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Lester Graham

Reporter/Host of Stateside

Lester Graham splits his time between hosting Stateside (Fridays) and reporting for the Detroit Journalism Cooperative (DJC). He was formerly the Senior Editor of The Environment Report, the environmental news service based at Michigan Radio, starting with the service in 1998.

He has been a journalist since 1985. Graham has served as a board member of the Public Radio News Directors Inc., and also served as President of the Illinois News Broadcasters Association. He is a member of the Radio-Television Digital News Association (RTDNA), Society of Professional Journalists and other professional groups.

Lester has received more than 100 awards at the state, regional, national and international levels for journalistic excellence, including four RTDNA Edward R. Murrow awards, two of them at the network level.

Twitter: @MichiganWatch

Facebook link

email:  llgraham@umich.edu

Ways to Connect

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

When we talked with Babacar Lo of the Wicker Shop, the weather was still warm and Lo was in his backyard in Detroit, working. Under a tent and surrounded by potted plants, he was repairing rattan and wicker furniture, a skill he first encountered in his home country of Senegal.

“I did a little bit of weaving, making rattan and bamboo furniture in Africa just in my spare time,” Lo said.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The Cheers! team, Tammy Coxen of Tammy’s Tastings and Lester Graham, found a distiller serving up a cocktail with a spirit made with all Michigan ingredients.

MorningSide: A Detroit Neighborhood

Nov 10, 2017
MorningSide
Mercedes Meija / Michigan Radio

Downtown Detroit is in the midst of a resurgence. However, business districts in the neighborhoods are not seeing the same successes. The decline in population and the decline in wealth in many neighborhoods is keeping much of the city in a prolonged economic downturn.

Detroit has the highest auto insurance costs in the nation. Depending on the survey, it costs somewhere between seven thousand and ten thousand dollars a year.

Jodi Westrick / Michigan Radio

We travel the state to talk to people who make beautiful and useful things. We call the series “Artisans of Michigan.”

We’re visiting with Ed Fedewa. He plays the bass in the Lansing Symphony Orchestra. He also plays in jazz ensembles and repairs bass instruments for players from all over. But that’s not why we’re at his house, we wanted to talk to him about the double bass he built.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Detroit residents will soon vote for mayor, city council, and other offices. What do they want for the future of the city? The MorningSide neighborhood reflects the rest of the city well. So, how well do the priorities of the residents align with the candidates vying to represent them on city council?

Actually, they align surprisingly well. We talked with a dozen residents of MorningSide. One of their top concerns was abandoned houses.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

It’s fall. Tammy Coxen of Tammy’s Tastings has been thinking about apples – heirloom apples.

“We have tons of different kinds of apples in the store, right? But, there were hundreds and hundreds more than that that have been grown over the years," Coxen said. 

That's partly because today, apples are shipped far and wide, and not all heirlooms hold up.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Ann Arbor Distilling is releasing its second round of whiskeys, a bourbon and a rye under a new brand, Fox River. The small batches (700 bottles of rye, 1200 bottles of bourbon) are both high proof whiskeys. The rye is 105 proof. The bourbon comes in at 102.5 proof.

“We found that a little bit higher than that was too hot and a little bit lower was sort of flabby and the flavors didn’t come through quite as well,” explained Product Developer and Brand Ambassador Phil Attee.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Detroit might not be ready for the wave of baby boomers who are aging. The oldest baby boomers are now 71. The youngest are 53. Right now in Detroit, many seniors rely on informal networks of neighbors, family, or friends.

In Detroit, 41 percent of people over 60 live alone according to a report by Data Driven Detroit based on 2010 Census data.

That’s the case with Ida Brown, 87, who lives in a house in the MorningSide neighborhood of Detroit.

Although she has lived there three years, she really hasn’t gotten to know her neighbors.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Distillers in Beer City, USA are turning beer into whiskey.

Long Road Distillers in Grand Rapids has been working with (so far) four local breweries to produce some distinctive whiskeys. Look for more in the series in 2018.

The Cheers! team of Tammy Coxen of Tammy's Tastings and Lester Graham of Stateside had to check that out.

two tiger shaped robot lamps
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Cre Fuller was already at work in the garage behind his Ypsilanti house when I arrived. I had seen photos of his work online, but I was not quite ready for the display set up in the garage. It’s great eye candy. 

"I make robot-inspired sculptures. You know, I try to make them look like vintage robots from the future," Fuller said, glancing around at probably 40 of his creations in the workspace. He says he usually has a few more than that on hand.

Nic Morgan holding drink
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

It’s hard to find. The address is 80 Ottawa Avenue NW in Grand Rapids.

But unless someone has told you about it, you probably would never realize that once you take those concrete steps down from the sidewalk, enter a door into an entryway, turn your back to the pizza place, and enter yet another door, you’ve arrived.

This is SideBar. It’s a tiny 18 seat bar where people who love craft cocktails gather.

picture of kelly church holding cradle board
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Soon, the entire park-like area we’re in will echo with the sound of pounding, metal against wood. It’s nearly a ringing or gong-like sound.

But first, Jeff Strand strips the bark from a black ash tree log. Then he takes out a knife and scores the end of it, a sort of pie wedge cut.

“So that the undergrowth rings have relief, so they’ll come up out of it as I’m crushing the growth rings. The ax is for crushing the fibers in between the growth rings and when you do that, they release,” Strand explains.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

We've been thinking about the kind of people you might like to meet. We talk with a lot of authors, musicians, politicians and policy wonks. But, what about artisans? They're the people who use their hands and hearts to build things that we use.

The next stop in our “Artisans of Michigan” series is Zimnicki Guitars in Allen Park, Michigan.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Bourbon Fruit Smash

1-2 slices ginger (optional)
Fruit (8-10 blueberries, 2-3 strawberries, 4 peach slices, etc)
3-5 leaves mint or other fresh herb
2 oz Bourbon
1/2 oz lemon juice, or to taste
1/2 oz simple syrup, or to taste

Muddle ginger well (if using), then add fruit and herbs and muddle again. Combine remaining ingredients in shaker with ice. Shake, strain into ice filled old-fashioned glass.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Hope Carried is the small company Brea Albulov created. It all started when she wanted a ring-sling baby carrier, but couldn't afford one. She decided she could sew one. She used a sewing machine her grandmother gave her.

She loved her baby carrier.

“It created this really comfortable, customizable, easy-to-adjust type of baby carrier,” Albulov said.

She said she also loved that the ring-sling carrier allowed her to discretely nurse wherever she happened to be.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

For more than a year-and-a-half, Tammy Coxen with Tammy's Tastings and Lester Graham have been bringing you the Cheers! segment on Stateside.

Every other week Cheers! tells you about a craft cocktail or about Michigan-made spirits and products. Sometimes we visit a craft cocktail bar or a distillery. The team was recently in Grand Rapids, also known as "Beer City."

And so of course Cheers! had to visit the series’ first brewery for a report. Take a listen!

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Stateside's most recent stop in its "Artisans of Michigan" series brought us not too far from Kalamazoo, where we visited Paul Rutgers of Rutgers Wooden Spoon and Utensil Company.

Rutgers did not start out with a passion for carving spoons and ladles. He worked in construction, laying tile. Then the Great Recession hit and work dried up. Money was tight and he thought instead of buying gifts for family, he’d make some wooden spoons for them. They were a hit. His friends liked them and wanted Rutgers to them some spoons, too. 

LBJ Presidential Library

News media around the world are talking about Detroit’s resurgence.

Politicians in the city and the state, such as Gov. Rick Snyder, hype its revitalization.

“New investments have helped fuel a rapid dramatic transformation of Detroit and today it’s America’s comeback city,” he said in a video.

But that’s only part of the story of Detroit.

In the city’s neighborhoods, many people are still struggling.

However, there was a plan released in the 1960s to help end racial discrimination in Detroit and the nation.

Courtesy: Friends of the Alger Theater

Across Detroit, neighborhoods are trying to figure out what they can do to remake their community. One neighborhood is pinning hopes on something it still has that most of Detroit’s other neighborhoods lost years ago.

There used to be dozens of movie theaters scattered across Detroit’s neighborhoods. Nearly all of them have been closed and demolished. There are a handful left. One of them is the Alger Theater  in the MorningSide neighborhood on Detroit’s east side.

Paul Phillips is a board member of the MorningSide Community Organization. He says the Alger was once central to the area, a gathering place that helped keep the business district along East Warren Avenue buzzing.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The Cheers! team visited the Grove restaurant in Grand Rapids to learn about an old cocktail the restaurant is taking one step farther..

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Kate Lewis is adding to a big plastic bag of clay balls before she begins work at her pottery wheel.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

One of the big issues in Detroit is blight. People walking away from their properties or foreclosures are the base of the problem. After that, it’s people stealing things out of the empty house.

Some neighborhoods have been devastated by abandoned homes and the scrappers who strip them. The MorningSide neighborhood on Detroit’s east side hasn’t hit the level of devastation, but it’s been hit pretty hard.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Detroit still has a reputation for being a high-crime city. However, like the rest of the nation, Detroit’s violent crime rate has been steadily declining since the late 1980s.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Detroit’s reputation as a high crime city has not gone away, but its crime rate is down substantially. It’s been falling since the 1980s. But there are areas of the city that are not as safe as others.

Detroit Neighborhood Police Officer (NPO) DeAndre Gaines at the Department’s Fifth Precinct picked me up for a ride-along in his patrol car. We headed to the MorningSide neighborhood on the city’s east side.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

This week, Cheers! is out of the studio and on the road. We visited Reserve Wine & Food to learn about a new addition to its cocktail menu.

Rob Hanks named it the “Lovers’ Quarrel” because he and fellow bartender Megan Knapp had a spat about whether to add a vodka cocktail. Some bartenders are not fond of vodka because it brings no flavor to the drink, just alcohol.

“(I) fought her tooth and nail,” Hanks said, adding, “Then I got bored one night, started using some stuff left over in the kitchen and here we are.”

Dennis Potter holding up a fish, standing in the Au Sable River
Courtesy: Dennis Potter

  

Dennis Potter is still doing what he discovered he loved in 1977. He ties flies for fly fishing. He says he still remembers tying his first one.

“To take that fly that I tied – I can show you within six inches on a log where I caught my first trout on the Au Sable River almost 40 years ago,” Potter said.

Dennis Potter was hooked.

He took a fly-tying class, but he says his real education came from being fortunate enough to know a lot of good fly tyers.

He studied their patterns and techniques. He also studied the insects fish prey upon.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Four years ago Imbibe Magazine and the makers of the liqueur, Campari, started Negroni Week. This year it runs from June 5-11. Many cocktail bars will offer a Negroni (Campari, gin, vermouth; recipe here) and give part of the proceeds to a charity.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Update: 5/24/2017 The business, Hammer Time True Value Hardware, closed shortly after the interview with owner Bill Kamman. That leaves another substantial gap in the business district on E. Warren Avenue in the MorningSide neighborhood.

There are small business districts throughout Detroit that are barely hanging on. They were once thriving. But population loss and the loss of wealth in the neighborhoods have created hard times for neighborhood businesses. The question is: what to do with them now?

charles mcgee
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Painter Charles McGee is a Detroit icon whose art can be seen everywhere from the Detroit Institute of Art to the People Mover's Broadway station. 

His latest work is a mural called “Unity” that is being painted on a new redevelopment by Bedrock, one of Dan Gilbert’s companies.

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