," Fields said. "The more people of color we see in positions of power – it will help to change the way people see race."

As resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline in Standing Rock, N.D., concludes its seventh month, two narratives have emerged:

  1. We have never seen anything like this before.
  2. This has been happening for hundreds of years.

Both are true. The scope of the resistance at Standing Rock exceeds just about every protest in Native American history. But that history itself, of indigenous people fighting to protect not just their land, but the land, is centuries old.

Randall Stephenson, the CEO of AT&T, has been making headlines of late with his proposed $85 billion merger with Time Warner. But just before those plans were announced last month, Stephenson raised eyebrows for another reason. In a room full of AT&T employee support groups, Stephenson gave an impassioned speech on race relations.

Last time I worshipped in a synagogue was Sept. 5, 2014. And I won't be going today.

That might surprise my friends, who put up with my bragging ad nauseam about how Jewish I am.

When she was growing up, Dina Gilio-Whitaker was constantly asked, "How much Indian blood do you have?" She could never figure out how to respond, which is not to say she didn't know who she was.

"I knew that I was Native, I knew that I was Colville, I knew my family up there on the reservation," she said recently. "But what I grew up with was a process of not being seen and not being recognized as being Native, because I was completely out of context.

This week, the Code Switch team tackled this question: What do you do when a friend, loved one or stranger makes a comment that falls somewhere on the racism spectrum? On the blog and on the podcast, we and friends of Code Switch shared stories about those uncomfortable moments and how we reacted.

"Tupac wasn't cool."

It felt sacrilegious to even hear my brother say those words the other day, but I knew instantly that it was true.

David and I were little kids when Tupac Shakur died. That was 20 years ago. We were stunned by the drive-by in Las Vegas; the four gunshot wounds; Pac's death on Friday the 13th.

I'd called David because I wanted to remember why we were once so obsessed with the rap superstar.

The Camp of the Sacred Stone is full of all manner of people — kids, elders, lawyers, laid-back hippies, and representatives of several Native American tribes — all gathered alongside the Standing Rock Sioux Nation to resist construction of a controversial oil pipeline that would cut across the American heartland.

Early Sunday evening, news broke that Juan Gabriel, one of the most famous Mexican singers in history, had died at age 66. At dinner, my friend and colleague Adrian Florido spread the word, explaining just how huge a superstar Juan Gabriel is. "This is the biggest loss in Mexican music since Selena," Adrian said. "He was universally beloved. There is no one in Mexico who isn't a fan."

As many have heard by now, Mexican music giant Juan Gabriel passed away on Sunday at age 66. Gabriel was one of Mexico's biggest superstars — a singer and songwriter who sold tens of millions of records and is adored by millions.

Good news: We've got a Code Switch podcast extra for you this week — Karen Grigsby Bates sat down with NPR's movie critic, Bob Mondello, to talk about Southside with You, a new independent film about Michelle and Barack Obama's very first date, back in the summer of 1989.

The film takes place over the course of a single afternoon, and, as the title suggests, is set on the South Side of Chicago.

On this week's episode of the Code Switch podcast, Karen Grigsby Bates sat down with some folks to talk about the upcoming film The Birth of a Nation, and a recently resurfaced, 17-year-old sexual assault case against Nate Parker, the movie's highly lauded newcomer director.

It's the summer of 1998 and I'm at the mall with my mom and my sister Anna, who has just turned 5. I'm 7. Anna and I are cranky from being too hot, then too cold, then too bored. We keep touching things we are not supposed to touch, and by the time Mom drags us to the register, the cashier seems a little on edge.

"They're mixed, aren't they?" she says. "I can tell by the hair."

Mom doesn't smile, and Mom always smiles. "I have absolutely no idea what you're talking about," she says.

Later, in the kitchen, there is a conversation.

This week, in a tale of Olympic scandal and intrigue, Ryan Lochte is in the spotlight for an ugly encounter at a gas station in Rio de Janeiro.

Thursday night in Rio, for the first time in history, a black woman won an individual swimming medal in the Olympics. Simone Manuel, a 20-year-old from Sugar Land, Texas, tied for the gold medal in the women's 100-meter freestyle with an Olympic record time of 52.70 seconds.

On Wednesday morning, the United States Department of Justice announced the result of a yearlong investigation into the Baltimore Police Department, which found that BPD habitually violates the civil rights of its residents. These violations, the Justice Department found, have an outsized effect on the city's black population.

In her speech Monday night at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Michelle Obama said she wakes up "every morning in a house that was built by slaves." She spoke about the feeling of watching her daughters, "two beautiful, intelligent, black young women, playing with their dogs on the White House lawn."

In the two weeks since Philando Castile was shot and killed by a police officer in Minnesota after being pulled over for a broken taillight, we've learned that for Castile, routine traffic stops were far more routine than many people might imagine.

After more than a week of violence and racial tension sparked by the deaths of black men at the hands of police and the shooting deaths of five officers in Dallas, we're getting more perspective from African-American law enforcement officials. We wanted to know how black officers, folks who find themselves right in the middle of heated conversations about race and policing, are processing everything that happened.

We're still waiting for the full picture of what happened in Dallas, Texas — and in Baton Rouge, La., and in Falcon Ridge, Minn., for that matter — to emerge. But what we know so far is this: In Dallas on Thursday night, hundreds of people gathered for what had been a peaceful protest over the deaths of Philando Castile in Minnesota and Alton Sterling in Louisiana, two black men who were killed by police officers earlier in the week.

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