Midday | WYPR


Image courtesy WBPFHK

Today is MLK Jr Day, the federal holiday established in 1986 to commemorate the birthday of the slain civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr., who would have turned 91 last Wednesday.  For the past 25 years, the national observance of the MLK holiday has been associated with A Day of Service, a campaign to honor Dr. King's legacy of non-violent struggle for social justice by encouraging people to take part in meaningful volunteer efforts to benefit their community.  As the campaign reminds Americans each MLK Day, "Make it a day on, not a day off."

On Midday today, we meet some  local examplars of that Day of Service ethic who've taken the lead in efforts to make Baltimore a better place to live.

In this first of three conversations, Tom talks with Sandie Nagel, the former Baltimore Jewish Times columnist and community organizer who founded Weekend Backpacks for Homeless Kids five years ago to address the unmet nutritional needs of many of the city's homeless and impoverished public schoolchildren.  Joining Ms. Nagel in the studio is the group's vice president, Leslie Monfred, a retired nurse.

Robinson photo Johns Hopkins School of Medicine; Colbert photo by Hulaimatu Jalloh

On Midday today, we're marking the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday by meeting some local examplars of the MLK Day of Service ethic, who've taken the lead in efforts to make Baltimore a better place to live.

In the second of three conversations today, Tom talks with Dr. Douglas Robinson, a professor of cell biology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Eleven years ago, Dr. Robinson launched the Initiative for Careers in Science and Medicine (CSM), a program that works to support interest and achievement in STEM fields among low-income students of color, from middle- and high school age through the college years.  Also joining Tom in the studio is Michelle Colbert, a graduate of Arizona State University and now a second-year medical student at Johns Hopkins, who completed a 2-year post-baccalaureate research internship at Hopkins through CSM's Doctoral Diversity Program

This conversation was live-streamed on WYPR's Facebook page.  Watch the video here, beginning at 14:08 and continuing until 29:00 into the stream.

photo by Rob Sivak/WYPR

On Midday today, we're  observing the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day holiday by talking with some  local examplars of the MLK Day of Service ethic, who've taken the lead in efforts to make Baltimore a better place to live.

Joining Tom for the last of our three conversations today is the Reverend Alvin Hathaway, the Senior Pastor of Union Baptist Church in Upton, and founder of Green Ambassadors, a privately funded neighborhood clean-up program, sponsored by Wheelabrator and the Ministers Conference of Baltimore and Vicinity. It hires young people to pick up litter and trash around city neighborhoods. Also joining Tom is Robert Ginyard, a local entrepreneur and motivational activist who created the "Dear Baltimore, I'll Do My Part" campaign to encourage individual Baltimoreans to pick up litter in their neighborhoods.

This conversation was live-streamed on WYPR's Facebook page. Watch the video here, from  32:00 through the end of the feed.

Courtesy of the Spikes for Congress Campaign

Harry Spikes was an aide to Rep. Elijah Cummings for 15 years, serving most recently as district director.  He is also the vice president of the board of directors of the Community Assistance Network, a non-profit organization in Baltimore County that helps individuals and families who are homeless.

In 2014, Mr. Spikes ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the Maryland House of Delegates. He is 37 years old. He lives in Oliver, on the east side of Baltimore. He holds a B.A. in Political Science from Morgan State University and a Masters of Public Administration in Public Policy from the University of Baltimore.

We livestreamed this conversation on WYPR's Facebook page. Click here to watch.

Courtesy of the Rabb for Congress campaign

Saafir Rabb is the CEO of a company called Interculture. He also leads a local non-profit and he was an advisor on the transition team of President Barack Obama.

Mr. Rabb grew up in Baltimore City and Howard County. He graduated from Poly High School. He holds a BA in Government, Politics and African American Studies from the University of Maryland, an MBA from Johns Hopkins University and a Diploma in Arabic and Islamic Jurisprudence from Abu Nour in Syria.

Saafir Rabb is 43 years old. He lives in Howard Park, in Northwest Baltimore. He is married and has three children.

We livestreamed this conversation on WYPR's Facebook page. Click here to watch.


Today it’s Midday on Tech and our annual review of the Consumer Electronics Show, held last week (January 5-10) in Las Vegas, Nevada. We’ll take a look at the latest innovations in mobility and accessibility showcased at CES 2020, and what the inclusion of "sex tech" at this year’s event means for gender equity.

From 8K TVs to self-emptying garbage cans and an AI-driven “City of the Future,” Tom unpacks the best gadgets from CES 2020 with Dana Wollman, Editor-in-Chief at Engadget.com, the online technology review.  She joins us from NPR studios in New York.

Photo courtesy Fells Point Corner Theatre

It's Thursday, and theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck joins us again with another of her weekly reviews of the Maryland stage. Today, Judy spotlights Fells Point Corner Theatre's production of Love and Information, a work by the innovative British playwright Caryl Churchill that's directed here by Deirdre McAllister.

First performed in London in 2012, Churchill's Love and Information is a compilation of over fifty vignettes that don't follow traditional plotlines. With over one hundred characters, it is a fast-paced and challenging theater experience. The nine-member ensemble cast includes Willard Brewington III, Isaiah Mason Harvey, Nina Kearin, Carolyn Koch, Autumn Koehnlein, Megan Livingston, Michael Makar, Jess Rivera, and Caitlin Weaver.

Love and Information is on stage at Fells Point Corner Theatre through February 2nd. For location and ticket information, click here

photo courtesy Dante Swinton

Midday's series of Conversations with the Candidates continues with this special Web-only edition: Tom's January 14 conversation with Dante Swinton, one of more than a dozen Democratic candidates vying in the April 28th primary election, hoping to be the party's nominee for mayor of Baltimore in the November 3rd general election.

Mr. Swinton brings to the mayoral race his experience over the past 5 years as an environmental justice researcher & community organizer for Energy Justice Network.  The Philadelphia-based not-for-profit group led the charge for passage last spring of the Baltimore Clean Air Act, which, pending a ruling in a federal law suit, could severely restrict or possibly shut down the city's largest air polluter, the Wheelabrator trash incinerator, and the nation's largest medical waste incinerator. Mr. Swinton's campaign also addresses a wide range of issues facing the city, from violence reduction and criminal justice reform to transit improvements and economic development.

Mr. Swinton grew up in Rock Hill, South Carolina. He received his B.A. in environmental studies and political science from Winthrop University in Rock Hill in 2010. He received his Masters in nonprofit management and social entrepreneurship from the University of Baltimore in 2017. 

At 31, Dante Swinton is the youngest candidate in the mayor's race.  He lives in Baltimore.

More information about Dante Swinton's bid to become Baltimore's next mayor can be found on his campaign Website, dcs4bmore.org.  

Photo courtesy of Carter for Congress 2020

Today, another in our series of Conversations with the Candidates. Tom's guest for the hour is State Senator Jill P. Carter, one of the Democratic candidates running to fill the the vacancy in the 7th Congressional District created by the death of Representative Elijah Cummings. Twenty-four Democrats and eight Republicans have filed to run in a special primary election on February 4th. 

Senator Carter represents District 41 in the Maryland Senate, a seat she’s held since April, 2018. Before moving to the Senate, she served in the MD House of Delegates for 14 years; she was only the third African-American female attorney to be elected to the Maryland General Assembly.  She also served as the Director of the Baltimore City Office of Civil Rights during the Pugh Administration. 

By Nate Pesce / Maya for Congress

 Dr. Maya Rockeymoore Cummings is a public policy consultant who holds a doctorate in political science.  She’s the former head of the Maryland Democratic Party and she worked for several years on Capitol Hill.  For a brief period, she was a candidate in the 2018 Maryland gubernatorial race. 

Maya Rockeymoore Cummings is 48 years old.  She lives in Baltimore’s Madison Park neighborhood, on the west side.

AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana

On today's edition of the Midday News Wrap, we take a closer look at three stories topping the news this week.

The U.S.-Iran Crisis: The U.S. and Iran teetered on the brink of war after a U.S. drone strike ordered last Friday by President Trump killed the influential Iranian general Qassim Soleimani and others near the Baghdad airport.  Joining Tom on the line to sort out the complexities of the crisis and what might happen next is Steven Simon.  He’s a professor of international relations at Colby College in Waterville, Maine, an analyst at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft in Washington, and a former senior director on the National Security Council for both the Clinton and Obama administrations...


On Wednesday, January 8, the 2020 Legislative Session of the Maryland General Assembly convened in Annapolis.  For the next 90 days, state lawmakers in the House of Delegates and the Senate will be deliberating over a daunting array of legislative measures, addressing everything from education reform to transportation initiatives, health care, crime reduction, ethics reform, and much, much more. 

On Tuesday, Midday's Tom Hall spoke with the Assembly’s new leadersSenate President Bill Ferguson and House Speaker Adrienne Jones.  Yesterday, we talked about the session’s number one legislative priority, funding major reforms in education, with two former County Executives...

Today, Tom focuses on some other matters that Maryland lawmakers will take up this year.  Later this hour, he's joined by WYPR State House reporter Rachel Baye and Josh Kurtz, co-founder and editor of Maryland Matters.

But he begins with Keiffer J. Mitchell, Jr., the newly appointed Chief Legislative Officer for Governor Larry Hogan.   Mr. Mitchell, a Baltimore native, served previously as Gov. Hogan’s senior advisor. He is a former member of the Maryland House of Delegates and the Baltimore City Council.  Keiffer Mitchell joins Tom on the line from his office in Annapolis. 

Photo by Joan Marcus

It's Thursday, and time again for a visit with theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck, who regales us each week with her reviews of the region's rich thespian offerings.  Today, she spotlights the new touring production of  My Fair Lady, now on stage at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

The Kennedy Center show launches the national tour for the Lincoln Center Theater production of the much-beloved musical by Alan Jay Lerner (book and lyrics) and Frederick Loewe, who adapted it from George Bernard Shaw's 1913 play and Gabriel Pascal's 1938 film, "Pygmalion."  The story of Eliza Doolittle, a Cockney flower girl who takes speech lessons from phoneticist Henry Higgins so that she can pass as a cultured lady, was a major commercial and critical success when it opened on Broadway in 1956.  Boasting such enduring songs as “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “The Rain in Spain,” and “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” My Fair Lady earned four Tony Awards and set a record at the time for the longest run of any show on Broadway. It was followed by a hit London production, a popular film version, and numerous award-winning revivals...

The number one challenge facing lawmakers in Annapolis this year is how to pay for a sweeping proposal from the Kirwan Commission aimed at improving Maryland's K-12 public education.

Rushern Baker was the Prince George’s County Executive from 2010 until 2018. From 1994 until 2003, Mr. Baker represented District 22B in the Maryland House of Delegates. He ran for governor of Maryland in 2018, but he lost in the Democratic primary to Ben Jealous.

Don Mohler was appointed Baltimore County Executive upon the death of then-County Executive Kevin Kamenetz in May 2018. Mohler served the final seven months of Kamenetz’s term.  Mr. Mohler had served as a spokesman and chief of staff to Kamenetz and his predecessor, Jim Smith.  Mohler began his career as an educator, working for 30 years in the Baltimore County public school system as a teacher, an administrator and then the assistant superintendent of schools.

We livestreamed this conversation on the WYPR Facebook page.  Click here to watch. 

Photos courtesy Bill Ferguson, Adrienne Jones

Tom sits down at the State House with Senate President Designate Bill Ferguson and House Speaker Adrienne Jones for a preview of their priorities as the General Assembly begins a historic new chapter. 

Senator Bill Ferguson is expected to be elected Senate President, succeeding Mike Miller, who held the job for longer than any Senate President in the country. 

Delegate Adrienne Jones will preside over her first full session as Speaker of the House of Delegates.  She is the first woman and the first African American to be elected Speaker, succeeding Mike Busch, who passed away last April. 

The central challenge of this year’s session: revamping the funding formula for MD schools.  Can lawmakers find consensus on Kirwan?

Today, we continue our series of Conversations with the Candidates with people who are running to be the next Mayor of Baltimore City.  

Tom's guest is City Council President Brandon Scott.  Mr. Scott was elected President of the City Council by his fellow members eight months ago, when then-Council President Jack Young became Mayor after Catherine Pugh’s fall from grace. 

As the chair of the Council's Public Safety Committee from 2016 until last year, Mr. Scott was an advocate for the reform of the city police department and a holistic approach to crime reduction. 

If elected Mayor, Mr. Scott says he will aim to reduce homicides in Baltimore by 15%, in each year of his term in office.  That would bring the number of annual murders to below 300 by December of 2021. 

Today on Midday, we continue our series of Conversations with the Candidates who are running to be the next Mayor of Baltimore City.

Tom's guest is former Mayor Sheila Dixon, who held the office from 2007-2010. She resigned in 2010 following a conviction for embezzlement and an Alford plea in a separate case in which she was charged with perjury. She is one of 15 Democratic candidates running in the April 28 primary.

Before her resignation, Ms. Dixon had a long career in local public service -- on the City Council for 12 years and then as City Council president for seven years.  When then-Mayor Martin O’Malley became governor of Maryland, Dixon completed his term as mayor and she was elected to her own term later that year. As part of her plea agreement in conjunction with her conviction she agreed to resign from office, and she was prohibited from running for public office for a period of four years.

Ms. Dixon ran for mayor again in 2016. She narrowly lost the Democratic primary to Catherine Pugh, and she garnered more than 51,000 votes in the general election as a write-in candidate. Now, she is running for mayor for a third time.

We livestreamed this conversation on WYPR’s Facebook page. Click here to watch.

photo courtesy thiru2020.com

Today, we continue our series of Conversations with the Candidates with the first of several conversations with people who are running to be the next Mayor of Baltimore City.  Tom's guest for the hour is Thiru Vignarajahone of 15 thus-far announced Democratic candidates running in the April 28 primary election to become the party's nominee for Mayor

Mr. Vignarajah is a veteran city and federal prosecutor who’s spent most of his legal career in public service.  He attended Yale University and Harvard Law School, where he served as president of the Harvard Law Review. He went on to clerk for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. He later served as a federal prosecutor at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Baltimore.  He also headed the Major Investigations Unit in the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s office.  In 2014, he was appointed Deputy Attorney General for Maryland, a position he left to work on the transition team for the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign in 2016.  

Mr. Vignarajah is currently a litigation partner at the law firm DLA Piper in Baltimore. 

Photo by Mamadi Doumbouya

(This program originally aired on October 23, 2019.)

Tom’s guest in this archived edition of Midday 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, Maryland, in Prince George’s County. 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

(This conversation was pre-recorded, so we were unable to take any listener calls or messaging.)

Photo by Heidi Ross

This show originally aired Sept. 30, 2019

Tom’s guest today is the acclaimed writer Ann Patchett. She is the winner of the Pen Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize for fiction, and her work has been translated into more than 30 languages.

Patchett is the author of eight novels. The latest is The Dutch House. As with her other immensely popular books -- novels such as Commonwealth, State of Wonder and Bel Canto -- in The Dutch House, Patchett writes with grace, authority and compassion.

Patchett joined Tom from the studios of Spotland Productions in Nashville.

By Crystal Wiley-Brown

  (This program originally aired on October 15, 2019)

Today, on this archived edition of Midday, Tom’s guest for the hour is the award-winning novelist, literary scholar and artist, Charles Johnson

Dr. Johnson is best-known as the author of Middle Passagethe epic novel about the 1830s slave trade for which he won the National Book Award for Fiction in 1990. At the time, he was only the second African-American man to have won the honor, after Ralph Ellison.  Johnson's other novels include Night HawksDr. King’s RefrigeratorDreamerand Faith and the Good Thing.

In 1998, Dr. Johnson received a MacArthur Fellowship, the so-called "genius grant."  In 2002, he received the Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters

Dr. Johnson began his career in the 1960s as a cartoonist, creating comic strips and editorial cartoons for a variety of publications, including The Chicago Tribune, Ebony and Playboy. In addition to his novels, Charles Johnson has written numerous screenplays, essays, and children’s books.  

Midday's Christmas Eve Special

Dec 24, 2019
Photograph by Karen Mallonee (FlickrPro)

Hello and Happy Holidays!  Welcome to the Midday Christmas Eve Special, with host Tom Hall. 

Today, we’ll spend the hour listening to some music and some poetry of the season, plus, a story by Baltimore writer Raphael Alvarez

We've put together a playlist of our selections,  and you can find them below (when you click into this article) in the order you'll hear them in the program...

Courtesy of Dr. Terri Hill for Congress Campaign

Today on Midday we continue our series of Conversations with the Candidates. Tom's guest is a member of the Maryland House of Delegates.

Delegate Terri Hill is a Democrat who is running to succeed Elijah Cummings in Congress, representing Maryland’s 7th Congressional District. Del. Hill is running in a crowded field of 24 Democrats. Terri Hill is a physician who grew up in Columbia, MD. She earned her undergraduate degree from Harvard University and her medical degree from Columbia University in New York. She is a plastic and reconstructive surgeon who has practiced medicine in the Baltimore metropolitan area for nearly 30 years.

Dr. Hill was first elected to the Maryland House of Delegates in 2014. She represents parts of Baltimore and Howard Counties and serves on the Health and Government Operations Committee.

We livestreamed this conversation on the WYPR Facebook page. Click here to watch the video.

AP Photo/Scott Applewhite

The intense acrimony between Republicans and Democrats was on full display during the impeachment debate and vote in the House of Representatives Wednesday.  During more than six hours of impassioned discourse on two articles concerning abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, lawmakers considered the same set of facts in wildly different ways.  Most of them spent most of the day and early evening talking over each other’s heads, and pining for the sound bite that would merit mention on cable news.  For his part, President Donald Trump flew to Battle Creek Michigan for an invective-filled diatribe about Democrats, living and deceased...

photo by Rob Sivak/WYPR

Today, Helicon, the renowned traditional music trio, joins us live in Studio A.

Tomorrow, they continue a great Baltimore holiday tradition with their 34th annual Winter Solstice Concerts  at Goucher College’s Kraushaar Auditorium

Helicon will be joined on Saturday by Charm City Junction, the Ken and Brad Kolodner Quartet, and other traditional music performers, as well as the North American Step Dance champion, Jonathan Srour.

Today, we’re sustaining a tradition of our own here on Midday. For many years, Helicon and the other band members have treated us to a preview of their Winter Solstice concert, right here in Studio A. 

Last night, the House of Representatives voted along party lines to impeach President Donald Trump.  A trial in the Senate is likely early next month. 

Senator Ben Cardin, the Senior Senator from MD, joins Tom on the line from Capitol Hill. 

Courtesy of MacMillan Publishers

When it comes to Christmas, whether you are a secular celebrant or a holy reveler, the season is marked by different traditions from different places around the globe. 

Some of those traditions have their origins in revolution, forced immigration, occupation, religious persecution and one of the most seductive marketing campaigns in the history of marketing. 

Today on Midday, Tom's guest is world reknowned social historian Judith Flanders. In her book, Christmas: A Biography, Ms. Flanders examines the facts and fiction of Christmas past – and how they inform and sometimes mis-inform our understanding of Christmas present.  

Photography by Matthew Murphy

It's Thursday, and theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck joins us for another of her weekly reviews of the Maryland stage.  Today, Judy describes the new North American touring production of Jesus Christ Superstarthe iconic Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice musical that began as a 1970 concept album, debuted on Broadway in 1971, and is currently lighting up the stage during an eight-performance production at Baltimore's Hippodrome Theatre.

Fresh off its hit run in London, this Olivier Award-winning new production weaves the dramatic events of Christ's last weeks of life with a driving rock and funk score. 

Courtesy of Co Exec Johnny Olszewski, Jr.

Today, Tom's guest is Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski.  In his first year in office, Mr. Oszewski has made several high- profile appointments, including hiring women for the first time in County history to lead the Police and Fire Departments.  

He  was able to do what his predecessor, Kevin Kamenetz, was unable to do: pass the HOME Act, which obliges landlords to accept Federal government subsidies like Section 8 Vouchers as rent payment. 

Olszewski, a former state delegate and public school teacher, faces some daunting challenges in the year ahead, among them addressing a spike in violent crime in the County and funding for school construction. 

Our conversation was livestreamed on the WYPR Facebook page.  You can watch here

WYPR Reporter John Lee contributed to this show.  

Courtesy of UMBC

Today, it’s another in our series, Midday on Higher Education, in which Tom sits down with the presidents of Maryland colleges and universities to talk about the challenges that their institutions face, and how those institutions are connected to the fabric of the communities in which they are located.

Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski III, the President of the University of Maryland Baltimore County, is our guest.  Dr. Hrabowski has led UMBC since 1992, and he’s been collecting national accolades ever since. U.S. News & World Report named him one of America’s Best Leaders. Time Magazine called him one of the 100 most influential people in the world. UMBC is among the nation’s top research universities;  it’s also a national leader in inclusiveness and academic innovation.

We livestreamed this conversation on the WYPR Facebook page.  Click here to watch the video.