Baltimore native Cyrus Chestnut performs for Silo Hill Steinway Series

When it comes to having developed a love and talent for playing the piano, Baltimore native Cyrus Chestnut’s musical abilities have taken him from the streets of Charm City to locations around the world.

Yet, this musical virtuoso manages to maintain a love-connection for his hometown that often brings him back to perform in his original environment.

On Sunday, September 10, 2017, Chestnut performed for the Steinway Series at Silo Hill in suburban Phoenix, Maryland— a few miles from Baltimore City.

Considered a virtuoso on the 88s, Chestnut was invited by Steinway Series board members to help “reinvent the way people experience live classical music while raising awareness of, and funding for Parkinson’s Research and Support Services.”

Silo Hill Board President, Carolyn Black-Sotir’s parents both died of Parkinson’s disease.

The product of a spiritual family, Chestnut’s music career started at age three at Baltimore’s Mount Calvary Star Baptist Church where his father, McDonald Chestnut, is church pianist and his mother, Flossie Chestnut, is a choir director. By age nine, Cyrus studied classical piano at Baltimore’s renowned Peabody Institute. After graduating from Peabody, his family moved to suburban Harford County where he graduated from North Harford High School in 1981.

In 1985, Chestnut moved to Boston where he earned a jazz composition and arranging degree from the Berklee College of Music. There, he was awarded Eubie Blake Fellowship, Quincy Jones Scholarship and Oscar Peterson Scholarship awards. From 1986-1993, Chestnut toured with jazz vocalist Jon Hendricks, along with Terrence Blanchard, Donald Harrison, Wynton Marsalis and Betty Carter.

Following the Silo Hill performance, Chestnut is scheduled to perform in Mississippi and then onto the Ukraine, in Eastern Europe.

In November 2015, Chestnut joined jazz giants Buster Williams, bass; and drummer Lenny White for a new recording, which was released in May 2016. His latest CD, “There’s a Sweet, Sweet Spirit,” reflects his continued appreciation for spiritual music.

The Steinway Silo Hill Series features renowned pianists who perform throughout the year. Upcoming artists are Sara Davis Buechner, on November 4; and Pablo Lavandera with violinist Joanna Kaczorowska on April 28, 2018.

For more information about the Steinway Silo Series, access

April Ryan: ‘On The Record’ at Johns Hopkins

A packed house, comprised of a healthy mix of students and community members, filled auditorium seats at Seeley G. Mudd Hall on the campus of Johns Hopkins University (JHU) near downtown Baltimore on the evening of Tuesday, September 12, 2017.

The featured attraction was April Ryan, the notable newswoman who became nationally renowned following a February press conference, when President Donald Trump asked her if she could “setup a meeting” with the Congressional Black Caucus. In a March press briefing, then-press secretary Sean Spicer, criticized her for “shaking her head.”

Ryan spoke at a special event dubbed “JHU Forums on Race in America.” Her talk focused on “Race, Politics, and the Changing Face of Journalism.”

In a relaxed face-to-face interview with Tracey Reeves, JHU’s Director of Media Relations, Ryan fielded several diverse topics including her personal relationship with the President to cramped conditions inside the James S. Brady White House Briefing Room where she and fellow journalists attend and participate in press conferences.

During Ryan’s 20-year career as a journalist, she has worked in various mediums including gospel, jazz and news radio in her native Baltimore, leading to her current gig as a White House Bureau Chief for American Urban Radio Networks (AURN).

When asked about her choices for a college major, in retrospect, Ryan told a student that her first major in history or law, or other subjects away from journalism. She explained that becoming versed on a specific subject is generally beneficial in her field – adding that expertise in broadcast-journalism could be gained at a latter stage in the educational process. “Maybe minor in journalism,” she added.

Regardless of her process, Ryan’s focus on education has paid off.

In her current role at AURN, the Northwest Baltimore native works for the only African-American media outlet in the White House, with a network of more than 300 stations nationwide and nearly 20 million listeners each week. She is also a regular contributor and political analyst on CNN.

In 1985, she graduated from Baltimore’s Seton-Keough High School, a private Catholic high school that closed its doors for good, last June due to decreased enrollments and increased operating costs.

When Reeves, asked Ms. Ryan about her initial reaction when President Trump took office, Ryan replied, “I knew it was going to be much different [than the previous administration].

She noted that during President [Bill] Clinton’s era, the Oval Office was literally accessible to the press. Things changed during President George W. Bush’s terms.

“Things were more closed-off, and it got even tighter during President Obama’s tenure,” she said.

When asked how she feels history will eventually judge President Trump, Ryan quickly responded, “So far, hectic, chaotic and divisive.”

Additionally, on the controversial topic of “Fake News vs. Real News,” Ryan said the rise of Facebook, is a major culprit in allowing non-journalists a vehicle to create and allow unconfirmed stories a chance to reach vulnerable audiences.

She also briefly discussed a public rift between herself and Trump staffer Omarosa Manigault. The two were friends before political differences created a split in their relationship. A verbal spat outside of former White House spokesman Sean Spicer’s office, nearly resulted in physical blows, according to Ryan.

On the subject of Presidential Tweets, she said the President’s use of social media, namely Twitter, has become a “game-changer” primarily because in past administrations, press conferences generated official White House content. Now, “you have to run around and be able to react quickly,” because those Tweets have now become ‘Presidential’— more than the Press Secretary.”

She said that doesn’t feel responsible for always asking questions related to minority issues. Instead, she asks questions that impact the overall populous, but “if I need to go-there, I will,” she said. Especially if vital issues pertinent to blacks aren’t being addressed.

Ryan also noted that she has received death threats in her role. “Why? Because I ask valid questions. No, I’m not scared. Remember, I’m from Baltimore,” she quipped with a smile.

Youth league developing new generation of black lacrosse players in Baltimore

Notably, the University of Maryland’s men and women lacrosse teams both won NCAA championships in 2017.

On that note, even though it may appear that lacrosse is a sport perhaps uncommon to the black experience, in Maryland the sport has been a staple among African-Americans for many years – including 50 years ago when Morgan State University first fielded a successful men’s team affectionately known as the “Ten Bears.”

Currently, the Charm City Youth Lacrosse (CCYL) league continues the Bears’ legacy, by attracting Baltimore’s inner city and suburban area black youths to its program.

The attraction to lacrosse has long been a major draw to Maryland youth both black and white, while young black athletes in other parts of the nation continue their expected focus on basketball, football, track or perhaps soccer and baseball. Primarily in central Maryland, black youths have for many years immersed themselves in the alternative sport known as lacrosse.

According to CCYL executive director, Artemis “Artie” West, lacrosse is one of the oldest team sports in North America with origins in the Native American culture. West says she was first introduced to the sport by her parents at the age of seven. While growing up in suburban Towson, she attended Loch Raven High School where she became a star player— helping her school win two regional titles, and achieving at least one undefeated season.

West was initially recruited to play lacrosse for Howard University but she decided to play for Towson University, where she enjoyed a successful athletic career.

At age 31, West stays busy ensuring that minority children are introduced to the lacrosse experience. As CCYL’s primary administrator, she believes it’s vital to assure girls and boys stay committed to the game.

“It’s a way of getting the kids out of the city. They meet new friends while staying active and fit. It also enhances their academics and opportunities to attend four-year colleges,” West said.

Founded in 2008 by Doug Gansler, the former attorney general of Maryland, to benefit Baltimore’s inner-city youth, CCYL now consists of 600 children between the ages of four and 15. All coaches are unpaid volunteers.

Another local figure pivotal to Baltimore’s inner-city youth participation in lacrosse, is Donnie Brown. The Baltimore native and former member of the famed Morgan State team was introduced to the game as a youngster. After starring on the Baltimore City College team, he went on to become a star player on the Morgan State team. Now 58, Brown remains connected to the sport and serves on CCYL board of directors and is considered as the “Godfather of Black Lacrosse” in Baltimore by West.

Meanwhile, the Baltimore Gators, an all-girls unit, which participates independently under the CCYL banner is made up of girls, ages nine to 14. The team competes with other Baltimore area girls’ teams. Organized by West in 2009, the Gators are now coached by George Roycroft.

“We’re not as experienced as the teams we face, but our girls have so much heart. I’m very proud of them,” said Roycoft, the coach for the past seven years.

West says the sport has been played at Ivy League colleges for decades, and still has the reputation of being the “sport of the privileged.” She also noted the historical relevance of Baltimore-based Morgan State University, as the only lacrosse team sanctioned to play NCAA-level lacrosse at an HBCU (historically black college university).

In 1975, the Morgan State Bears men’s team defeated teams like Harvard and Notre Dame, and upset the No. 1 ranked, previously undefeated Washington & Lee University. Before the Morgan State victory, Washington & Lee had not lost a regular season or home game the prior two seasons.

The Morgan team’s exploits are recounted in the book “Ten Bears,” and the story was once being considered for a major motion picture production. In 2011, ESPN produced a Black History Month feature showcasing the Morgan State lacrosse experience.

‘Time 2 Grind’ Boxing Club offers safe haven to Baltimore youth

— On the Northeast side of Baltimore, a youth boxing club is steadily earning a reputation as one of the city’s premier recreation locations for developing young boxers, while serving as a “safe-haven” for at-risk youth.

The ‘Time 2 Grind’ boxing club is effectively making its mark, according to the boxing club’s founder and coach, Mack Allison III, a native Baltimorean.

Although his interest in the “sweet science” started as a youngster before he graduated from Southern High School near Fells Point, Allison and his best friend, Earl Dent, had more of a passion for East Asian martial arts— Karate, Judo, Tae Kwon Do and knife-wielding fighting sports.

Dent is now a member of the Baltimore Police Department.

“We were really into Bruce Lee and people like that,” explained Allison.

When the director at the City’s Parks and Recreation Department where his wife worked mentioned starting a boxing program for youth, it was suggested that Allison help to get the program off the ground.

Two years ago, his pastor at Transforming Life Baptist Church, (TLC) said he was interested in starting a boxing program within the church. Allison, now 47, immediately started implementing his expertise as a martial artist and designed a gym and purchased required heavy bags, free weights and other equipment needed to create a legitimate boxing environment.

Allison was able to transform a novice, boxing group into a championship-based unit. He is proud that some of his members have attained championship status.

“So far, we have a National Silver Glove champion; and four Junior Olympic State champions. Other fighters have competed on a national and international level and we have a professional boxer that is undefeated with seven wins,” he said with pride.”

Naturally, he is proud of the undefeated pro-boxer, considering it’s his 19-year- old son, Mack “Papi” Allison IV.

Allison also says that his minister, Pastor David Biggers was very impressed.

“Sure, there are several boxing gyms in Baltimore, but we’re the first one born out of a church,” said Allison. “It’s our goal to keep the children who come here, safe. We want to keep them away from drugs and the fast life,” he said. Maintaining good grades is another priority at the club, he stressed.

Since starting the boxing club in 2015, Allison says things are moving along at a steady pace. The group recently received its 501 (c) 3 non-profit status. The church-gym is located at 4801 Simpple Avenue, Baltimore, Maryland 21206.

He also appreciates the support he receives from his assistant coach, Gary Lewis.

A billboard project is in the works, according to Allison.

“We would like to put positive messages on many of the empty billboards around the city. We need a more positive message on them like, ‘go to school, don’t be a fool.’ It’s my way of presenting something positive to the kids. A subliminal message that they’ll look up and see on these billboards,” said Allison.

“People blame the mayor and politicians for children’s short-falls [but] it’s not their fault— it’s the parents who aren’t there. The kids are taking care of themselves, so we need a safe-haven for them. It really does take a village to raise these kids. Too often, the kids won’t listen to [their] parents, but they’ll listen to others— coaches, teachers, mentors, etc.

“Ours is a religious-based boxing program. We train to win, but more so, [it gives] them a place off the streets to enjoy new friendships and camaraderie,” said Allison.

Allison considers his wife, Dawn Allison, as his his rock.

“She’s the one that encouraged me to do what I’m doing,” he said.

The couple has been married 22 years, with three grown children, including a daughter and two sons.

“When my kids were young, I got them very involved in training— including my daughter. It helps build confidence for all young people, especially when peer pressure starts to arise,” he said. ‘Time 2 Grind’ is open to boys and girls and Allison encourages parents to bring their young daughters to the gym. It’s good for all kids.”

For more information about the “Time 2 Grind” boxing club, email Mack Allison IV at: or call 443-631-1663.

Renovated Western District Police Station helps community and police find common ground

When the Western District Police Station re-opened its doors on July 12, 2017, the newly renovated precinct located at 1034 North Mount Street in Baltimore now represents a renewed and fresh outlook for police and the community, in more ways than one.

Dennis Roberts

In addition to the obvious upgrades the $4.5 million project provided to the nearly 60-year old brick and mortar facility, the improvements also resulted in finding common ground between law enforcement and its community element. While the national spotlight shined on Baltimore during the spring of 2015, during the controversial death of Baltimore resident Freddy Gray, in addition to several Baltimore officers being charged in connection with Gray’s unfortunate death— the Western District Police Station became the focus of community anger, protests and civil uprising.

According to Baltimore police officials, the old Western District station represented an “unwelcoming fortress with towering pillars and locked doors.” The removal of these real and symbolic barriers allows a vibrant, energetic space to emerge and the transformation of the former building enables conversations between all parties, police and the community.

Finding common ground in the scope of this project was “key to its potential success,” according to Scott Plank, founder, War Horse Cities CDC, the primary developer and financial overseer of the project.

Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis and Major Sheree Briscoe, Baltimore Police Department Western District.

Eric Stocklin/Courtesy BPD

Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis and Major Sheree Briscoe, Baltimore Police Department Western District.

“Our reflection and deep conversations with stakeholders made it clear that the project needed assets to attract and retain great police officers and provide gathering spaces to bridge deep divides and increase interaction between law enforcement and the Western District community,” said Plank.

“The Western District has long represented the hopes and challenges of our city,” said Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis. “The police district station now reflects our community and organizational values, and its new appearance and modern amenities will attract residents and police alike as we strive for a new day— one made possible by our business and community partners.” Baltimore City Mayor Catherine Pugh mirrored Commissioner Davis’ remarks.

“The Western District Police Station renovation is a prime example how real change can be made through strong public-private partnerships. Tackling violence in Baltimore requires unique strategies and collaboration between the state, city and our business leaders,” said Mayor Pugh. “We need everyone engaged in this fight with us— neighborhoods, the police department, the faith-based community, city agencies, and everyday citizens. This project will make a real difference in the lives of those on the front lines fighting for the future of our city.”

As part of the Baltimore Police Collaborative Public Safety Project, the Western District Police Station draws on Plank’s experience in urban planning, and workplace and hospitality space programming to bring the latest in customer-centric design to Baltimore City public service facilities.

While utilizing Plank’s retail and hospitality industry experience, the updated $4.5 million station is organized around the guest experiences of three “customers;” (1) visitors to the station, (2) police officers and administrators, and (3) those who are in custody. Using the six pillars of President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing as a guide, the Baltimore Police Collaborative Public Safety Project reinvented the Western District Station as a beacon of trust and safety that reflects a culture of respect, understanding and transparency.

Retired major leaguer still enjoying ‘game’ as Astros scout

Hank Allen is also known as a skilled horse trainer in Maryland’s thoroughbred racing arena.

When Harold “Hank” Allen was a kid growing up in rural Lawrence County, Pa., near Pittsburgh, he and his younger brother Richard “Dick” Allen never imagined they’d someday become teammates in the major leagues.

At age 76, Allen continues his career in the Major Leagues as a scout for the Houston Astros, one of the best teams in the American League. These days, you can catch him working working in the press box at Camden Yards in downtown Baltimore with the Baltimore Orioles or in Southeast Washington, D.C. where he often sits among working media types at Nationals Stadium.

Allen played seven years in the major leagues as a valued utility man, first in the Phillies’ minor league system, in addition to longer stints in the major leagues with the Washington Senators, Milwaukee Brewers and the Chicago White Sox. He still maintains a gleam in his eye, when it comes to working among his peers, and discussing professional baseball.

(Right) In a rare pose, Allen brothers, Hank (left) and Dick (right), finally joined forces with the Chicago White Sox in September 1972. It was their first time as teammates since leaving Wampum High School in Wampum, Pennsylvania.

Special Courtesy Photo

(Right) In a rare pose, Allen brothers, Hank (left) and Dick (right), finally joined forces with the Chicago White Sox in September 1972. It was their first time as teammates since leaving Wampum High School in Wampum, Pennsylvania.

He is the older brother of Richie “Dick” Allen, one of the most prolific major league power hitters of all-time. Dick Allen now lives in Tampa, Florida and “enjoying a life of retirement,” according to Hank. For the record, Hank noted that in his hometown of Wampum, Pennsylvania, Richie was always known as “Dick,” but the Philadelphia Phillies’ media named him “Richie” in comparison to former Phillies great Richie

Asburn. He was also known as the “Wampum Walloper” or “Sleepy,” his family nickname.

Many of Dick’s teammates disagree that Dick Allen was referred to as a “Clubhouse Lawyer,” a player who spreads negativity to the entire team. Conversely, most vouch for him as being a helpful mentor. Several major league notables can’t believe that Dick Allen has not yet been elected to Baseball’s elite Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

For the past 18 years, Hank Allen has enjoyed a successful scouting career. Prior to joining the Houston Astros, he spent nine years with the Milwaukee Brewers.

He now lives in Upper Marlboro in Prince George’s County between the District of Columbia and Baltimore

with convenient access to the ballparks in both cities— always looking to enhance his team’s roster.

“My role is to update the current roster and to scout other major league teams in order to improve our team,” said Hank who even at his age, maintains his six-foot, athletic-built frame.

The Allen brothers eventually played together with the White Sox in the early 1970s, which was the first time they were teammates since leaving high school. Both were Pennsylvania high school basketball champions, leading their Wampum High School teams in 1958 (Hank) and 1960 (Dick), respectively to state titles. Dick would go on to win the 1964 National League Rookie of the Year and enjoy a successful 15-year professional baseball career.

In addition to his baseball career, Hank is also well known in Maryland’s thoroughbred racing circuit. His name rings loudly in places like Laurel Park and at the Pimlico Race Course, home of the annual Preakness Stakes.

Thanks to their father, the late Coy Allen Sr., the Allen brothers were also exposed to horses as youngsters during their rural upbringing. Both men’s affinity for the equestrian trade is the stuff of legends. In 1989, Hank Allen became the first African-American trainer in 78 years to run a horse in thoroughbred racing’s most storied event, the Kentucky Derby, when Northern Wolf finished sixth behind Hall of Famer Sunday Silence, according to an article in the Baltimore Sun.

“My father was always involved [with] horses as a kid in Virginia, and he taught us to appreciate them,” Hank explained.