Midday | WYPR



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. 

Photo Courtesy / Celeste Sloman

Today, Tom's guest is the author and scholar Malcolm Gladwell.  He’s a staff writer for the New Yorker, the author of six best-selling books, and the host of the podcast, Revisionist History, which draws as many as three million listeners per episode.   

His latest book is called Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know, in which Gladwell explores how bad we are, generally, understanding people we don’t know, and how we often think we know people better than we do.  It’s that lack of ability to accurately anticipate the motives and actions of people that have led to tragedies both individual and global.  Malcolm Gladwell explores this phenomenon through the lens of historical events and contemporary news stories; from Montezuma’s meeting with Cortez to the likes of Bernie Madoff, Amanda Knox, and Sandra Bland. 

Malcolm Gladwell joins us from NPR  studios in New York City.

AP Photo by Patrick Semansky

It is a sad and somber day in Maryland today, as people here and across the country, and across the political spectrum, mourn the passing of Congressman Elijah Cummings, who died early this morning at the Johns Hopkins Gilchrist Hospice Center.  He was 68 years old.  He had served Maryland's 7th District in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1996.  He lived in West Baltimore.

Today, three long-time colleagues and friends of Elijah Cummings join Tom to reflect on the man's life and work:   

First, Maryland Senator Ben Cardin, and then Maryland Congressman John Sarbanes, speak with Tom live from Capitol Hill. 

Then, a conversation Tom had earlier this morning with Kurt Schmoke, the former Mayor of Baltimore and now president of the University of Baltimore.

Tomorrow on Midday, an hour-long tribute to Elijah Cummings.  Friday at noon.

Photo Courtesy / Scott Ewart

Today, a look at how a controversial school redistricting plan has pushed Howard County into the national spotlight as the latest battleground in the fight for fair and equal education.

Howard County is one of the wealthiest counties in the country, and its school system is the most integrated in the state.  A plan to move about 7,400 students to different schools aims to tackle issues of overcrowding and persistent socioeconomic disparities.   

Opposition to the plan is  substantial.  Proponents assert that as the school system prepares for an influx of new students over the next decade, the plan is a good first step to maintain equity.

Jess Nocera, of the Howard County Times, Howard County NAACP president, Willie Flowers, and anti-redistricting advocate Dr. Hemant Sharma breakdown the issues surrounding the plan that has polarized a community. 

photo by Crystal Wiley-Brown

Today, 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 Passage, the 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 Hawks, Dr. King’s Refrigerator, Dreamer, and 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 PlayboyIn addition to his novels, Charles Johnson has written numerous screenplays, essays, and children’s books.  

Courtesy of Baltimore City Public Schools

With the new school year underway, we thought it a good time to check in once again with Baltimore City Public Schools CEO, Dr. Sonja Santelises, who joins Tom today for the hour.

The Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, known as the Kirwan Commission was formed in 2016. Chaired by former University of Maryland Chancellor Britt Kirwan, the commission has developed recommendations in five policy areas that include pre-school education, college preparedness, and elevating the profession of teaching. One of the most controversial parts of the commission’s mandate is to recommend a formula for how state funding should be allocated to schools throughout Maryland. A task force of the commission is expected to announce that formula tomorrow, when its members meet in Annapolis.

We also discuss student performance trends. Although city students lag behind other jurisdictions, the latest standardized test scores show solid gains. For the second year in a row, city students in all grades improved in English, and in most grades, they improved in math.

We livestreamed this conversation with Dr. Santelises on WYPR's Facebook page.  Watch the video here.

Courtesy University of Baltimore

Today, it’s another installment of Midday on Higher Education, our series of interviews with local college presidents.

A couple of months ago, University of Baltimore President and former Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke made an interesting proposal in an op-ed in The Baltimore Sun. He imagined that three local colleges —UB, Coppin State and Baltimore City Community College — could come together to form a City University of Baltimore.

A couple of weeks later, Dr. David Wilson, the President of Morgan State University, responded with his own op-ed in The Sun. He suggested that UB should merge with his institution instead of Coppin State. We’ll be speaking with Dr. Wilson about that idea next month.

Today, Kurt Schmoke joins Tom in Studio A to talk about the advantages and the challenges of combining, in some way, three heretofore separate institutions...

Photo by Brandon W. Vernon/CSC

Midday theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck joins Tom in the studio for another of her weekly reviews of the Maryland stage.  Today, she tells us about Dracula, a haunting adaptation of Bram Stoker’s seminal 1897 vampire novel that opens Chesapeake Shakespeare Company's 2019 season. 

Adapted by Steven Dietz and directed in the CSC's ornate theater space by Gerrad Alex Taylor, the play unfolds in a sanatorium, as a series of sinister events reveals the presence of the greatest vampire of all time.  The cast includes Michael P. Sullivan, reprising his 2013 CSC performance as Dracula; Hannah Kelly as his love interest, Mina Murray; and Scott Alan Small as Renfield, the asylum patient.  Emily Lotz designed the sets, and Kristina Lambdin designed the costumes.

Speaking of blood...On Thursday, October 17, from 1 to 6pm, Chesapeake Shakespeare Company will host Dracula’s Blood Drive, a community blood donation at the CSC acting studio in the heart of downtown, at 206 East Redwood Street, 4th Floor, Baltimore, MD 21202. It’s easy to make an appointment to donate: Visit redcrossblood.org and enter the blood drive password: SHAKESPEARE. Walk-ins are welcome.

Lesley Malin, CSC's Managing Director, says all donors to Dracula’s Blood Drive will receive a voucher good for 20 percent off regular-priced tickets to Dracula, which continues at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company Theater, located at 7 S. Calvert Street (at Redwood Street), in Baltimore, MD 21202, through November 2, 2019.


On Tuesday, White House Counsel Patrick Cipollone wrote a letter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and three Democratic committee chairmen making both legal and political arguments opposing the current impeachment inquiry into President Trump.  Cipollone contends, in part, that the president did nothing wrong in his now infamous phone call with President Zelensky of Ukraine last summer, so an impeachment inquiry is illegitimate.

It will come as no surprise that there are many who disagree with that contention.

The White House is refusing to supply documents and witnesses requested by the committees' investigators unless the full U.S. House of Representatives holds a vote to authorize the inquiry, which so far, Speaker Pelosi has refused to schedule.       

The transcript of that presidential phone call and text messages between diplomats involved in the Ukraine affair -- as well as public statements by the President himself — have plunged the nation into a full-blown constitutional crisis that deepens by the day... 

Photo Courtesy The Baltimore Sun / Kim Haiston

On today's show, Baltimore City State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby joins Tom to talk about the consequences of police corruption and strategies to end our city’s epidemic of violent crime.

The aftermath of the Gun Trace Task Force scandal continues to reverberate in the city’s court system.  Eight officers from an elite Baltimore City Police Unit were convicted of an array of charges, including racketeering and robbery.  Four others have been convicted as well.  They are all currently in prison.

Last week, State’s Attorney Mosby announced that her office had begun the process of asking the courts to vacate almost 800 cases that involved the convicted officers, and more than a dozen other members of the BPD.  

Our discussion was live-streamed on WYPR's Facebook page. Watch the video here.  

Yom Tov, and an easy fast to all of our listeners observing Yom Kippur today. 

Photo Courtesy / Flickr

On today's show,  Delegate Robbyn Lewis—who represents District 46 (East Baltimore) in the Maryland General Assembly—discusses the Livable Streets Advisory Group, which she formed to study ways to make some of Baltimore’s busiest thoroughfares safer for pedestrians.  She joins Tom on the line from Annapolis. 

Other topics: Ridership on the Charm City Circulator in Baltimore is down nearly 50%.  The Baltimore Link Bus System has an on-time reliability rating of only 65%.  The MD Transit Administration faces a shortfall of $2 billion dollars over the next 10 years.    

Samuel Jordan, with the Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition and Brian O’Malley with the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance are in Studio A to discuss the outlook for solving the transportation challenges in the Baltimore metropolis.  

AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File

We learned over the weekend, to the surprise of many, that the city of Baltimore has reached an agreement with The Stronach Group, the owners of the Pimlico Race Course in Park Heights, on a plan to redevelop the aging track facility and the surrounding neighborhood, and to keep the Preakness Stakes -- the second jewel in horse racing’s prestigious Triple Crown -- permanently at Pimlico. 

Joining Tom in the studio to discuss the details of this momentous agreement -- and the work still ahead to implement it -- is Maryland Delegate Sandy Rosenberg.  He represents the state's 41st legislative district -- which includes the Pimlico Race Course.  Delegate Rosenberg has long been an advocate for the redevelopment of the track complex and for keeping the Preakness at Pimlico.   

We welcomed your calls, emails, Tweets and Facebook comments.

This conversation was livestreamed on WYPR's Facebook page, and you can watch the video here (from 0:00 to 16:05 on the stream).