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Acclaimed drama ‘The Wire’ still connecting at Harvard

G. Valentino Ball | 12/5/2012, 8:02 a.m.
Cast members from the popular TV drama series “The Wire” visited Professor Charles Ogletree Jr.’s class “Race and Justice: The Wire” at Harvard University on Dec. 3. Pictured are (back row, L to R) Professor Charles Ogletree, Chad Coleman and Gbenga Akinnagbe; (second row, L to R) Jamie Hector, Denise Francine Andrews, Larry D. Andrews and Blaize Connelly Duggan; (front row) Professor Ron Sullivan. Tony Irving

In its five seasons, HBO’s hour-long drama “The Wire” attracted critical acclaim and a fiercely loyal fan base for its stark portrayal of the complexities of inner-city Baltimore. But since the show left the airwaves in 2008, it has continued in a new light. Harvard University — along with other higher learning institutions such as UC Berkeley, John Hopkins, Syracuse, Brown and Duke — are using the series as a backdrop for courses that examine the issues covered on the show.

At Harvard Law, the class is called “Race and Justice: The Wire,” and is taught by Professor Charles Ogletree. On Monday, Ogletree moderated a panel of the show’s cast members including Sonja Sohn (Kima Greggs), Jamie Hector (Marlo Stanfield), Gbenga Akinnagbe (Chris Partlow) and Chad Coleman (Cutty Wise) along with some of the people who inspired characters on the show to speak about the impact of the series.

That impact can also be seen in the lives of the actors themselves. Sohn spoke of being inspired to start the nonprofit ReWired For Change, an organization that works with at-risk kids in the Baltimore area. Others in the cast detailed how the series underscored the need for work in the community and pushed them to action.

According to Ogletree, the course is so popular that some students have to be turned away. It has also motivated students to seek out less conventional career paths.

“The good thing about it is that more students are pursuing law careers in the public interest law than working for corporations and businesses,” he said. “In my sense, this course has changed the way that Harvard Law students think about their careers as lawyers. They want to do more about service for the public than making money for themselves, so it’s been a big victory.”

Ogletree, who credited Reverend Eugene Rivers for opening his eyes to the show’s power, is hopeful that the course will spark a new wave in public service.

“A lot of students say ‘I want to be something else,’” he said. “I can be a lawyer for a mayor, superintendent of schools, superintendent of corrections. I hope that the same thing that we saw in the ‘60s with the conviction of public service is now coming back to places like Harvard Law School in the 21st century.”

Hector, who starred as Marlo Stansfield on the series, wasn’t shocked about “The Wire” being the basis for a course.

“I was excited, but I wasn’t surprised,” he said. “When I met Tree (Professor Charles Ogletree) and Reverend Rivers, these men are really dedicated to social issues in the community … Being that it’s Harvard, that kind of says ‘wow.’ Because when they speak, people listen.”