For many of the actors in "The Wire," the gritty HBO series that took an unflinching look at life in inner-city Baltimore, the show had a profound influence on the way they viewed the country's poorest and most disaffected. After the series ended in 2008, Sonja Sohn, who played Detective Shakima Greggs, founded reWIRED for Change, a nonprofit organization that includes other members of the cast and crew and that tries to help youths in underserved communities. For almost a year, Sohn has been working with a Boston community activist to create a curriculum based on the series. The Globe caught up with Sohn, who is expected to attend a panel discussion tonight in Cambridge (details below) about how the show can influence policy, to ask her about the effort.
Q. Was there a moment when you were traveling that you realized the kind of influence you wield because of your work on "The Wire?
A. We started to speak to some guys sitting on a porch and drinking in North Carolina about the importance of voting and their rights. The next day we got a call from a regional director down there telling us that they had a guy who had stated that he came to register for the vote because the big dude from "The Wire" -- Gbenga Akinnagbe, who plays Chris Partlow -- told him to come down. He not only voted but he volunteered for a campaign. That was a moment that illustrated again the power of celebrity and our association with "The Wire" to affect social change in these communities. I took two men who had never voted in their lives to register. They were in their 60s. That was incredibly moving.
Q. What about your background qualifies you to work with the young people you meet through reWIRED for Life?
A. I think my own experiences inform me more than anything. ... My family loved me and if you have love thatís the difference between someone becoming a sociopath and someone having a shot at the end of the day. I was loved, but there were bases that werenít covered. There was a certain amount of emotional neglect outside of the home, there were abuses which led me to experiences with the drug life. When the idea for this organization came up and when the idea for the program came up and when I started to facilitate the program every step of the way it became more and more obvious that I was basically born to do this ... This was one of the most profound purposes of my existence.
Q. How do the participants in the reWIRED for Life program react when they first see you?
A. The show, first, is sort of the attraction to getting them involved. ... Very quickly, the star-struck quality falls away because they need to get beyond that because we need to make a connection. The only way thatís going to happen is if they know that I come from the same place that they do.
More on "The Wire" -- At the beginning of the show's final season. Globe television critic Matthew Gilbert praised its honesty. Read his review here.
*Tonight's panel discussion begins at 7:30 p.m. at Harvard's Science Center, Lecture Hall D,
One Oxford St., Cambridge. Tickets are free but are required for the panel. Tickets are available at the Harvard Box Office at Holyoke Center at 1350 Massachusetts Ave..
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