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Ro Kelly

Ro Kelly

Reporter | NPR Next Generation Radio

Rowan “Ro” Kelly grew up in weird and queer in Chicago in the shadows of the 1990s Daly Administration and the Boeing 767s swooping into Midway Airport. At 18, she left her city alleys for the small-town bluffs of Iowa to study sociology and English literature, getting a taste of all things storytelling.

After finishing her degree and a year-long AmeriCorps stint at Iowa Legal Aid, she was back in Chicago to complete her master’s degree at the University of Chicago. It was there that Ro sophisticated her storytelling palette by recording interviews with transgender and gender-nonconforming people whose bodies inevitably rebelled against municipal topless public nudity laws.

With her master’s degree in sociology and queer theory in hand, Ro hit the non-profit and government worlds in search of more stories of people existing outside the safety nets of the legal and criminal justice systems. After some spells as a domestic violence advocate and women’s history archivist, she was drawn to the courts to truly witness the lived experiences of the U.S. justice system. Most recently in the state and federal judiciary systems of Missouri, Massachusetts, and Oregon, Ro has served as a judge’s clerk in St. Louis criminal courts and a program analyst for the federal judiciary.

Partially a sociologist, partially an advocate, partially a legal bureaucrat, and most entirely a storyteller, Ro’s lens uniquely zooms in on humans that live in the shadows of the criminal justice system, with the single hope of inspiring empathy. Hoping to walk the walk in her personal life too, when Ro is not empathetically uplifting stories “from the underground,” she is a “fun aunt” to her two beautiful nieces, serves on the board of directors of the Saint Louis Anti-Violence Project, and directs funerals for elder hippies at her Unitarian Universalist church.