On the radio: Ellis Cose has good news for those who want uplift

Monday, April 6th 2009, 4:00 AM


At a time when everyone from President Obama on down agrees that our national spirits need lifting, Newsweek columnist Ellis Cose is launching an ambitious series of radio specials about people who found hope in the least likely places.

Cose’s “Against the Odds” series starts Monday night from 8 to 9 on WNYC (820 AM) and runs three consecutive nights.

The opening program, “Hope on a Pile of Bones,” marks the 15th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide by interviewing survivors and others who have built schools and put shattered communities back together.

“It’s still a struggle” to get people to pay attention to distant stories like Rwanda, says Cose. “These are heavy subjects. But we look at it in a positive way. We break it down to the human stories of those involved, and I think that’s the way you hold people’s interest.”

Other featured subjects this week include people in India who have surmounted their country’s rigid caste system and American children who have survived the rugged path of foster care.

Cose profiles a former L.A. drug dealer who plans to attend UCLA and become an English professor.

“We want people to focus on access and opportunity,” Cose says.

He doesn’t want to paint too rosy a picture, but “what we wouldn’t want to do is hit people with one depressing story after another. Then they would tune out.

“We looked for a range of people, in a range of situations, who found a way to become successful.”

While Cose has been exploring these kinds of stories for years, he admits he’s “kind of new to long-form radio.” He likes its possibilities, he says, the way it requires the listener to bring some imagination and requires the hosts to paint a vivid picture.

“A series like this isn’t for everyone,” he says. “But I think there will be a lot of interest. These are uplifting stories.”