Midday | WYPR


Photo Courtesy AP/ Patrick Semansky

In last Sunday’s New York Time’s Magazine, Pro Publica reporter Alec MacGillis chronicles the strained relations between the police and impoverished communities since the 2015 uprising.  The story paints a grim picture of our hometown.  The cover is emblazoned with a title that is depressing and sobering:  How an American City Falls Apart:  The Tragedy of Baltimore

Is our city falling apart?  Did the 4 million plus subscribers to the Times get an accurate picture of where we are today, and where we’ve been in the past? 

Alec MacGillis covers politics and government for Pro Publica.  He was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize when he was working at the Baltimore Sun. In 2016, he won the Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporting.  In addition to the New York Times, his work has been featured in the New Yorker, the Atlantic and several other national publications.  

Teresa Castracane photography

It's Thursday, and Midday theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck joins Tom in the studio for another of her weekly reviews of the regional stage. Today, she spotlights Dinner with Friends, the 1999 Off-Broadway hit that won playwright Donald Margulies the 2000 Pultizer Prize for Drama.  A new production of this popular play is now on stage at Baltimore's Everyman Theatre.

Directed by Everyman's Founding Artistic Director Vincent Lancisi, Dinner with Friends centers on married food writers Gabe (played by M. Scott McLean) and Karen (Beth Hylton), and their frequent dinner guests, long-time friends Beth (Megan Anderson) and her husband Tom (Danny Gavigan).  When Beth announces that her husband wants a divorce after 12 years of marriage, both couples are forced to confront profound questions about loyalty, commitment and personal freedom. 

Dinner with Friends, an enduring drama about marriage and friendship, continues at Everyman Theatre until Sunday, April 7th.  

Photo courtesy Department of Housing and Community Development

Michael Braverman, the Commissioner of the Baltimore City Department of Housing & Community Development, joins Tom today.

Any conversation about housing in our city is a conversation about two Baltimores. There’s the Baltimore of downtown and the Inner Harbor, with its strong history of public and private investment, and the stable, majority-white neighborhoods that stretch in a narrow line north from there.

And then there’s what Morgan State University professor Lawrence Brown has dubbed Baltimore’s “black butterfly,” the city’s majority black neighborhoods that stretch out like two large wings on either side. Many of those neighborhoods continue to struggle with poverty, unemployment and a lack of affordable housing on the one hand, and a huge number of vacant buildings on the other.

Late last month, Mayor Catherine Pugh unveiled a new Framework for Community Development: the start of what she calls "a new era of neighborhood investment." Commissioner Braverman is tasked with executing these plans. He has worked with the city for 30 years, in both the Housing Department and the State’s Attorney’s office. 

This conversation was livestreamed on the WYPR Facebook page.  Click here to see the video.

Baltimore Police Dept.

Last week, Michael Harrison became the fourth Baltimore City Police Commissioner to lead the troubled BPD in the past 14 months.

Commissioner Harrison has spent the past month introducing himself to the people of Baltimore at community meetings. He comes to the BPD after nearly 30 years with the New Orleans Police Department, which he joined as a new recruit in 1991

Today, Commissioner Harrison joins us to discuss how he intends to ameliorate the fractured relationship between the police and communities of color, and stem the tide of violence in our city. 


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

Today, Tom’s guest is Dr. Jay Perman, the president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore. Dr. Perman is a pediatric gastroenterologist. He was chair of the Department of Pediatrics at UMB’s School of Medicine for five years, before moving to Kentucky, where he was dean and vice president for clinical affairs at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine. He returned to Baltimore in 2010 to become UMB’s sixth president.

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

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An iconoclastic professor of literature at Oxford University named John Carey wrote a book a few years back called What Good Are the Arts?  In it he examines, among other things, why people make a distinction between the so-called fine arts, and all the other kinds of arts.  Are a pink flamingo on a lawn in Hampden and a Renaissance statue in the sculpture court of the Walters Art Museum fundamentally different, if both give pleasure to the person who encounters them?  Is the intrinsic value of art premised in its being beautiful?  And why do any of us recognize anything as being "beautiful" -- or not?

On today's edition of Midday on the Arts, we begin with a conversation about the nature of art and beauty, and what shapes our responses to art that we find appealing, and art that leaves us flat, or even infuriated. 

Tom's guests are a visual artist, a brain scientist who studies what shapes our aesthetic experiences and an art historian who heads a major art museum.

Photo courtesy American University

Four seasons ago, Baltimore's Everyman Theater launched an initiative called the “Salon Series: Women's Voices," a program that explores the work of women playwrights in informal staged readings, directed by the women members of the Everyman Resident Acting Company.  On Monday night, March 18, the new Salon Series season begins with "What's Next?" -- readings of the work of Washington-DC based playwright Caleen Sinnette Jennings, who is also a professor of theater at American University.  Jennings is the author, recently, of two semi-autobiographical plays, Queens Girl in the World and Queens Girl in Africa, which will close out the Everyman season later this spring.  The one-woman performances will be directed by Paige Hernandez, and feature first Dawn Ursula and then Erika Rose, in the plays' solo roles.  The Everyman has commissioned a third play to round out the trilogy, called Queens Girl:  Black in the Green Mountains.  That play will be performed at Everyman next season, but it’s one of the works-in-progress that will be part of the staged reading at Everyman on Monday night, with director Hernandez, and actors Ursula and Rose joining playwright Jennings in the Everyman Rehearsal Hall.  Today, Caleen Sinnette Jennings joins Tom on the line from Washington to discuss the genesis of the Queens Girl plays, and the playwrighting craft she'll be spotlighting at Monday's Salon event.

photo courtesy Center Stage

Last August, Baltimore Center Stage announced the appointment of Stephanie Ybarra as its new Artistic Director.  She succeeds Kwame Kwei Armah, who left to become the Artistic Director of the Young Vic Theater in London. 

Stephanie Ybarra comes to Baltimore after six years as the  Director of Special Artistic Projects at the Public Theatre in New York City, where she oversaw its popular Public Forum programs and led the theater’s Mobile Unit on a first-of-its-kind national tour. She is an alum of the Women’s Project Theater, where she’s served for the past few years as the Producer’s Lab Liaison.  She is also the Curator and Casting Director of the Cruzando Fronteras, or Crossing Borders Festival at the Two River Theater in New Jersey.  That festival features the work of Latinx theater artists. 

Stephanie Ybarra is, in fact, the first Latinx theater artist to lead one of America’s major theaters.  Baltimore Center Stage on Thursday announced the list of plays it will present during its upcoming 2019-2020 season.  Our theater critic, J Wynn Rousuckjoins Tom in Studio A with Stephanie Ybarra to talk about the new season lineup, and about the artistic vision she's bringing to her new role at Baltimore Center Stage.

This conversation was livestreamed on WYPR's Facebook page. You can watch the video here.

Photo by Tieesha Stylz Jones

Midday theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck joins Tom for her weekly review of a regional theater production.  Today, she spotlights the new production of  Flyin' West now running at Arena Players in Baltimore, the oldest continuously operating African-American community theater in the United States.

Flyin’ West is a historical drama by playwright Pearl Cleage that premiered in Atlanta in 1992 and has been widely produced ever since.  It's set in Nicodemus, Kansas in 1898, and tells a story from a little-known chapter in African American history.  In the decades following the Civil War, many former slaves and their descendants took advantage of the federal Homestead Act, which opened up vast tracts of Western lands for people willing to settle in undeveloped and often difficult regions of the country.  In the play, we meet a small group of African-American women who show great strength as they confront their harsh new environment, threats of domestic violence, and the enduring challenge of racism. 

Directed at Arena Players by Rosiland Cauthen, Flyin' West features performances by Isaiah Evans, Keyonna LeShawn Hill, Yakima Rich, Paul Jon West, Lisa Wooten and Rosey Young.

Flyin' West continues at Arena Players through Sunday, March 24. Ticket info here.

Credit Johns Hopkins University

Last Thursday, the Maryland House of Delegates passed a bill that would allow terminally ill patients with a prognosis of less than six months to live to obtain prescription drugs that they could choose to take to end their own lives. A similar bill is moving through the state Senate. This is the fourth year that such a bill has been proposed in the Maryland General Assembly.   

On today's installment of Midday on Ethics, Tom speaks with Dr. Jeffrey Kahn of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bio Ethics; and Dr. Mark Komrad, a psychiatrist on the faculties of Johns Hopkins University, the University of Maryland and Tulane and Ethicist-in-Residence for the Sheppard-Pratt Health Systems, about the ethical issues of so-called “aid in dying laws” for patients, doctors and society.  

AP Images

Today, we’re discussing the crisis of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. Last month, 190 bishops and 10 women of religious orders convened at the Vatican for a summit to address the international problem of predatory priests and others in the hierarchy of the church.  However, many survivors don't think that the summit went far enough. 

Joining Tom today to discuss the outcome of  the Rome conference are Mary Dispenza, a former nun, a survivor of sexual abuse and the Northwest Director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests;  Joshua McElwee, a Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter;  and Father Michael Garanzini ,a Jesuit Priest, the Chancellor of Loyola University in Chicago, and a board member of the Leadership Roundtable, a Catholic organization of clergy and laity charged with recommending best practices and methods of accountability in the church. 

Photo courtesy University of Maryland

Today, it's Midday on Education. Tom's guest, Dr. William "Brit" Kirwan, is the chair of the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, also known as the Kirwan Commission. Dr. Kirwan was formerly president of the University of Maryland, where he served on the faculty for 34 years. He was also Chancellor of the University System of Maryland from 2002-2015.

The Kirwan Commission was created three years ago by the Maryland governor and the General Assembly to improve the state’s public education system and to recommend a new funding formula for our public schools. 

The commission recently released an Interim Report.  It includes a series of recommendations about how the state should re-order its educational priorities and improve accountability.  It does not yet tackle the thorny issue of a funding formula: how the state and local jurisdictions will divide the cost.  Whatever the formula ends up being, it will have to shoulder a hefty price tag, estimated at nearly $4 billion dollars over the next ten years. 

The General Assembly is currently considering a bill that would provide a billion dollars over the next two years, to begin implementing the commission’s recommendations.  Last Friday, the Maryland House revised Gov. Hogan's budget proposal to include about $320 million more for public education, a first step.

Dr. Kirwan joins us to discuss the proposals contained in the interim report, and he addresses listener  comments and questions.

You can view the video of today's live-streamed conversation on the WYPR Facebook Page.

Dr. Kirwan will be speaking this Wednesday, March 13 at 7:00pm at a free event at the Cathedral of the Incarnation at 4 East University Parkway in Baltimore.  

Alex Klein for The Johns Hopkins News-Letter

Yesterday, the Baltimore City Senate Delegation to the Maryland General Assembly voted to approve legislation that will allow Johns Hopkins University to establish its own private police force. The City House Delegation was scheduled to vote this morning, but it appears they have postponed that vote. 

If this legislation is ultimately approved, Johns Hopkins will be the first private university in Baltimore to have its own police force. Hopkins officials say that a campus police force would help them address concerns about crime near their campuses, respond to active shooters and protect students, teachers and staff more effectively. But opponents are concerned that a Hopkins police force would not be accountable to the public and are worried that police would engage in racial profiling.

What would a Hopkins police force mean for Baltimore? Would it deepen a divide between the University and the community, or will it bring Hopkins closer to its neighbors in Charles Village, Mt. Vernon and East Baltimore?

photo courtesy Baltimore Classical Guitar Society

Today, Live in Studio A, the internationally celebrated guitarist Grigory "Grisha" Goryachev  joins us to perform two selections from his upcoming Baltimore Classical Guitar Society concert at UMBC.  

A native of St. Petersburg, Russia, the 41 year-old Goryachev is renowned for his extraordinary musical sensitivity and technical virtuosity in both classical and flamenco styles.  He is one of a small number of guitarists in the world who is reviving the tradition of solo flamenco guitar in a concert setting -- an approach practiced by such legendary flamenco masters as Ramón Montoya and Sabicas.

Today on Midday, Grisha plays two songs:  Zapateado en Re by Sabicas, and the classic Malaguena by Ernesto Lecuona, in an arrangement by Paco de Lucia.

Grisha Goryachev will perform at the Baltimore Classical Guitar Society concert on Saturday, March 9, from 8-10pm, at the Linehan Concert Hall at UMBC in Catonsville.   For details and ticket info, click here.

This program is available as a Facebook Livestream on WYPR's Facebook Page.

Movie Still Courtesy imdb.com/Warner Bros.

Today, it's the March edition of Midday at the Movies, and Tom is joined in the studio by our movie-maven regulars: Ann Hornaday is film critic for the Washington Post and the author of Talking Pictures: How to Watch Movies; Jed Dietz is the founding director of the Maryland Film Festival, home to the historic Parkway Theater here in Baltimore.

A week after the 91st annual Oscars ceremony left movie-goers grumbling over some of the Academy's top picks, Ann and Jed consider why folks were getting all red-in-the-face over Green Book's Best Picture Oscar, and why Alfonso Cuaron's highly praised Roma came close to the top honor -- but missed the cigar.  They discuss the extraordinary post-Oscar bump that Green Book has enjoyed this past week, and the post-Oscar release of A Star is Born: Encore." That's a new version of the popular film, now making a brief, week-long swing through theaters, that features an extra twelve minutes of mostly performance footage, and a new song, "Clover," sung by Jackson and Ally in a scene that was missing from the original release. 

Photography by Shaelyn Jae

It's Thursday, and time again for Midday theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck to join Tom in the studio with another of her weekly reviews of regional productions.  Today, she tells us about the Baltimore premiere of Frankensteina new adaptation of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's classic novel by playwright Robert Kauzlaric.

The play, which kicks off Cohesion Theatre Companys fifth season, transforms the classic horror tale from a story about an obsessive scientist and his creation, to a psychologically nuanced drama about a grieving woman trying to reinvent her father.

Directed by Melissa LaMartina, Frankenstein continues at the Cohesion Theatre Company until  Sunday, March 10.  All remaining performances are sold out, but you can check on ticket availabilities here.

uetchy/CC BY 2.0

On today's Midday, a journey through the rich history and the future of Maryland wine. Tom's guests are Al Spoler, the co-host of Cellar Notes and Regina McCarthy, author of Maryland Wine: A Full-Bodied History.

Currently, there are 94 licensed wineries in the state of Maryland. That’s 14 more than we had just two years ago. To find more information about Maryland wine trails, click here.  

U.S. Department of Agriculture/CC BY 2.0

Today, Tom explores the rich history of food, farming and environmental conservation in Harford County.

His guest is Dr. Sharon Stowers, a professor of anthropology and sociology -- who is also a registered dietitian and nutritionist.

She is Harford Community College's first Scholar-in-Residence and has been researching Harford County's agriculture and food scene. Her year-long program is called "Gathering at the Community Table: Celebrating Harford's Farms and Foods."

On Saturday, March 16, Stowers will lead "Opening the Dialogue: A Symposium for the Public and Farmers" at Harford Community College.  For more information about the event, please click here.

AP Images

On today's Midday Culture Connections with Dr. Sheri Parks: a conversation about believability, empathy and victimhood.

Baltimore Police say that the murder of a Harford County Engineer, Jacqueline Smith late last year was not, as her husband claimed, committed by two panhandlers. Instead, the husband and his daughter are charged with the crime. 

The actor Jussie Smollett is facing felony charges for claiming that he was the victim of a violent attack in Chicago. Police there have brought to light evidence that the actor may have staged his own attack.

Initially, we may have empathized with Smith and Smollett. But does our empathy actually get in the way of our making rational, moral decisions. Amid complaints of “fake news” and widespread distrust of police and public institutions, who can we believe?

Photograph by Simon Leigh

Today on Midday, a conversation with a veteran journalist about the intersection of journalism and business; the changing nature of how and from whom we get our news, and who pays for it; and the growing political assaults on truth and the news media.   

Jill Abramson began her career as a reporter in the early 1970s, during the Watergate Era.  She spent almost a decade at the Wall Street Journal, and she was the first woman to be appointed the Washington Bureau Chief of the New York Times, where she rose to become the Gray Lady’s Executive Editor.  In 2014, after three years in that position, the Times fired her in favor of the current executive editor, Dean Baquet.  Abramson is currently a columnist for the online The Guardian US, and a visiting lecturer in the English Department at Harvard University.

Associated Press

It’s another edition of the Midday NewsWrap

We begin today with analysis of the summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean President Kim Jong-un, who met this week for the second time. The summit came to an abrupt end yesterday, with no new agreements.

Tom's guest is Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute, an expert on Korean affairs.

Later in the show, Tom discusses some of the week's local news developments with Baltimore Sun State House reporter Luke Broadwater.

Courtesy of Madam Walker Family Archives

A new exhibit at the Goya Contemporary Gallery here in Baltimore is inspired by the civil rights activist and entrepreneur Madam C.J. Walker, who, more than a century ago, created a company that manufactured and sold hair-care products for black women. In the process, Walker became a millionaire.

The exhibition, called Hair/Goods: An Homage to Madam C.J. Walker, is a collection of work by the internationally acclaimed fiber artist Sonya Clark, who is a Professor of Art at Amherst College in Massachusetts. 

Today's guests also include:

A’Lelia Bundles, the biographer and great-great-granddaughter of Madam Walker.

And Amy Raehse,  who is executive director and partner at Goya Contemporary Gallery and curator of the Walker exhibit.

Photo by Laurie Sturdevant

In this Web-only bonus audio from J. Wynn Rousuck's February 21, 2019 phone conversation with Paula Vogel, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright discusses the importance of music in her most recent play, Indecent (now at Baltimore Center Stage), describes some of her new playwrighting projects, reflects on the expanding opportunities being afforded emerging playwrights today, and comments on the fundamental importance of theater in society.

Photo Courtesy AP/ J. Scott Applewhite

Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former lawyer is, testifying on Capitol Hill for the third consecutive day.  Yesterday, in seven hours of televised testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, Cohen was contrite for his past prevarication to Congress, and vehement in his depiction of his former boss as a bigot, a conman, and a liar.  

So, what did we learn from Cohen’s testimony?  Was Cohen credible?  What did his public testimony portend for future hearings?

Josh Gerstein, Senior Legal Affairs Contributor at POLITICO and Elaine Kamarck, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, join Tom for an analysis of this pivotal event.    

Photo by J. Wynn Rousuck

Today, instead of her usual weekly review, theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck shares the conversation she had last week with the celebrated playwright Paula Vogel, whose works include A Civil War Christmas, The Baltimore Waltz, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning How I Learned to Drive.  Vogel's most recent play, Indecentopens in previews tonight at Baltimore Center Stage. It's being produced in collaboration with Arena Stage and Kansas City Rep.  Eric Rosen is directing the play, which runs through March 31.

Indecent tells the true story of another play:  an early 20th-century Yiddish drama called  “The God of Vengeance,” by Sholem Asch.  The sexually avant-garde play was a hit all over Europe – and in New York.  But when its English-language version opened on Broadway in 1923, the cast was arrested and the play closed down.

Paula Vogel’s Indecent, for its part, had a successful Broadway run, and this season is one of the most-produced new plays in American regional theaters. It pays homage to artists who are ahead of their time, and who sometimes pay dearly for their passion.

Playwright Paula Vogel speaks with Judy from her home in Wellfleet, Massachusetts.

Click here to listen to more of J. Wynn Rousuck's interview with Paula Vogel.

In August 2016, the Department of Justice published a scathing report chronicling a pattern and practice of unconstitutional policing by the Baltimore City Police Department. In the waning days of the Obama administration, the City of Baltimore and the DOJ entered into a Consent Decree that requires the BPD to make a number of fundamental changes in its policies and procedures. 

In April 2017, US District Court Judge James K. Bredar began overseeing the implementation of the Consent Decree, ensuring that the City of Baltimore and BPD do what the Consent Decree requires. One of the things the decree requires is the appointment of an Independent Monitor to serve as the agent of the Court in overseeing its implementation.

In October 2017, after a public selection process, Judge Bredar appointed a respected Baltimore attorney, Kenneth Thompson, to be that Independent Monitor. He heads a team of experts in policing and police reform, civil rights enforcement, psychology, social science, organizational change, data and technology and community engagement.  

Lead Monitor Kenneth Thompson and Deputy Monitor Seth Rosenthal -- both attorneys with the law firm Venable LLP -- join Tom in Studio A to discuss how the Decree-mandated reform efforts are progressing, and the difficult work that lies ahead for the Baltimore Police Department, and for the communities it serves. 

This conversation was live-streamed on the WYPR Facebook page.  That video can viewed here. 

photo courtesy Mileah Kromer

Tom Hall's guest is Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Center for Field Politics at Goucher College

Last week, the Center released the results of its latest Goucher Poll, which regularly surveys public policy, economic, and social issues in Maryland.  The latest poll asked Marylanders about topics ranging from legalizing recreational marijuana and raising the minimum wage, to race relations, the health of the Chesapeake Bay, styrofoam cups and, in general, how folks are feeling about the direction of their state. 

These are all matters driving debate during the current General Assembly session in Annapolis, so Mileah Kromer and Tom take a walk through some of the most significant of the new Goucher Poll results, to let Annapolis legislators know where their constituents stand.

Mark Plummer Flickr/Creative Commons

Why does Baltimore City have a separate government from Baltimore County? Some people think it would it make more sense to combine those two jurisdictions. Some don't, of course, but it’s an idea that has been bandied about for more than 70 years.

A new report by the Abell Foundation is intended to revive the conversation about a consolidated regional government in the Baltimore area. It’s called “Combining Forces,” and it includes case studies of three examples of metropolitan consolidation that did go forward-- in Nashville, TN, Indianapolis, IN and Louisville, KY. 

Jeff Wachter is the primary author of the Abell report. He is a researcher who specializes in the development of American cities and suburbs. Klaus Philipsen is an architect who writes and lectures widely about urban design, architecture, preservation and transportation issues.

Tom speaks with BaltimoreCity States Attorney Marilyn Mosby.  Last week she announced a new initiative in the Victims and Witnesses Services Unit, which was established as part of the State’s Attorney’s Office more than 40 years ago.

It’s been 15 years since the underground film Stop Snitching made the rounds of some of Baltimore’s most impoverished neighborhoods.  It featured gang members urging witnesses to stay silent when asked by the police to cooperate in criminal investigations.  Police and prosecutors say that the ‘Stop Snitching’ mentality is still one of the major barriers they face when investigating many cases of violent crime.

Wikipedia photo

Last Sunday, the First Lady of Baltimore Jazz, Ethel Ennis, passed away at the age of 86 from complications following a stroke.

Baltimore has produced many great jazz artists like Billie Holiday, Cab Calloway, Eubie Blake and several others, and Ethel most certainly deserves her place in the panoply of these great jazz legends. 

She was a singer with uncanny technical gifts and a vivid, singular and compelling musical imagination.  She was a composer.  She was a pianist.  She was a gem.

Tom Hall interviewed Ethel Ennis three times between 2007 and 2012, when he was the Culture Editor on WYPR's old  "Maryland Morning" show.  As fellow musicians and as friends, their paths crossed often in Baltimore.  We've drawn on some of those archived interviews for this tribute to Ms. Ennis, and in sharing a bit of her music and conversation, we celebrate her great talent, and her remarkable life.