State of Opportunity

Wednesday during Morning Edition and All Things Considered

State of Opportunity is a special project produced by Michigan Radio with major financial support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

The project features documentary reports, first-person storytelling, youth journalists, an online portal, and Michigan Radio’s Public Insight Network.

The goal is to expose the barriers children of low income families in Michigan face in achieving success.

Mstyslav Chernov / Wikimedia Commons

There’s been lots of talk lately about refugees, mostly about whether to let them into the U.S. and how they’re being vetted. But there is a human side to this story about what it actually feels like to be a refugee. So today on State of Opportunity, we're going to spend some time with a refugee who's called Michigan his home for the past four years.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

After last week's attacks in Paris, President Barack Obama condemned the terrorists and pledged support to France, saying: "We stand prepared and ready to provide whatever assistance the people of France need to respond." You can listen to his full remarks here:

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

How do you navigate life on the outside after you’ve been locked up in prison for years? That’s a question more than 6,000 federal inmates recently faced when they were released early from prison due to changes in how the government sentences drug criminals.

So what does it take to successfully re-enter society?

We put that question to Tim Hurley, an ex-con who did two stints in prison. He says having a mentor once he got out helped him transition big time. 


Kent County Sherriff Deputy Patrick Stewart was on his lunch break last week. Lunch, in his case, was at 12:30 in the morning. He stopped at a fire house in the town of Cutlerville, on the outskirts of Grand Rapids.

"And I heard a very loud knocking, pounding on the door," he says. "When I got to the door, there was a frantic man there saying that he had somebody – his buddy – in the back of his vehicle, and had ODed on heroin, and was no longer breathing."

Stewart called for an ambulance, and started chest compressions on the man. When the ambulance arrived, the paramedic who came to help is actually Stewart’s wife, Amanda. She gave the man a drug called Naloxone. It works as basically an antidote to a heroin overdose, reviving someone who’s on the verge of slipping away. Together, the newly married husband and wife saved the man’s life.

That part of the story is remarkable.

Everything else about it has become far too common, says Kent County Undersheriff Michelle Young. / Flickr


In some circles, "network" is a dirty word, something we don't like to talk about lest we admit out loud that maybe, just maybe, we didn't get where we are in the world today by grit and determination and hard work alone. But I'm guessing that many of us got where we are today through a combination of hard work and a few helpful connections along the way.

flickr user biologycorner

We’ve talked a lot on State of Opportunity about racial achievement gaps - how the average test score for black, Hispanic or Native American kids isn’t as high as the average test score for a white or Asian student.

Now we want to talk about what the real world implications of those gaps might be. We tried to tackle the question by asking: What would the world look like if racial achievement gaps suddenly disappeared?

"There are two possible answers to that question," says Derek Neal, an economist at the University of Chicago. His research is focused on black-white inequality, and he’s studied how test scores play into that.

Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

"I need to find a decomposer."

Bryce Gidley is learning about ecological communities. It just so happens he’s surrounded, immersed really, in long hallway full of ecological communities on display. He’s on the third floor of the Grand Rapids Public Museum, standing in front of a wetlands display, about 50 steps away from his new classroom.

Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

Imagine for a moment you’re a high school student. You’ve spent the last several months doing everything you can to raise money for the biggest trip of your life. You’re going to France.

But also: You’ve never been on a long-distance flight.

Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

We first told you about Ireana Bernal in our documentary, College Material. Today's story is an update

This is a story of a dream on the verge of coming true and of what comes after.

It’s a story of a young woman in Holland, about to start her first semester of college.

I first met Ireana Bernal about a year ago. She was just starting her senior year in high school. Her high school years started out rough, but she’d been trying to turn it around. She still wasn’t sure how it would turn out. But the people around her all believed in her. People like her counselor, Mitch Veldkamp.

"She has this self will," Veldvamp told me. "Something in her that’s a little fire that started," he said.

That little fire grew all last year, as Bernal applied for college. 

It’s been months since I’d talked to Bernal. We met at a coffee shop in downtown Holland, right across the street from Hope College.

This is where she will be starting school next week.

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services

There is an epidemic of drug use in Michigan, and in the rest of the country, involving a class of drugs called opiates – think Vicodin, Oxycontin or heroin.

In Michigan, at least 3,000 people have died  from these drugs since 2005. But even that number doesn’t tell the whole story. The actual number of deaths is likely much higher.

How much higher? We don't actually know.