NPR Staff

Across the Hudson River in Newark, N.J., the murder rate is down, but the new mayor there says that's just a small step in a very long effort to make Newark a safer place to live.

The state of race relations in the United States has captivated the country for months. But a group of Northeastern University law students is looking to the past to a sometimes forgotten, violent part of American history.

As the new year begins, the Ebola virus continues its deadly spread in West Africa. More than 20,000 are infected and nearly 8,000 have died throughout the region. The number of victims keeps climbing in Guinea and Sierra Leone, and dozens of new Ebola cases in Liberia this week mark a setback after recent improvements.

NPR's David Greene enjoyed a little time in the kitchen just before the holidays with Brooks Headley, a punk-rock musician and award-winning pastry chef at New York's Del Posto. Other chefs may revel in fancy technique, but Headley prefers keeping things simple. He says he never wanted to be so obsessed with presentation that the conversation at the dinner table stopped when dessert arrived.

More than 360 African health workers died of Ebola this year. Some of them made headlines around the world, such as Dr. Umar Sheik Khan, the Sierra Leonean physician who treated more than 100 Ebola patients before contracting the disease himself.

But most of the fallen health workers didn't get that degree of attention. They were doctors, nurses, midwives, lab technicians. They didn't have the proper protective equipment. As they tried to save the lives of others, they sacrificed their own.

In an interview this week with NPR, President Obama asserted that the country is less racially divided than when he took office:

As a boy, Daniel Majook Gai fled the civil war in Sudan, running miles by himself to safety and leaving his family behind. He was one of the so-called Lost Boys — a name given to children separated from their families during that conflict.

After years in refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia, Gai landed in the United States, reunited with his family and got an education. In 2011, he returned home to the newly independent country of South Sudan.

But war came back in 2013 and split the new nation.

Herman Travis, 55, lives in Holly Courts, a low-income housing complex in San Francisco.

Every Tuesday, Travis fills a shopping cart with groceries from a local food bank and makes home deliveries to his elderly and disabled neighbors. He started doing it in 2007 and says when he first started, people were skeptical.

"When I first started doing it. People was cautious. They didn't let me in their house, but after they got to really know me they would just be happy to see me," says Travis.

It's hard to believe, but there has never been a major motion picture that centers on one of this country's most iconic figures: Martin Luther King Jr. But that's about to change, with Selma, which opens Christmas Day.

The film explores the tumult and the tactics of the civil rights movement, from King's tense relationship with President Lyndon Johnson to the battle for voting rights for black Americans — a battle that reached a climax on Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965, as state police beat peaceful protesters trying to march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala.

Shannon Johnson, a researcher at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, found that when she talked to youngsters about sea snails, she communicated a little more effectively if she skipped the technical description and called them "punk-rock snails."

"Their entire shells are covered in spikes," Johnson explains. "And then the spikes are actually all covered in fuzzy white bacteria."

It's a story almost too strange to be true: Throughout much of the 1960s and '70s, the wistful, wide-eyed children of painter Walter Keane were absolutely everywhere.

Paintings and posters of the big-eyed waifs, often in rags, their hair unkempt, brought fame and fortune to the charming, smooth-talking artist — along with widespread critical disdain.

But years later, it emerged that the art was actually the work of Walter's wife, Margaret Keane. She painted in secret, behind closed doors, and he publicly claimed the work as his own.

We are well into the Christmas season, and if you live in Japan, that means sponge cake.

The traditional Japanese Christmas dish is served with strawberries and cream, and it is rich, thanks to lots and lots of butter. But the Japanese have been using even more butter for their Christmas cakes this year, exacerbating what was already a national butter shortage.

Earlier this month, after the events in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island, N.Y, the White House announced the creation of what it's calling a Task Force on 21st Century Policing.

The group's job is to find ways to strengthen the relationship between police and the public, and to share recommendations with the president by late February.

Dr. Kent Brantly considers himself a lucky man.

He was diagnosed with Ebola five months ago while working with Christian aid group Samaritan's Purse at a hospital in Liberia's capital, Monrovia. He became so sick that he thought he was going to "quit" breathing.

Journalist Paul Salopek is on a seven-year trek around the world, retracing early humans' first great migration, out of Africa.

We first spoke to him two years ago, when he was in Ethiopia, at the very beginning of his odyssey. Since then, we've reached him in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Cyprus. Eventually, he plans to walk 21,000 miles in total — and make it all the way to Tierra del Fuego in South America.

On this last leg of his trip, he has faced all manner of obstacles — both natural and man-made.

Every year since 1896, Los Angeles County has held a somber ceremony for the men, women and children who die there, but whose bodies are never claimed.

Some of those buried are unidentified; they are buried as Jane and John Does.

Many others have been identified, but for a variety of reasons, family and friends never picked up their cremated remains.

This year, in an interfaith ceremony on Dec. 9, the county buried the ashes of 1,489 people in a mass grave in the County Cemetery in LA's Boyle Heights.

Many plants we eat today are a result of genetic modifications that would never occur in nature. Scientists have long been altering the genes of food crops, to boost food production and to make crops more pest-, drought- and cold-resistant.

"Product of Mexico" — it's a label you see on fruit and vegetable stickers in supermarkets across the U.S.

It's also the name of an investigative series appearing this week in the Los Angeles Times.

As a civil rights attorney, Constance Rice became known in the 1990s for, as she puts it, going to war with the Los Angeles Police Department.

Rice filed lawsuits against the department, mainly over their treatment of minorities in underprivileged communities.

Following the recent decisions not to indict white cops in the deaths of two black men — President Obama has said one of his top priorities is building trust between minority communities and local police.

Ruth Coker Burks was a young mother in her 20s when the AIDS epidemic hit her home state of Arkansas in the early 1980s. She took it upon herself to care for AIDS patients who were abandoned by their families, and even by medical professionals, who feared the disease.

Coker Burks, now 55, has no medical training, but she estimates that she has cared for nearly 1,000 people over the past three decades, including her friend Paul Wineland's partner.

The year was 1975. Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese as American troops and civilians were forced to evacuate the country. Ronald Reagan entered the presidential race against Gerald Ford. A show called Saturday Night Live debuted on NBC.

And Ricky Jackson, Wiley Bridgeman and Bridgeman's younger brother, Ronnie, were charged with the murder of an Ohio salesman. Jackson was 18, Ronnie Bridgeman was 17 and Wiley Bridgeman was 20.

A version of this story was originally published on Nov. 21, 2012.

Everyone knows the schoolhouse version of the first Thanksgiving story: New England pilgrims came together with Native Americans to share a meal after the harvest. The original menu was something of a joint venture, but over the years, a lot of the traditional dishes have lost their native flavor.

It's like the start of a bad joke: a vegan, a gluten-free and a paleo walk into a bar — except it's your house, and they're gathered around your Thanksgiving table.

More and more Americans are passing on gluten — some for medical reasons, most by choice. Others are adopting diets that exclude meat, or insisting on the kinds of unprocessed foods that early man would have hunted and gathered.

All of this is a challenge to the traditional Thanksgiving feast.

Former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry Dies

Nov 23, 2014

Marion Barry, the fiery Washington, D.C., politician who was famously re-elected after going to jail for crack cocaine possession, has died after months of battling health issues. He was 78.

The four-term mayor, who was still serving his third term on the D.C. Council, was famous for fighting for the District's disenfranchised, but won national notoriety after he was caught on FBI video with an ex-girlfriend and crack cocaine in 1990.

He was considered by many to be the district's most charismatic and controversial politician.

The United States has seen many fundraisers headlined by an Obama in recent years, but this week it won't be the president or the first lady — it will be his step-grandmother, Sarah Obama, who is raising funds to build a school and hospital in her hometown, Kogelo, Kenya.

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