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In the Media: DeRay McKesson Released After Arrest in Baton Rouge; FORCE Wins Sondheim Prize

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A digest of Baltimore news from local sources.

From the Baltimore Sun: Baltimore activist DeRay McKesson released after arrest in Baton Rouge protest

"DeRay Mckesson, the civil rights activist who took a top administrative job with Baltimore's public school system after an unsuccessful mayoral bid, was among more than 100 arrested in Baton Rouge amid nationwide protests against police brutality.

"Mckesson said he believes his arrest was unlawful and that his actions were in line with his mission, personally and professionally, to 'make sure that we all live in the best world possible.' City school officials said Mckesson was acting as a private citizen.

"'I have a strong commitment to justice and equity across all sectors, namely police and state violence and education, and those commitments are not in conflict with each other,' Mckesson said after his release on Sunday.

"The deaths last week of two black men at the hands of police officers in separate incidents in Louisiana and Minnesota, as well as the killing of five police officers in Dallas in apparent retribution, continued to resound in Baltimore and around the country.

"On Sunday night about 50 people held a candlelight vigil in Federal Hill for the slain officers, and hundreds of protesters who decried the deaths of Philando Castile outside St. Paul and Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge marched through downtown Baltimore Friday and Saturday nights.

"On Tuesday, two Baton Rouge police officers fatally shot Sterling outside a convenience store in an incident that was captured on video. On Wednesday, an officer shot Castile during a traffic stop as he reached for his wallet, according to his girlfriend, who live-streamed video of the aftermath on Facebook.

"Then on Thursday, five police officers were fatally shot and others were wounded during protests in Dallas. As gunfire rang out, crowds of people fled and the chaos appeared on TVs around the country. Dallas authorities said Micah Xavier Johnson, 25, an Army veteran, opened fire out of anger toward white officers.

"Karen Walker, a 37-year-old homemaker from Glen Burnie, founded the Facebook group Stand Up For Baltimore City Police after last year's riots following the death of Freddie Gray, who suffered fatal spinal injuries in the back of a police transport van. She organized the vigil on Sunday.

"Meanwhile, protests were staged around the country.

"In the biggest confrontation between police and demonstrators since Castile's shooting, about 100 people were arrested late Saturday in St. Paul during a highway standoff and in other parts of the city. More than two dozen police officers and state troopers were hurt. Police Chief Todd Axtell called the pelting of officers with rocks, bottles, firecrackers and other objects "a disgrace."

"In Baton Rouge, protesters rallied Saturday at the police department, the state's Capitol and the store where Sterling was shot. The demonstration outside the Baton Rouge Police Department was tense as protesters faced off with police in riot gear.

"Shouting 'No justice! No peace!' a few hundred protesters gathered, waving signs as passing cars honked their support. Some drivers stopped with bottles of water. Police tried to clear the road as crowds yelled at them. An officer on a microphone told the crowd they could remain as long as they stayed on the grass and not on the road.

"Mckesson, who turned 31 on Saturday, was arrested on one count of obstruction of a highway, which is a misdemeanor, as he was walking along Baton Rouge's Airline Highway. In a widely circulated photo of his arrest, the Baltimore native is seen on one knee, wearing a T-shirt reading "#StayWoke" — a Twitter hashtag used to urge awareness of the political, social and cultural realities facing minority communities."

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From City Paper: FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture wins the 2016 Sondheim Artscape Prize

"The art activist collective FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture won the $25,000 Janet and Walter Sondheim Artscape Prize. 

"Before the award was announced, Jack Lewin of M&T Bank, one of the sponsors for the prize, said that art is a 'vital part of Baltimore City's continuing renaissance,' and that it can 'build bridges among diverse communities.'

"In their display in the Sondheim finalist exhibition at the Baltimore Museum of Art, FORCE presented pieces of their Monument Quilt, an ongoing project that travels nationally to different cities and communities to create public healing space for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. A key phrase that encompasses their installation reads: 'Rape is not a special interest issue that affects a few people. Rape is a social justice issue that affects everyone."

"Co-founders Rebecca Nagle and Hannah Brancato took the podium and began by congratulating the other six finalists on their work.  

"'[The Monument Quilt] is a very collaborative project,' Brancato continued. 'Many of you in the audience have participated in the Monument Quilt or seen the Monument Quilt when it was on display. Many more hands went into making what you see in the gallery than ours.'

"They thanked FORCE's studio manager Shanti Flagg, video editor David Sloan, Melani Douglass, who organized the performance that took place at the museum on June 24, and the people who performed.  

"'We hope that art institutions like the BMA continue to show artwork like this,' Nagle added, acknowledging the other finalists' political work. 'Giving the issue of sexual violence and domestic violence this kind of platform is really important.'"

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From the Baltimore Sun: Programs at Morgan State and other Maryland colleges entice dropouts to return

"Every weekday for a few years, Malik Mosley switched from a full-time worker to a full-time student at 8 a.m., when he finished his overnight shift at an Aberdeen warehouse and drove to class at Morgan State University.

"He managed that workload until a family member suffered an illness in 2013. Juggling school and work while helping to care for his family became too much to manage and he dropped out of Morgan in his junior year.

"Today Mosley has a degree in finance, thanks to a program at Morgan designed to entice students who have dropped out to return and finish their degrees. The program has been embraced by the state and is now being replicated at other universities and community colleges around the state.

"Students who go straight from high school to college and then finish their degrees in four years make up only 44 percent of the students at University System of Maryland colleges, which include 12 of the state's public institutions. College students in general increasingly work more hours and are more likely to have families. By intervening with dropouts and at-risk students, college administrators hope to boost their graduation numbers and help students achieve their goals.

"'To have someone give you a second chance, it was what I needed,' said Mosley, 26, of Parkville.

"Until recently, when students formally dropped out or simply stopped enrolling in classes, the onus fell on them to re-enroll and finish their degree. But faced with flagging graduation rates, some colleges are turning to creative methods to retain students.

"Tiffany B. Mfume, director of Morgan's Office of Student Success and Retention, had just switched to a new cellphone carrier in 2009 when she got a letter in the mail from her old phone company stating 'We want you back!' with a list of benefits she could get if she returned.

"That pitch gave her an idea. What if Morgan could use that same strategy to lure back students who had stopped enrolling in classes?

M"fume launched Morgan's Reclamation Initiative the following year and began calling and emailing students who had stopped attending. The school also mailed them letters modeled on the one she got from the cell phone company, compete with "We want you back!" and a list of perks they could get if they returned, such as a scholarship of up to $2,500 and one-on-one help with the re-enrollment process.

"The initiative started as a way to raise Morgan's six-year graduation rate, which was 29 percent in 2011. But the university has since expanded the effort to reach those who dropped out many years ago. Since 2010, about half of the 134 students Mfume reached out to have re-enrolled. Morgan's six-year graduation rate has risen from 29 percent to 31 percent. The university has a goal to raise the rate to 50 percent by 2025.

"After hearing about Morgan's program, state lawmakers started a similar statewide initiative through the Maryland Higher Education Commission called One Step Away. Under that program, colleges can vie for grants of up to $75,000 to pay for scholarships to lure back students, or to pay for support staff or software to help walk students through the process of re-enrolling. The schools target former students who have less than a year left to complete their degrees and are in good academic standing.

"Colleges that have won the grants since 2013 include Morgan, many Baltimore-area community colleges, Bowie State University and Notre Dame of Maryland University.

"The program is aimed at a state goal of 55 percent of adult Marylanders earning a college degree by 2025. As of 2013, the latest year for which data was available, 43.6 percent of Marylanders had at least an associate's degree.

"The programs at Morgan and other colleges represent a philosophic shift among college administrators nationally who increasingly are intervening based on predictive data or through programs like the Reclamation Initiative to help students who need a little extra push to complete their degrees."

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