Remembering NPR producer and Chicagoan, Teshima Walker Izrael

I am deeply saddened to learn about the loss of Teshima Walker Izrael, executive producer of NPR’s Tell Me More, former senior producer at Chicago Public Radio, native Chicagoan, and a person who opened doors for me on public radio over a decade ago.  Teshima fought a two-year battle with cancer.  She was 44.

What I remember most about Teshima is her voice, a full voice that seemed as if the atmosphere  hummed when it carried her words.

After I knocked on a door at Chicago Public Radio in 2002, trying to get an essay on air, Teshima recorded that first piece.  I remember hearing her through the headphones: “Slow down when you get to . . . Lean away from the mic at the beginning of . . .”  We recorded many times, me getting stuck at sentences then repeating paragraphs over and over.  I remember Teshima’s patience and expertise.  Before I left the studio, she said, “Send me a copy of that essay.”

Soon, a producer from NPR’s All Things Considered contacted me.  A couple of weeks later, my voice was on National Public Radio.  Thank you, Teshima.

Before she left Chicago for an NPR studio, Teshima recorded my interview with famous writer Sandra Cisneros.  Later, she helped produce my first radio story, a story about Three Kings Day in Chicago, where I used BEZ’s recording equipment.  I took in my script, the music CDs I wanted to use, the interviews.  She worked through all of that.  I played the merengue I wanted to use and Teshima, in her chair, moved her hips to the beats.  I told her, “Teshima, I want this song to cut in here.  It’s gotta start big!  Ya know?  Bam!”

She nodded and, with her voice that calmed the chaos of production, she agreed: “We gotta hit that hot.”  She understood what I wanted to do with writing.  I could not believe, sometimes, I was getting this much air time.  Thanks to Teshima.

When she produced NPR’s  the Tavis Smiley Show, Teshima regularly invited me to write commentaries for the program.  When other NPR shows rejected my pitches because they were unsuitable, Teshima accepted my voice.

Two years ago, she invited me to record a Father’s Day essay for NPR’s Tell Me More.  I recorded it in Chicago—in the top floors of the Hancock building—while D.C. staff spoke to me through a headset.  I recalled the guidance Teshima gave me, and I only had to read it twice.  But I missed hearing Teshima’s voice.

I remember seeing a photo on Facebook months ago where Teshima wrote, “My last chemo treatment.  I say Amen.”  I kept her in my prayers, even without knowing any details.

But what I remember most is something I heard Teshima say when pressured by a tight deadline: “The universe always provides.”  Her strength, her intellect, her compassion, her voice behind the scenes of public radio will be missed.

I heard the sad news as I was driving home down Cicero Avenue on the Southwest side of Chicago.  I looked to the west and saw groups of clouds hanging in a light blue sky.  I looked to the east, to the part of Chicago Teshima is from, the Southside of our city.  While I could barely see a few clouds far away, probably over the lake, the sky above Teshima’s part of the city cleared itself of everything.

Of course, Teshima, the heavens opened to welcome your spirit.  And, there, at peace, my friend, your voice will continue contributing to the goodness in the universe because, after all, “the universe always provides.”

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