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Weekend Edition looks back on the stories of 2021


We're running out of days on the calendar, which means, well, it's time to get a new calendar. But also, it's a good time to look back or listen. So we'll recall now some of the many and varied stories from this program this year.

MELISSA GRAY, BYLINE: I'm Melissa Gray, a senior producer here at WEEKEND EDITION. In our series called "Outbreak Voices," Americans talk about their pandemic lives, like getting that first COVID shot or trying to hire new workers. Nancy Marino told us about processing grief. She had planned a cross-country road trip with a friend before he died. She took the trip anyway with his ashes beside her and listened to the playlist they'd made.


NANCY MARINO: Sometimes, I would speak to him as I was driving and sharing different thoughts. And, you know, I would talk about maybe the traffic or where we were going or things like that. And, you know, it kind of made me feel, like, a connection to him there as I was driving. Riding with him through the whole trip, it felt like closure. I revisited a lot of the places that we had seen together. And then I saw a lot of the places that we had wanted to see together.


NED WHARTON, BYLINE: I'm Ned Wharton, a senior producer for WEEKEND EDITION. I worked on a series this year with editor Jan Johnson about something we'll need now more than ever, resilience. And in one piece, we heard bandleader Michael Mwenso talk about the healing power of Black music.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) Go tell it on the mountain.

MICHAEL MWENSO: You use the music. You use the ancestral music. You use the jazz. Use the blues. Use the Ray Charles. Use the Mahalia Jackson. Use the Bessie Smith to heal you, to guide you. You listen to the Black music not only as music but also as spiritual coded messages to guide you, to get you out of depression, to also be your therapist.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) Hallelujah, Lord.

WHARTON: Mwenso designed a university curriculum called Protest, Hope and Resilience Through Black Arts, a reflection of lost during the pandemic overlaid with the reckoning that followed the murder of George Floyd.

MWENSO: It changed the world for all of us. It change the world for all of us as people, as artists. It pushed us. It moved us. It gave us concentration. Why was it? Because we were inside. We were shaped by the pandemic. We could only look at this man being murdered in front of us. But out of that came this other newness that we're in, this hope.

HIBA AHMED, BYLINE: We also found hope this year at Dunbar High School here in Washington. Hi. I'm Hiba Ahmed, an assistant producer at WEEKEND EDITION. Dunbar is where Lulu Garcia-Navarro and I visited a mass vaccination event for public school teachers and school workers.


BRIDGET CRONIN: We see 24 patients every five minutes.


CRONIN: And so to keep up with that kind of pace, they have a whole production line going in the back room.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Truly does feel like a wartime effort.

CRONIN: Indeed.

AHMED: That was in February. And even though it now feels like a distant memory, it was pretty remarkable to see thousands of people - doctors, teachers, volunteers - come together for one common goal, to end the pandemic.


HAFSA FATHIMA, BYLINE: I'm Hafsa Fathima, a production assistant here. Pareen Mhatre is one of nearly 200,000 people who grew up in the U.S. on dependent visas, which run out when they turn 21. The options to stay longer are extremely limited. Pareen told us in August what it felt like to stare down leaving the only country she's ever known.


PAREEN MHATRE: I actually have been diagnosed with clinical depression, generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder. And one of the root causes of my issues is my uncertainty in this country. It has been really hard to live in a country that you consider your home but also, at the same time, have less rights than your peers. For my parents - and also myself, but for my parents, it's really upsetting because they came to this country to provide a better future for me, thinking that when their daughter is old enough to get these opportunities, she will be able to get them and take advantage of them.


ANDREW CRAIG, BYLINE: I'm production assistant Andrew Craig. 2021 has been a quarry of hardship, filled with anxiety, illness, isolation and loss - and not just because of COVID. This year, we heard from Emma Cabiles, a grieving daughter and first-time mother in Hawaii.


EMMA CABILES: I appreciate my mom so much. I'm sorry. She passed away. So I appreciate my mom just because of how much she did for us. And now that I'm a mother, I just see how much effort and time that takes and how much she did it without even looking like she was tired (laughter).

CRAIG: And we reported a story on Abdullahi Tumburkai in northern Nigeria. His relatives were kidnapped.


ABDULLAHI TUMBURKAI: When they kidnap your relatives, you must pay. If you didn't pay, they will kill them. I give them all my belongings. There is no money. It is so hard for us now.

CRAIG: These people carry heavy stones of pain, but what I like is that they used them to build. Emma Cabiles uses her mother's love as an example for raising her daughter. And Abdullahi Tumburkai, having secured the release of his wife and brothers, is now a hostage negotiator who helps other victims of kidnapping.


PETER BRESLOW, BYLINE: This is Peter Breslow. I spent almost 30 years as a producer on this program before I retired in June. In the early days of COVID, Lulu Garcia-Navarro and I reported from Children's Hospital here in D.C. about multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children. MISC is a rare and mysterious condition in which the internal organs of COVID-19's youngest victims become inflamed. One patient was Kyree McBride. MISC had affected his heart. But this year, we were happy to find him much healthier and back to riding his bike.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: And it feels the same? It feels cool? You don't get out of breath or anything like that?




HAIRSTON: You don't tell me that.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tammie Hairston is his mom. She says he's been doing pretty well, but she's worried.

HAIRSTON: I'm always - have my antennas up just hoping that he doesn't turn back around and go through that again.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I call those momtennas (ph), right?

HAIRSTON: Yes. Or sometimes, when he come in the house he'll say, mama, my heart is beating fast. And then I'll instantly feel his heart because I know how fast his heart was beating when he was sick. It was a real heavy thump in his heart. So as long as I don't feel that, I'm OK. I know what to look for because of what he experienced at first.


SAMANTHA BALABAN, BYLINE: I'm Samantha Balaban, books producer at WEEKEND EDITION. I work on Picture This, a series of conversations between children's book authors and illustrators. Children's books and the characters that inhabit them are the best. This year, we got to ride the train with the open-hearted Milo, who learns not to pass judgment on his fellow passengers. We sat on a bench with Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, and thought about how to show love to those around us. We visited the zoo with Amos McGee, who's unfailingly kind to his friends, and hung out with the residents of Dream Street, who believe the future is bright and anything is possible. This idea from the illustrator of "Dream Street," Ekua Holmes, has stuck with me. Maybe it stuck with you, too.


EKUA HOLMES: I think there's a part of us that gets frozen in childhood because that's the time in our lives when we are the most free, the most imaginative, the most curious and the most willing to take risk. That is the part that I'm trying to give voice to in my work. We were talking about the church ladies. I was always fascinated with them in their beautiful hats and flowers and how regal they were in their grey hair. Or a little girl who loves butterflies and how she might be looking out the window and watching that. Those are the moments that we may walk by every day and not realize how precious they are until an artist, a photographer, a songwriter holds it up to us in the light, and we say, oh, wow, what a gift. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR Staff