Midday | WYPR


Courtesy of Morgan State Univ.

Today, it's another episode of Midday on Higher Education, our occasional series of conversations with the presidents of colleges and universities in our region and across Maryland.

Joining Tom for the hour in Studio A is the president of Morgan State University, Dr. David Wilson. He is Morgan’s 10th president and has led the university since 2010.

Morgan is the largest of Maryland’s four Historically Black College or Universities, and a visit to its campus in Northeast Baltimore reveals that it is growing by leaps and bounds. Several new buildings are slated to open in the next few years. And, defying a trend at many other institutions of higher learning, Morgan’s enrollment has increased about 15% over the last decade. In an op-ed earlier this year, Dr. Wilson proposed expanding MSU even further, by merging the University of Baltimore into Morgan State.

We livestreamed this conversation with Dr Wilson on the WYPR Facebook page. To watch that video, click here.

Baltimore City Police Department

Tom's guest today is the Commissioner of the Baltimore City Police Department, Michael Harrison.  He was sworn into office in March, after a successful tenure as commissioner in New Orleans.  That tenure continues to be credited with the sharp decline in murders and robberies in NOLA over the past three years. 

A decline in murders here in Baltimore continues to be aspirational. Just this morning, our city recorded its 300th homicide for the fifth year in a row.  That number includes a few deaths which were ruled homicides this year following assaults that occurred in prior years. But the stubborn and horrifying fact is that more people have been killed so far this year than at this time in 2018, and we could be on track to equal the city's near-record homicide count of 343 in 2017.

Photos by Katie Simmons-Barth

Midday theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck joins us with another of her weekly reviews of the Maryland stage. Today, she spotlights the world premiere production by Rep Stage of E2, playwright Bob Bartlett's contemporary re-telling of Christopher Marlowe's 1593 drama, Edward II. In Marlowe's play, the infamous English monarch's homosexual relationship with his "favourite," Gaveston, scandalizes his queen, sparks bloody discord within his court and eventually brings his reign to a tragic end.  In Bartlett's play, King Edward's drama becomes a modern-day tale of rising anti-LGBTQ sentiment around the world; Marlowe's sprawling court is pared to just five characters forced to wrestle with the personal costs of political power.

Directed at Rep Stage by Joseph W. Ritsch, Bartlett's play features Zachary L. Powell as Edward II, Alejandro Ruiz as Gaveston, Dane Figueroa Edidi as Queen Isabella, Robbie Gay as Mortimer, and Zach Rakotomaniraka as Edward III.

E2 continues at Rep Stage (at Howard Community College) through  Sunday, November 17.  For ticket information, click here.

Because of special NPR programming, this week's theater review could not be broadcast live. 

Criminal Justice And The Shadow Of Slavery

Nov 11, 2019
UB School of Law.

Last August, the New York Times began a groundbreaking series, The 1619 Project, a series of podcasts and an entire edition of the Times Magazine dedicated to the often untold history of the slave trade. The scars of slavery were central to the founding of our Republic, and the impact of slavery’s legacy has extended to all areas of the American experiment, from economic inequality to mass incarceration, to education, health care, and arts and culture.

This coming weekend, a symposium at the University of Baltimore Law School will explore the impact of slavery on the criminal justice system in America. Today on Midday, a conversation with two of the legal scholars who will be presenting at the symposium, which is entitled “400 Years: Slavery and the Criminal Justice System.” 

We begin with Michael Higginbotham, the Joseph Curtis Professor of Law at the University of Baltimore School of Law and the author of Ghosts of Jim Crow: Ending Racism in Post-Racial America. Then, Tom speaks with Roy L. Austin, a former Department of Justice and Obama Administration official who is delivering one of the keynote addresses at the UB Law School symposium. Mr. Austin joins us on the line from Washington, D.C.

Clay McBride

Tom’s guest today is the comedian Lewis Black.

Since the mid-1990s, his “Back in Black” rants have been a popular fixture on The Daily Show on Comedy Central.

Black is also an author, a playwright and an actor with credits that include movies and television.

He’s appearing next Tuesday night, Nov. 12, at the Modell Lyric Theater here in Baltimore in a show that will benefit two causes that have long been near and dear to his heart: the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and Pathfinders for Autism.

Black  joins us today on the line from Milwaukee, one of many stops on his “Ít Gets Better Every Day” tour.

Theater Morgan

Next, Tom welcomes two guests: First, the stage director Dr. Shirley Basfield Dunlap.  She is directing a special multi-media performance tonight at Morgan State University – a performance that takes its cue from The New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project.

The show is called Since We’ve Been Here: Commemorating 400 Years of African Presence in America.  Dr. Dunlap is an Associate Professor and the Coordinator of Theater Arts at Morgan State University.  Since We’ve Been Here: Commemorating 400 Years of African Presence in America starts at 7:30 tonight in the Gilliam Concert Hall at Morgan State’s Murphy Fine Arts Center. Maria Broom will narrate.

Dr. Eric Conway will conduct the Morgan State Choir as part of the show, and he also joins Tom in Studio A.  Click here for more information and tickets to Since We’ve Been Here.

And coming up next weekend and the weekend before Thanksgiving, also at Morgan’s Murphy Fine Arts Center, the gospel song-play Black Nativity by Langston Hughes. Dwight RB Cook directs that production which includes spoken word, dance, gospel and spirituals. Click here for more information and tickets to Black Nativity.

It’s another edition of Midday at the Movies, our monthly look at what's new in films, and filmmaking.

Our movie mavens, Ann Hornaday, film critic for The Washington Post, and Jed Dietz, the founding director of the Maryland Film Festival, joined Tom in Studio A with tips on what to see this weekend in local theaters.

Among the films discussed today are Western Stars, the Bruce Springsteen documentary (at The Senator Theatre); and Parasite, JoJoRabbit, Pain and Glory and Harriet, which are all at The Charles Theatre.

Ann also told us the story behind the story of her wonderful recent feature piece in The Post about Springsteen, the filmmaker.

The great jazz singer Tierney Sutton joined Tom today.  She has been nominated for a Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Album eight times – that’s a Grammy nomination for every CD she has released in the last 10 years.

She’s been touring and recording with her band for the past 20 years.  Her latest CD, Screenplay, is a collection of great songs from movies.  Tierney Sutton will be appearing this Saturday and Sunday at Baltimore’s newest, wonderful jazz club, Keystone Korner in Baltimore’s Harbor East. 

She joined Tom on the line from Minneapolis, where she is appearing before she makes the trip to Baltimore.

Teresa Castracane Photography

It's Thursday, which means theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck  is here with her weekly review.

Today, she discusses Radio Golf, by August Wilson – the final installment in the late Pulitzer-Prize-winning playwright's ten-part Century Cycle.

Directed by Carl Cofield, Radio Golf is the story of an African-American real estate developer running for mayor of Pittsburgh in the mid-1990s who struggles with his role in gentrifying his childhood neighborhood.

The Everyman production stars Dawn Ursula as Mame Wilks, Jamil A.C. Mangan as Harmond Wilks, Jason B. McIntosh as Roosevelt Hicks, Anton Floyd as Sterling Johnson and Charles Dumas as Elder Joseph Barlow.

This Sunday,  Nov. 10, the Everyman is holding its rescheduled Market Center Trash Bash – a large-scale neighborhood cleanup and block party. To register as a volunteer for the Trash Bash, and for more details, click here.  All participants in the cleanup can purchase discounted $25 tickets to Sunday evening’s performance of Radio Golf.  Registration is free. The cleanup starts at 2pm, the block party is at 5 pm, and the discounted performance of Radio Golf begins at 7. 

Radio Golf continues at the Everyman Theatre through Sun., Nov. 17.

Today on Midday with the Mayor, Balitmore City Mayor Jack Young joins Tom in Studio A for an exclusive interview.

Earlier this year, when former Mayor Catherine Pugh resigned from office, Mr. Young was elevated from City Council President to Mayor. At that time he said he had no interest in continuing as Mayor after he'd served out Ms. Pugh’s term.

But he has since re-considered. Young is now assumed by many to be the front-runner in a crowded field of candidates who are running in the Democratic mayoral primary, which will be held on April 28th. 

Photo Credit: Colby Ware

Today on Midday Culture Connections:  a conversation about an effort to engage Squeegee Kids by helping a few of them form a new company that produces and markets bottled water. It’s called Korner Boyz Enterprises, and it’s being launched by young people with the assistance and guidance of people at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), the University of Maryland Law School, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and a non-profit called Equity Matters.

Tom and  Dr. Sheri Parks of the Maryland Institute College of Art are joined by some of the mentors who are involved in the project.  


In 2016, following the election of Donald Trump, two former Capitol Hill staffers created a Google Doc, mostly for their family and friends, that outlined ways to oppose the Trump agenda.  They called it the Indivisible GuideNot too long after that Google Doc went viral, the Indivisible movement was born. 

The document was a how-to manual for getting the attention of legislators, and organizing effectively.  Thousands of local, grassroots indivisible chapters formed across the country, including one here in Baltimore.  Just as the Tea Party had transformed politics years earlier, Indivisible activists sought to make themselves an unavoidable presence in the lives of Congressional Republicans and Democrats alike. 

The two staffers who wrote the Indivisible Guide, Ezra Levin and Leah Greenberg, have written a book called We Are Indivisible:  A Blueprint for Democracy After Trump

Leah Greenberg and Ezra Levin join us from the studios of NPR in Washington, DC.

Courtesy of Baltimore Ceasefire

Tom is joined in the studio now by Erricka Bridgeford, the co-founder of Baltimore Ceasefire 365, and Letrice Gant, the group's co-organizer.

The group’s mission: the cessation of murder in Baltimore City for one weekend, four times a year.

The first Baltimore Ceasefire weekend was held in August, 2017. The latest Ceasefire was this past weekend, Nov 1st to 3rd.  At this writing, Baltimore police have reported  that three men were shot over the weekend, one fatally.

Since the death of Freddie Gray in police custody four and a half years ago, more than 1,530 people have lost their lives to violence in our city.  Ms. Bridgeford and Ms. Gant and Baltimore Ceasefire participants have acknowledged many of those victims, their families, and the people who made the decisions to kill them.


Thursday, with only two Democrats voting against it, and not a single Republican in favor, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution setting out the process for the next phase of the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.  This clears the way for public hearings to begin, which may lead to articles of impeachment that the House would vote on at some point, possibly in the near future, just as the presidential primary race gets into full swing. 

Impeachment isn’t the only issue occupying the House’s attention, although members of both parties and the President are clearly focused on it.  But what of the other legislative business of the Congress?  Will that come to a halt as the impeachment inquiry unfolds?  Will lawmakers be able to avoid another shutdown of the federal government?

Tom's first guest today is the House Majority Leader and Maryland's 5th District Congressman Steny Hoyer, who joins us on the line from Capitol Hill.


Tom's next guest today is the author of a fascinating new biography of Harriet Tubman, the famed 19th century anti-slavery activist, whose remarkable life story is also the subject of Harriet, the new film by director Kasi Lemmons that's hitting US screens today.

Erica Armstrong Dunbar is a professor of history at Rutgers University.  Her new Tubman bio is called She Came to Slay, and it's being published this month by Simon and Schuster.

Professor Dunbar will be talking about the new book this Sunday at 1pm at the Brilliant Baltimore Festival, which combines the Baltimore Book Festival and City Lights.  For details on her event, click here.

Erica Dunbar joins us on the line from the studios of WHYY in Philadelphia.

Photo by Lea Morales

Today, we welcome back to Studio A the singer/songwriter SONiA disappear fear.  A Baltimore-based, cause-driven artist, her songs explore the human spirit and address global humanitarian issues. She travels frequently to perform in cities around the world.

Over the past 30 years, SONiA has shared the stage with many popular music icons, from Pete Seeger and Joan Baez to superstars such as Bruce Springsteen, Emmy Lou Harris, and Sheryl Crowe.

The last time SONiA joined us here in the Midday studio was in December 2018, and she’d just released the CD, By My Silence, a collection of songs heavily influenced by her travels in Europe.  Her newest CD is a collection of songs from Small House, No Secretsa musical co-written by SONiA and Jody Nusholtz.  (Our theater critic, J. Wynn Rousuck, reviewed the musical  here on Midday when it played at Fells Point Corner Theatre, as part of the Baltimore Playwrights Festival this past spring.)

SONiA will be playing her only USA concert of the year in the Baltimore area on Thursday, November 7 at  7:30pm at The Gordon Center for the Performing Arts in Owings Mills, Maryland.  For ticket info, click here

SONiA disappear fear joins Tom  Live in Studio A to talk about her music and perform two songs:  "By My Silence" and "Washington Work Song."

This segment was streamed live on WYPR's Facebook page. Watch the video here.

AP Photo/Alastair Grant

Following Parliament’s rejection of  Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit proposal this week, the European Union has once again deferred Britain’s deadline to leave, granting a 90-day extension until January 31.

At the center of the Brexit turmoil is the divided island of Ireland. The sovereign Republic of Ireland is a member of the EU, but Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom, and when or if Britain ever manages to leaves the EU, Northern Ireland will have to leave with it.

Twenty-one years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, which brought a fragile peace to the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Britain, new conflict over a possible customs border has energized calls for a united Ireland.  Across the Irish Sea, there is also growing support for a second referendum on Scottish independence. 

NPR’s London Correspondent Frank Langfitt joins Tom Hall from Belfast with the latest.


Johns Hopkins University Press

Now, on this Halloween edition of Midday, a conversation about a trope that has long been part of movies and pop culture.  We’re talking about the scary psychiatric asylum.

Tom is joined by  Dr. Troy Rondinone, who has researched and written about what that trope has meant for the stigmatization of mental illness. 

Rondinone is a historian and a professor of history at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven. And he is the author of a new book called Nightmare Factories: The Asylum in the American Imagination.

Photography by Michael Davis

It's Thursday and our theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck joins Tom in the studio us for another of her weekly reviews of the Maryland stage.  Today, she tells us about Thoughts of a Colored Man, the powerful new work by playwright Keenan Scott II that's getting its world premiere at Baltimore Center Stage (in a co-production with central New York's Syracuse Stage).

Set on a single day in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, Thoughts explores seven variations on the theme of black male identity, using a blend of language, music and dance.  Directed at Baltimore Center Stage by Steve H. Broadnax III, with choreography by Millicent Johnnie, the play features an allegorically-named cast of male characters, with performances by Jerome Preston Bates as Wisdom, Brandon Dion Gregory as Passion, Forrest McClendon as Depression, Reynaldo Piniella as Lust, Jody Reynard as Happiness, Ryan Jamaal Swain as Love, and Garrett Turner as Anger.  The play's two female roles are performed by Ashley Pierre-Louis and Hollie E. Wright

Thoughts of a Colored Man continues at Baltimore Center Stage through Sunday, November 10.


Tom's guest today is Ophira Eisenberg, the host of NPR’s nationally syndicated comedy trivia show Ask Me Another, which we all listen to Saturday mornings here on WYPR. 

That show is just one facet of Ophira Eisenberg’s multi-faceted career.   She’s a frequent host and contributor to The Moth Radio Hour, and she’s a frequent headliner in comedy venues across the United States, Canada, and Europe.

The Canadian-born, Brooklyn-based entertainer is in Baltimore for a one-night standup gig at the Gordon Center for the Performing Arts in Owings Mills tonight, starting at 7:30, but right now, Ophira Eisenberg joins Tom in Studio A. 

Listeners are welcome to join us as well.

We live-streamed the conversation on WYPR's Facebook page.  To watch, click here.

Hachette Book Group

Today, a conversation about diversity in the news media with Dorothy Butler Gilliam, a journalist who has spent a lifetime breaking down barriers. She has been a journalist for more than six decades. She started in the Black press, working in Louisville, Memphis and Chicago.

And then, at the age of 23, she became the first woman of color to be a reporter at The Washington Post. When Ms. Gilliam was hired by The Post in 1961, there were only two people of color in The Post newsroom. Both were men. And of the small handful of women who were reporters, all were white. And they were mostly restricted to writing about so-called “women’s issues.”

Dorothy Butler Gilliam began to change all of that. She started her career at The Post as a general assignment reporter, not a women’s reporter. She later worked as an editor and a columnist, as well.

Ms. Gilliam helped others break down barriers too. In the mid 1990s, she served as the president of the National Association of Black Journalists, and for decades, she worked with young journalists of color to cultivate their careers. Some of those she helped eventually joined her as journalists at The Post.

Her new memoir is called, Trailblazer: A Pioneering Journalist's Fight to Make the Media Look More Like America.

She will be appearing tonight at the Enoch Pratt Central Library in Baltimore as part of the Brown Lecture Series. The event begins at 7 pm.

Photo by Jill Gordon

Today, it’s another edition of Midday in the Neighborhood, a series in which we’ve set out to spotlight the remarkable tapestry of communities that make up the city of Baltimore. According to the group Live Baltimore, there are 278 unique neighborhoods in our city, full of folks working to make their communities, and our city, better.

With this series, we hope to hear from people who live in every neighborhood in our diverse and vibrant city, and to get their perspective on what’s right about Baltimore, what can be improved, and what people may not know about our many different communities.

Liveright Publishing Corp/W.W. Norton & Co.

Today on Midday, as the U.S. House of Representatives continues its impeachment inquiry, a conversation about the subject of that inquiry, President Donald Trump: what shaped his political rise, and how he has singularly shaped American culture. 

Tom's guest for the hour is James Poniewozik, the chief television critic for the New York Times.  He was previously the television critic for Time magazine and the media columnist for Salon.

His new book is called Audience of One: Donald Trump, Television, and the Fracturing of America.  Poniewozik chronicles how TV shaped Donald Trump’s modus operandi in his early years as a celebrity New York real estate mogul, and how Trump has used TV to reinforce and advance his brand on his long, improbable journey to the US presidency.

Photo Courtesy WYPR / Rachel Baye

Tom's guest today is Dr. Brit Kirwan.  He is the chair of the Commission on Innovation and Excellence, also known as the Kirwan Commission.

Last week, the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education made its long awaited recommendations about how much state and local jurisdictions should pay to improve educational outcomes in MD.  The price tag is high and opponents of the plan include Governor Larry Hogan.  Most observers of the MD General Assembly expect that debate about the plan will dominate the 2020 Session. 

Shealyn Jae Photography

It's Thursday and time for another of theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck's weekly reviews of the Maryland stage. Today, she spotlights In the Blood,  Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks’ 1999 urban retelling of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, in a new production by Fells Point Corner Theatre. 

A compelling look at motherhood, race and poverty, In the Blood (a finalist for the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Drama) asks audiences to reexamine their roles in the oppression of marginalized groups. Mari Andrea Travis directs FCPT's dramatic ensemble, featuring Dawn Taylor as "Hester," with Tina Canady, Adam Cooley, Christian Gonzalez, Betse Lyons, and Justin Price.

In the Blood continues at Fells Point Corner Theatre through Sunday, November 3.   For ticket and performance information, click here.

Photo by Mamadi Doumbouya

Tom’s guest today is Reginald Dwayne Betts. He came to our attention last year when he wrote a wonderful piece in The New York Times Magazine entitled, “Could an Ex-Convict Become an Attorney? I Intended to Find Out.” He won a National Magazine Award for that essay. 

Betts grew up not far from here, in Suitland, MD, in Prince George’s Co. When he was 16, he was part of a group that committed an armed car-jacking. For that crime, he spent eight years and three months in adult prisons, including many months in solitary confinement.

After his release from prison, Mr. Betts attended Prince George’s Community College. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland College Park, and an MFA in poetry from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. He then went on to get a law degree from Yale.

It was in prison that he started reading and writing poetry. His latest collection is called Felon. He is the author of two previous collections, Bastards of the Reagan Era and Shahid Reads His Own Palm. 

AP Photo/Chris Gardner, File

On Sunday, Thomas D’Alesandro, III passed away at the age of 90.  He was part of a Baltimore-based political dynasty that includes his younger sister, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and a father who served as both Mayor and member of the US Congress. 

Joining Tom to talk about the legacy of ”Young Tommy,” as he came to be known, is Fraser Smith, a former news man at WYPR and a former chief political reporter for the Baltimore Sun.  He was also a columnist for the Maryland Daily Record.

This conversation was livestreamed on WYPR's Facebook Page. Watch the video here, beginning at 42:30 into the feed and concluding at 51:30.


AP Photo by Keith Srakocic

Last month, the Labor Department reported a national unemployment rate of 3.5%, the lowest it’s been in 50 years.  The unemployment rate is only one metric by which the job market can be evaluated, and many point to its inherent flaws, but the reality for many employers is that filling jobs with skilled workers is harder than it used to be.  One estimate has it that there are nearly 70 million available jobs nationally.

There are more than 30 workforce development organizations in the Baltimore metro area.  Today on Midday, a look at some of those programs, and a conversation with three experts in the employment field about what can be done to scale-up the effective ones, so that more people can be trained for jobs that are in demand, and that pay well.

Cover photo courtesy Simon and Schuster

Tom's guest today is Mike Rowe, a Baltimore born and bred television personality, producer and podcaster.  He’s also an author.  His latest book shares the name of his popular podcastThe Way I Heard It.

The book is a clever and engaging admixture of essays in the style of the great radio raconteur Paul Harvey, juxtaposed with Mike’s chronicle and observations of his own life, collected in a career that has included singing classical opera, pitching everything from $35 KatSaks on QVC to Ford Trucks in national ad campaigns, and being the executive producer and host of the hit show Dirty Jobs, which ran on The Discovery Channel from 2003 to 2012.

Mike now hosts Somebody’s Gotta Do It, a kind of second-gen Dirty Jobs which started on CNN five years ago but jumped to TBN last year, and begins its second season there this Saturday night. Mike also  produces the popular Facebook Watch series, Returning the Favor.

But wait, there's more! Mike Rowe is the founder and CEO of the “mikeroweWORKS” Foundation, which has granted millions of dollars of Work Ethic Scholarships to folks who are learning trades and skills that address critical shortages in the American workforce.  

AP Photo by Patrick Semansky

Today, we remember Congressman Elijah E. Cummings, who died yesterday in Baltimore at the age of 68. 

From his early career as a lawyer known for his quiet diligence and generous mentoring, to his rise to the top ranks of the U.S. Congress, we reflect today on the legacy of a political giant.