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Melissa Harris-Perry, Transcript 01/31/15

Guests: Gail Shust, Igor Volsky, Abraham Axler, Katherine Stewart, Annie-Laurie Gaylor, Terri Hoye, Melissa Alexander, Faith Gay, Jason Lynch,Courtney Smith

MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: This morning, my question, what`s next for Marissa Alexander? She joins us live from her home in Florida. And churches making their way into public schools. Plus the rise of an empire. And Olivia Pope fair. But first, the measles are back in the United States of America. Good morning, I`m Melissa Harris-Perry. And everybody is getting ready for the Super Bowl tomorrow. But we`re going to begin this morning with a different part in the story about Super Bowl XLIX, not the NFL`s beleaguered commissioner, not the air pressure in the balls or the predictive spread of the game. We begin this morning with America`s most watched sporting event and the measles. The Centers for Disease Control and prevention declared in 2000 that Measles has been eliminated in the United States joining the likes of other infectious diseases like polio and malaria. And yet here we are 15 years later with all the headlines are all about the latest measles outbreak. This one traced to the Disneyland amusement park in Anaheim, California. More than 100 people in 14 states have been sickened in connection with this outbreak. These are headlines from another time. A time when getting the measles in the U.S. was a near universal experience. Before the measles vaccine became available in the mid-1960s, more than 90 percent of Americans had had the measles by the time they were 15 years old. Measles is one of the most contagious diseases in the world. If you have measles, 90 percent of the people who aren`t inoculated around you are also going to get it. It is for real and it is miserable. Measles is marked by a high fever, rash all over the body, coughing, and red and watery eyes and extremely sensitive to light and frankly, it just sucks. Most people make it through OK, but some develop serious complications, pneumonia swelling of the brain or ear infections that can cause deafness. One or two in every thousand children who get the measles will die from it. In the years right before the vaccine became available, measles was so widespread in the U.S. the relatively low death rate translated to about 450 deaths a year. And then the vaccine came along and was eventually made mandatory for school children. For years, the annual number of cases in the U.S. was averaging about 60. Nearly all of them cases of people bringing the measles home from another country. Because in the rest of the world, measles is still a real threat with about 20 million cases a year. In 2013, more than 145,000 people around the world died from the measles. In the U.S., it`s still rare. But recent outbreaks have alarmed public health officials. 2014 was the worst year for measles since the disease was officially eliminated in 2000. There were 644 cases last year. The majority of the cases occurred in Ohio after a missionary returned from the Philippines to his Amish community where many children had not been vaccinated. Now, luckily, no one died and health officials were able to give vaccines to 12,000 people in the area and keep the outbreak under control. Now in 2015 there are more than 100 cases of measles associated with the Disneyland outbreak. More than cases in a month than the U.S. was seeing over an entire year on average. Just a few years ago. And it`s important to know that no deaths have been associated with this outbreak. In fact, there have been no measles deaths in the United States since 2003. And most of the people who have gotten the measles were not vaccinated against it. The outbreak is not contained o to California, but has in fact spread to 13 other states. Arizona, where hundreds of thousands of people are converging for the Super Bowl in Phoenix is one of them. Joining us now from the site of the Super Bowl in Phoenix is NBC News`s Craig Melvin. Craig, tell us how are Phoenix helped officials deal with a threat like this of such a contagious disease at such a big event? CRAIG MELVIN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Melissa, typically security is the big story here. How officials are gearing up to protect people at the Super Bowl, but this year, as you indicated, the measles outbreak just as big of a story. That`s because in just the past few days in California alone, we have seen at least 12 new cases. 7 confirmed cases so far in the state of Arizona. So you`ve got seven cases in Arizona, where I`m, Maricopa County, two confirmed cases. Arizona health officials are also looking at roughly a thousand people, these are a thousand people who have been identified, they are being monitored right now because health officials say they have or they believe that these folks have come in contact with the measles. So officials here are doing a number of things. Three things specifically we want to highlight right now for you this morning. There are several first aid stations inside University of Phoenix Stadium behind me. Health officials are going to be monitoring those first aid stations. They will be reporting from those first aid stations if they see anyone that`s demonstrating signs that they may have the measles. They will be there - they`ll be sharing that information. They will also be monitoring drugstore purchases as well. They are tracking purchases at drugstores, not just here in Maricopa County, all over Arizona, all over the surrounding area, especially we are told. And they will also be communicating with hotels and hospitals. So public health officials on high alert, as you indicated, but they`ve also - they also want to make sure folks realize that they are not in crisis mode just yet, they are not in panic mode just yet, but they are taking additional precautions. Precautions far and above what they normally do at an event like this. HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to NBC`s Craig Melvin in Glendale, Arizona. We`re going to talk to you again tomorrow on Super Bowl Sunday. And joining me now is Gail Shust, pediatric infectious disease specialist at Kravis Children`s Hospital at Mount Sinai and assistant professor of pediatrics and infectious diseases at the Icahn School of Medicine. So Doctor Shust, I think, you know, we were even sort of wrestling with this a little bit as a team. This seems like a real outbreak, an important one. It is actually in the state where the Super Bowl is, but we want to be able to talk about preparation without creating public panic. So help me as a physician who understands infectious diseases to understand where we are with this current measles outbreak. How worried should we be? DR. GAIL SHUST, KRAVIS CHILDREN`S HOSPITAL: Well, I think you gave a great summary at the beginning of the show. Right now, nobody has died from the measles. Over 100 people have been infected with the measles, and we don`t know who will go on to become very, very sick. So, it is something to be concerned about. It`s not something where everybody should stay home and lock their doors, but people who haven`t been vaccinated should get vaccinated. It`s the best protection against measles. HARRIS-PERRY: So, can you be vaccinated if you are now an adult? I mean I know this is part of kind of the panel of pediatric vaccinations, but, you know, if I`m 30 and I`ve never been vaccinated, can I go get vaccinated now and if so, how long until it will be protected for me? SHUST: You absolutely can. And it does take a few weeks until the effects from the immune system would start to happen. HARRIS-PERRY: So help me to understand, then, why this happens. If in 2000, 15 years ago, we`re sort of saying, you know what, this is as over as polio. How is it that you know, you go to Disneyland and more than 100 people end up with measles? SHUST: Well, chances are that the initial case came in from another country. And then there are now pockets of certain communities throughout our country who are not vaccinating their children. So, through vaccination some people are dependent on what`s called herd immunity. Meaning, it`s OK that I`m not vaccinated because everybody around me is vaccinated. In order for herd immunity to work, you need a certain percentage of the population to be vaccinated, around 90 or 95 percent. Now, with more people choosing or unable to get the vaccine, that percentage is going down so somebody comes to Disneyland, they have the measles, they might not even realize they have the measles yet. They expose people who are unimmunized and then those people get it and pass it on to other people. And as you mentioned, if you`re exposed to somebody with the measles and you are not immunized against it, you have about a 90 percent chance of getting the measles. It`s very contagious. HARRIS-PERRY: And so, it`s just coming into contact. It`s not that you have to handle bodily fluids or something. It some other kind - like it really is casual contact? SHUST: It can be - It`s through respiratory, so somebody sneezes or somebody coughs, but it can also last on surfaces for up to two hours. So if somebody coughed on this table and then somebody were to touch this table .. HARRIS-PERRY: Oh .. SHUST: Touch their nose . (CROSSTALK) HARRIS-PERRY: Anywhere, right, or your schoolyard or, you know, a public restroom. I don`t mean to pick on (INAUDIBLE), but just said, you know, obviously those are the kinds of spaces where we can see it happening. SHUST: Of course. HARRIS-PERRY: So, talk to me - one more thing here, then. We heard from Craig Melvin that they are going to be monitoring drugstore purchases. And I heard you say that you might be contagious before you even know that you have it. So, what are the early symptoms? When should I get, you know, particularly about not inoculated, where should I be worried about it? SHUST: The problem I guess in terms of the transmission is from four days before you have the rash until about four days after you have the rash, you`re infectious. So, you might not know that you even have the measles. The beginning stages of it are more like flu-like symptoms or a bad cold like a cough or a stuffy nose. Red eyes, like you mentioned. So, in this environment now, we should be thinking with those things could be the measles and then you get that classic rash that usually starts on the head and travels down the body. HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, very last question. I know a lot of people choose not to get vaccinated because - their children vaccinated because they are worried that there are negative impacts, particularly autism. Does the medical community think that that is true? SHUST: The overwhelming scientific evidence has shown that there is no link between autism and vaccines. And I think it`s important for the medical community to provide good information for people because there`s a lot of not so great information out there, particularly on the Internet and social media. So, I think it`s part of our responsibility to help spread the word and say vaccines are important, they work and they are safe. HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to Dr. Gail Shust. And I do want to bring you some good news. At least one aspect of the daily routine and normalcy is returning for children living in one of the West African countries that was most ravaged by the Ebola outbreak. Officials in Liberia decided to reopen the country`s 5,000 schools attended by 1 million children. This development follows the encouraging news that there were 99 confirmed new cases last week in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone combined. That`s the lowest number since June. The Liberian classrooms closed last July and there are plans to reopen slowly to prevent a flare up of the disease. Up next, how expanding Medicaid looks for a Republican governor with dreams of 2016. And don`t go anywhere because later a report on the growing movement to get churches especially Christian evangelical churches into every public school nationwide. We`re going to be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) HARRIS-PERRY: Indiana Governor Mike Pence learned this week that state-run media, not such a good phrase. Just days after Indiana media reported Mr. Pence was launching a state-run news organization called "Just IN", not to be confused with my colleague`s Chris Hayes`s great show "All In", well, just days after announcing "Just IN", Pence was forced to backpedal and hard. Pence said Thursday he was spiking his plans for what some were calling his "Pravda on the Plains," referring to the infamous Soviet paper that was a mouthpiece for the ruling communist party. Before it even got a chance to live, "Just IN" is just dead. Now here`s another phrase that just a little while ago would have been political kryptonite for a Republican governor like Pence. "I am expanding Medicaid, just like President Obama wants me to." And yet Mr. Pence found himself saying just that, maybe not those exact words, but on Tuesday when he announced that he and the Obama administration had struck a deal on Obamacare. "Indiana will expand Medicaid to up to 350,000 people who are either under the poverty line or just above it." But it will do it Pence`s way by charging premiums to some Medicaid beneficiaries and suspending their coverage if they don`t pay. Joining me from Washington, D.C. is Igor Volsky who is deputy editor for ThinkProgress. So, Igor, am I supposed to be happy that we`re expanding Medicaid or unhappy because of how it`s happening? Is this good or bad? IGOR VOLSKY, DEPUTY EDITOR, THINKRPOGRESS.COM: Well, it`s definitely a mixed bag. And I think for a lot of people they will get care that they otherwise wouldn`t have gotten, and that`s good news. The question is for low-income hosiers, the ones that are going to be benefitting from this program, is this contribution that he`s asking to pay towards a health savings account, co-payments that he`s asking for certain services, will that keep them away from essential care? And we know from experience in other states, from other studies, that in fact, it has in the past. HARRIS-PERRY: OK, so pause, so that folks who are at home can really understand what we`re talking about here. When you say premiums, what kind of expense are you talking about? How much is the government asking for in this case to pay for the Medicaid and what happens if you don`t pay it? VOLSKY: Well, Pence has this theory that if people just have more skin in the game, if they contribute something to the system, they will use their health care dollars more wisely. So under his program people pay between $1 to $27 in a sliding scale, based on where you are in your income, towards a health savings account that`s tax free. That they can then later use. If they can`t afford that, they go into kind of a different layer of the program, where they will pay co-payments on certain kinds of benefits, there`ll be limits on certain kinds of benefits. And if they can`t do that, if they miss a payment, they are locked out of the program for about six months. So he`s saying look, we can`t just give people free care. They overuse care, they - there`s unnecessary care, they spend, spend, spend. We have got to make sure they use those health care dollars wisely. Let`s make sure they put in some money into the program. HARRIS-PERRY: OK. So that strikes me as a more ideological than budgetary issue. In other words, I know that there`s been angst about - from the Republican governors about this idea of Medicaid expansion because the idea that at some point it`s going to be too expensive for the states to actually manage on their own. But the amount of money you`re talking about, $1 to $25 from poor households, might make a big difference for the poor households, but it`s not going to make that big a difference for the state, right? This isn`t closing that Medicaid expanse. This is about ideology, right? Making more people pay. VOLSKY: Well, yeah, and you know, the numbers don`t work out. I mean you are absolutely right about the budget because 5 percent of beneficiaries use about 50 percent of the health care dollars. These are people who are really sick. That`s where all of our spending is. For them, putting a couple of dollars into health savings account won`t do anything, they`ll blow through those dollars. That`s not how you manage all of the costs. So, maybe for some healthier people who don`t really use this care, maybe they will use their health care dollars more wisely, but that`s really a drop in the bucket if you`re talking about really controlling health care spending. And yes, if you`re a low income person and you`re weighing health care or food or other essentials, you will often say, let me put off that medication, let me put off that procedure to get the food or something else. And then you become sick or you go back into the system and you cost the system even more. HARRIS-PERRY: I just want to listen to one thing that Governor Pence said. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOV. MIKE PENCE (R) INDIANA: Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0 is a victory for the working poor in Indiana. Hard working hosiers who currently don`t have access to coverage that they can afford. But also, HIP 2.0 is a victory for Medicaid reform. And I believe it could well become a model for states across the country. (END VIDEO CLIP) HARRIS-PERRY: Igor, do we want it to become a model for states across the country? VOLSKY: Well, certainly other conservative states are looking at it and saying - can I - conservative governor, I think, has a lot of advantages, so saying can I put my stamp on it, accept these dollars and kind of still have a lot of credibility with the Republican voters? But yes, should the federal government be entering into these partnerships? I mean we`ll see how this works in Indiana. Other experiences say it actually, again, you know, makes people not use the care they need. HARRIS-PERRY: Igor Volsky in Washington, thank you so much for joining us this morning. VOLSKY: Thank You. HARRIS-PERRY: And coming up, the revolt on sorority row. But up next, a wrong finally made right. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) HARRIS-PERRY: On this day in 1961 the arrest of a group of college students at a lunch counter marked a critical turning point in the strategy of the civil rights movement. The students mostly from the now closed Friendship Junior College in South Carolina were part of the wave of young African American activists across the country who risked arrests, beatings and worse to test Jim Crow segregation laws at restaurants and other public facilities. The men set out to integrate the lunch counter at a Five and Dime store known as McCrory in Rock Hill, South Carolina. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CLARENCE GRAHAM, FRIENDSHIP NINE" MEMBER: In 1961 we`ll move downtown, it was we - we were not looking for any hero worship. We were simply ten students who was tired of the status quo. Tired of being treated like second-class citizens. Tired of being spat on, kicked, called the N-word, drinking out of the colored water fountain. We got tired of that. (END VIDEO CLIP) HARRIS-PERRY: For their bravery, the men were promptly dragged out of the store and arrested. But instead of paying their $100 bail, they chose to serve their 30-day sentence of hard labor, shoveling sand at a county prison camp. The Friendship Nine, as they were called, were the first of the sit-in participants to insist on doing jail time. They felt it better to serve their time than to pay money into a system that supported inequality. It became known as the jail no bail strategy. And it was quickly adopted by other activists, and it became an effective tool in the civil rights fight, because it helped ease the burden of high court fees while also embarrassing local southern officials. For decades the Friendship Nine`s place in history was nearly forgotten. Even though their arrest record was not. That is until this week. More than a half century after their arrest, the eight surviving members of the Friendship Nine were back in a packed South Carolina courtroom Wednesday, but this time it was to hear a judge overturn their convictions and a prosecutor offer an apology. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) KEVIN BRACKETT, PROSECUTOR: Today as solicitor for York County, I represent the state. So allow me to take this opportunity to extend to each of you my heartfelt apologies for what happened to you in 1961. It was wrong. (APPLAUSE) (END VIDEO CLIP) HARRIS-PERRY: This morning for the first time since their sentences were vacated, the Friendship Nine had breakfast at the same restaurant location where they took a stand by taking a seat and changing the course of a movement. On this day, January 31st, 1961. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) HARRIS-PERRY: February 22nd, 1992. That`s the name I became a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. I was and am proud to be part of this sorority because our founding is rooted in social, political and economic engagement in black communities. So when I saw this photograph go viral, I felt proud. It is a picture from a Dallas newspaper of one of my young sororis (ph) wearing our letters while being detained during a protest of grand jury decisions not to indict officers who were involved in the deaths of Michael Brown or Eric Garner. Those were publicly standing up to say black life matters seems perfectly consistent with our legacy to me. I was outraged when in the aftermath of this photograph, Delta`s national leadership along with that of other historically black sororities, Alpha, Kappa, Alpha and Sigma Gamma Rho, issued a warning to members not to wear their Greek letters while protesting. AKA later reversed their decision. Now, sororities are not perfect. But it seems to me they are at their best when they empower young women through sisterhood and collective action, not when they seek to silence them. Which is why recent actions by National PanHellenic Council President of Sororities with chapters at the University of Virginia is troubling. On January 20th they sent a letter to UVA`s 16 sorority chapters urging them not to participate in boys` bid night, the night when fraternities welcome new members. A UVA this night historically has been a night sorority women visit their fraternity friends to celebrate. No, a frat party is not the same thing as a rally to question police tactics and assert the value of black lives, but stay with me for a moment. Following the "Rolling Stone" magazine cover about sexual assault, the article in November, UVA had suspended all sorority and fraternity activities and that ban just ended earlier this month. And while a frat party may not be the same thing as a protest, there is something strange about national sororities telling their chapter members not to socialize with the men on their campus. Is it supposed to be a message about personal safety? Is the answer to the threat of sexual assault that young women on her college campus should just stay inside? Sorority members responded with anger and outrage. In a letter of action, Kappa Delta Sorority members said, quote, our concerns lie in the way sorority women are being used as leverage to change the actions and behaviors of fraternity men. A petition started by a sorority member against the bid night ban says it is degrading to sorority women and that it sends the message they are weak. Now, clearly, we have an interest in speaking with a member of the UVA sorority community about this story, and we issue many invitations to many sororities and to their members. Most decline to appear on the program, but we did confirm an interview with one young woman yesterday afternoon. However, she informed us this this morning she would no longer be able to appear due to a scheduling conflict. However, I`m pleased to be joined now from Richmond, Virginia, by UVA student and representative body chair Abraham Axler, very nice to see you, Abraham. ABRAHAM AXLER: It`s great to be here. HARRIS-PERRY: So, Abraham, start by telling me, do you know if any of those PanHellenic sororities or in fraternities actually issued statements to the men about issues of either sexual assault or alcohol abuse in advance of this weekend? ABRAHAM AXLER, UVA REPRESENTATIVE BODY CHAIR: To the men, the fraternity men, there`s been no communication. My understanding is that there`s been some informal communication through the nationals, through the chapter presidents to the membership. But I`ve really been appalled by the lack of transparency by the national organizations. HARRIS-PERRY: So, Abraham, just quickly, to be clear, are you in a fraternity at the University of Virginia? AXLER: No, I don`t have that pleasure, but I`m a great admirer of the Greek system. HARRIS-PERRY: All right, so tell me, in the role that you`re in within the context of student leadership, what have you seen in this past week in terms of campus reactions about the PanHellenic letter? AXLER: Well, I think what we have seen is a gross affront of student self- governments. And this is a value very dear to us at the University of Virginia. And I think when you insult the ability of young women as responsible actors to make their own decision, I think you are going to see people who are quite upset. HARRIS-PERRY: So, when you say upset, I guess, tell me a bit about that. You know, obviously, the University of Virginia, it`s the place I have deep history, I grew up in Charlottesville, my dad taught at the University of Virginia for several decades. And so, I think it was a painful moment when the "Rolling Stone" article came out and then sort of all of the controversy on the back end of it. So, talk to me a little bit about sort of how this moment compares to that kind of broader thing that`s been going on for months now on campus. AXLER: It`s without a doubt, a chaotic emotional time. I think the difference here is that the actor that is I think acting inappropriately is this national organizations. And I think what makes such a big distinction is that many, many women are afraid to speak out. And to me that is deeply disturbing. From organizations that are purported to empower women, I think, in many ways, they do empower women, provide them a safe supportive environment, a social environment, housing, but it`s a little bit troubling to me that how restricted their voices are in this instance. I think that`s where student council could come in and help and really advocate for these women. I mean I had a lot of Greek women come up to me with their concerns and that`s what led us to cosponsor and pass this resolution on the self-governance of sorority women. HARRIS-PERRY: Tell me about that emergency, Students Council Bill that you did in fact co-sponsor. AXLER: Well, it was a special session of student council. And it really had two goals. The first goal was to invite the national organizations to come and have a conversation. You know, I think very few sorority leaders would disagree that boys - but not needed some element of moderation. But I think virtually everybody agrees that there needed to be dialogue before that happened. And really what we wanted to do is we want to codify that student concern. Right? All of our meetings of the public record of the state of Virginia, and it was critically important to me that that public testimony from my Greek constituents was heard and it was really heard loudly. HARRIS-PERRY: So I appreciate so much, you know, this idea of being in dialogue. I do want to read this - another statement that came from the National PanHellenic Conference saying, "While we value the input our chapter leaders have to offer on this important ongoing dialogue, our members` safety and well-being must remain our top priority. That is we stand by the collective decision of our 16 international presidents, which supports an existing NPC policy that our organizations will not participate in men`s bid day activities on any campus. For our members` request, we will engage directly with our respected chapters to address their concerns and move forward from here. Sounds to me, Abraham, like at the core here is a need to have conversation and dialogue and do the work of, as you said, student self-governance. Thank you to Abraham Axler in Richmond, Virginia, I appreciate you joining us this morning. AXLER: Thanks for having me. HARRIS-PERRY: And up next, a new nation report is saying that evangelical Christians are taking advantage of publicly-funded spaces. And still to come, one of Marissa Alexander`s first interviews since her release from prison. I`m so happy she`s going to talk with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) HARRIS-PERRY: America`s public schools have been dealing with budget shortfalls, financial crises, sequestration and all manner of economic hard times. In the 2012 report more than 80 percent of school administrators described their district as being inadequately funded. So what do schools in need do? Maybe have a bake sale for band costumes or get local businesses to donate for a fundraising raffle. Car wash, anyone? How about turning your school building into a church on weekends? That`s precisely what an increasing number of schools across the country are doing according to a new report by Katherine Stewart for "The Nation" provocatively titled, "The Movement to Put a Church in Every School is Growing." In her report on Florida`s Apopka High School, Stewart writes, "The fusion of church and school comes at a time not coincidentally when public schools are under severe financial pressure. The cuts have been filled deeply by students who complain of overcrowded classrooms, insufficient textbooks and supplies and the lack of funding for extras, such as music and drama. In 2012 facing steep budget cuts, Orange County school superintendent Barbara Jenkins announced an extended outreach to faith organizations. Faith organizations is a nice, broad, nonsectarian term, but the stark reality is this. Public schools are nearly exclusively partnered with evangelical Christian churches and this is a growing and purposeful national effort by some Christian groups and churches to tie public schools closely to churches through shared space, funded organizational activities and religious practices that end up infusing school culture. The question for all of us is this harmless and wholesome pairing of school and community or does planting a church in every school effectively establish a state-sponsored religion that runs afoul of our First Amendment? Joining me now Annie-Laurie Gaylor is co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation. And Katherine Stewart is a contributor to "The Nation" and author of "The Good News Club." So, and this is your reporting. Tell me what you see as the fundamental major issue here. KATHERINE STEWART, CONTRIBUTOR, THE NATION: Well, there are three major issue here. The first is that once the churches enter the public school, they often find a way to involve themselves with the lives of the school in inappropriate ways. For instance, leaving - I`ll tell you a story about how when we sent our children to a public school that had an Evangelical church in it, they would hand out candy outside the school and invite the children to attend the church at their school. And so I decided to attend the church at school. And our children had put their pictures and their names and made little posters of themselves and those posters were all around the school. So I went to the service and the pastor said notice the names of the children on the pieces of paper. Pray for them, pray that the families of this school and those children will come to know Jesus and say that this is a house of god. So there I am mandated by law to send my children to a public school in this district where their images and their names are going to get mixed up in a religion and the rituals of a religion, and this to me is an inappropriate mixing of - inappropriate mixing of religion and government. So there are other ways that they do that. For instance, the church in question left their signage all over the auditorium. Now, McDonald`s isn`t allowed to come around and leave their signage all over the auditorium. So children, in the mind of children, it conflates the authority of a particular religion - I mean it inflates authority of the public school, which has a kind of a cloak of authority in the mind of a children with a particular religion. HARRIS-PERRY: OK, so this idea, some of the language used that I think is important to think about here, is the kind of mandate, the idea that we have a responsibility to educate our children and that we have a right to free public education, of course, or at least sort of, at this point. So talk to me, then, I mean there`s a part of me that thinks, OK, I mean I grew up in the south where southern identity and religious Christian identity is going to be pretty constituent of each other in important ways culturally. So, is there a way for churches to be volunteering? For example, hopefully handing out bananas and apples and not candy before school, for goodness sake, but doing volunteer work without kind of generating this kind of anxiety or is there no way? ANNIE LAURIE GAYLOR, CO-PRES., FREEDOM FROM RELIGION FOUNDATION: I don`t think that they should be volunteering on behalf of a church. There`s nothing wrong with members of a church volunteering and mentoring if they are vetted and can contribute, but it shouldn`t be for the ulterior motive of having the church name on their name badge. There should be no mixing of church and public schools. And for more than almost 40 years one of the most common complaints that we handle at the Freedom from Religion Foundation is the use of public school buildings by churches. And it`s a constant problem. People are shocked to discover that there are worship services going on in their churches - in their schools. They think it adds the appearance of endorsement. They think that even the public school system might be putting it on, but what we are now seeing as Katherine`s article showed, and it was our complaint in Apopka High School in Orange County schools in Florida, we are seeing this actual predation, planting churches in every school. The goal to really turn the school into a proselytizing machine. HARRIS-PERRY: So, this idea of predation, and as you write about in the piece, this idea that there is, in fact, an effort, right? And one that we can see. We`re just still kind of looking at the website. And it says, parting with schools and communities to serve students - I think, fine, right? And families to gain the privileges of sharing the love of Jesus for eternal impact." And I think it is that kind of last piece, the privilege of sharing the love of Jesus for eternal impact, which is certainly something that people have a free and full right to believe, but in this country, we have not believed that our country should be establishing as a matter of public tax dollars that kind of mission. STEWART: Well, this is the problem. A lot of times the churches in question are really not paying any kind of substantial money to be operating in those public schools. They might be paying $100 a week. Or a couple of hundred dollars a week. This doesn`t begin to approximate the amount of money it would cost if they were funding their own buildings or even renting in places like movie theaters. And what they . HARRIS-PERRY: So, I introduced it, suggesting that this was a kind of financial boom for the schools, but you`re actually seeing it as a financial boom for the churches. STEWART: I think it`s a religious subsidy. Indeed, and if you go to some of the conferences that are advocating for churches being planted in public school, they really talk about it being like even - (INAUDIBL) at the head of the venue church said, if you want to get I think the best value for your mission money, operate in the public schools. And so, so basically he also went on this. HARRIS-PERRY: So, stick with this. Because we`re going to continue on this a little bit more. And I want to bring in another voice on this a bit. I also want to ask what did President Obama have to say about all of this. Also, do you not miss my live interview with Melissa Alexander, stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I know there`s some who bristle at the notion that faith has a place in the public square, but the fact is leaders in both parties have recognized the value of a partnership between the White House and faith-based groups. The President Clinton signed legislation that opened the door for faith-based groups to play a role in a number of areas including helping people move from welfare to work. And President Bush came in office with a rally or a promise to rally the army of compassion, establishing a new office of faith-based and community initiatives. (END VIDEO CLIP) HARRIS-PERRY: So that was Senator Obama back in 2008 on the campaign trail. And he points out faith-based groups have a history of partnering with government to help those in need. And recent statistics suggest that our children in public schools may be do need some help. According to the Southern Education Foundation 51 percent of public school students are now living in poverty. Should schools turn away a helping hand is extended from a door of a church? I want to welcome Terri Hoye to the conversation. She is the minister of Evangelism and Administration for Norcross First United Methodist Church. She joins us from Atlanta, Georgia. She is also a strong advocate of church volunteers, mentoring in public schools. It`s so nice to have you this way. So they are saying earlier, I`m not sure if you hear earlier segment, you know, I`m from the south, I live in the south now. It`s a place where church volunteerism is one of the central ways that like civic organized life occurs. But then, my guests here at the table have some very, very real concerns. . So talk to me about how we do the work of civic engagement without planting churches in tax-paying public spaces. TERRI HOYE, MINISTER OF EVANGELISM AND ADMINISTRATION, NORCROSS FIRST UNITED METHODIST CHURCH: Thank you. And thank you for letting me come this morning to speak on this topic. I will begin by saying that I can only give you the context of how we operate here in our community. I understand that there`s situations and maybe things they step over the line in other communities, but I cannot speak for that. What I can tell you is what has occurred in our Norcross Community. The statement that Ms. Stewart made in her article was kind of taken out of context of what I said at the panel discussion. I have been on staff at Norcross First United Methodist Church for 25 years and in that 25 years I have seen a lot of change in our community. At one time, we, Gwinnett County, was one of the fastest growing communities in the nation. We had folks that are moving from the city out into the suburbs. We were thriving. Our schools were doing well. And then we started to see where the community was moving further north and our community started to change. And now our community is a 90 percent tax-free lunch, we`re a title one school, we have had funding that has deteriorated from the state. The teachers, when the economy crashed, were given furlough days without any pay. HARRIS-PERRY: Right. So I know - I mean I get what you`re saying. Right, there`s been this huge transition. It`s been an economic one. So hold to me one second, I`ll come back to you. But so let me get you in on a response to this. She`s - Hoye saying in part that she feels like she was misrepresented in what she said about what her organization does. STEWART: The thing about a lot of the Evangelical organizations that are partnering with the public school is that they are also supporting, they are representing a fairly politicized form of religion, especially on the culture war issues. And they are supporting these Tea Party and small government officials who are seeking to defund public school, not just by slashing their budgets but also through these voucher programs that basically deflate public education and siphon money off to private religious schools, a lot of which have textbooks that are filled with creationism, and bigotry about other - people from other faith groups. And so . HARRIS-PERRY: So, hold for me a second. So, let me you back in, and then I`ll come to you. Yes. HOYE: Let me just share how we partner with our schools. Some of our middle school is right across the street from us. They have very low test scores. The principal implemented Success Saturdays. And Success Saturdays, the county was able to fund for the teachers, the staffing to come in and to enhance the teaching environment to help these students that were having difficulty in school. However, the county was not able to provide breakfast. And for many of these children they don`t eat on the weekends. HARRIS-PERRY: Sure. HOYE: And so the churches were asked if we could come in and if we could provide a breakfast for these students. HARRIS-PERRY: OK, so that`s actually super helpful, Ms. Hoye, to see - so here`s a kind of Saturday program happening, you`re bringing in the breakfast, which is an important part of it. But so - but can you address this question of whether or not as part of that there`s also a kind of missionary piece that`s not just about the service. Is there also an ideological, or political or religious set? So, is it breakfast and I would like to tell you about my lord and savior or is it simply a breakfast? No, I mean I`m serious, I`m wondering as part of that. HOYE: And I will just tell you from our perspective and for what we do. I cannot answer churches throughout the United States. HARRIS-PERRY: Sure, right, of course. HOYE: As far as the churches in our community that partner with our schools in our school cluster, there`s no underlying reason why we`re there. We`re called to go in and to love people and to serve. We do not ask the children to pray. We do not give them a track, we do not give them any information about the church. For all the students know we are just individuals that want to help them succeed. And we go in, we serve breakfast, we clean up and we go. HARRIS-PERRY: All right, so Annie-Laurie, then talk to me about that. I mean that sounds like precisely what we want. GAYLOR: At Apopka High School in Florida the head of this venue church that wants to plant a church in every school was named team chaplain of the football team and believe it or not, chaplain of the bowling team and holding a religious rally for which he did not pay rent with students there. Abusive, taking the kids, a team goes to missionize and then they are claiming, oh, that`s all free speech rights. We`re seeing them move in on our schools. And it isn`t helping taxpayers when their church is going on in our schools because it`s really taxpayer subsidy. It`s below market value rent. HARRIS-PERRY: So, unfortunately. GAYLOR: Thomas Jefferson said no citizen should be compelled to attend or act or support any place of worship. This is a fundamental principle in America. HARRIS-PERRY: So there the question . (CROSSTALK) GAYLOR: The tax dollars should go to religion. HARRIS-PERRY: There is no question. This is a fundamental principle as a result. As a big issue. I do unfortunately am out of time. So, I do have to thank Terri Hoye of Atlanta, Georgia. I also have to thank here in New York Katherine Stewart, Annie-Laurie Gaylor, I would love to have all three of you back, and hopefully at the table together, because this is clearly a big and important issue. Coming up next, Marissa Alexander is going to join us live just days after her release from prison to tell us what`s next for her. Also, the epic ratings of Empire and Olivia Pope`s Hair. There`s more Nerdland at the top of the hour. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry. And it has been nearly five years since Marissa Alexander was arrested after firing what she called a warning shot to stop who she said was an abusive estranged husband who was threatening to end her life. No one was injured in the shooting, but Alexander`s actions that it day in August of 2010 just more than a week after she gave birth to her daughter led to her immediate arrest, conviction and a 20-year prison sentence. Her story drew national attention and amplified an ongoing debate over the inequities of Florida`s "Stand Your Ground" law which failed to protect her from conviction, just months after the law begin receiving so much attention in association with George Zimmerman`s shooting of Trayvon Martin. Now, while Zimmerman did not use the "Stand Your Ground" defense in his case, Marissa Alexander did attempt to argue self-defense under the law. But her claim was rejected in a pretrial hearing after Florida Prosecutor Angela Corey argued that Alexander could have left the house instead of firing the shot. During the trial, Alexander testified to having been repeatedly the victim of physical abuse at the hands of her estranged husband. While he admitted in a 2010 deposition to hitting several women, including Alexander, he later reversed his admission saying his prior statements were an attempt to protect her. A jury took 12 minutes to convict her of three counts of assault with a deadly weapon. That conviction was overturned in 2013 when an appeals court ordered a retrial after discovering an error in the instructions to the jury. But the stakes only got higher for Alexander. When the prosecution sought to convict her again on the same charges, only this time seeking a 20-year sentence for each count to be served consecutively instead of concurrently, which would have put Marissa Alexander behind bars for 60 years, three times the original sentence. Instead of facing trial again, she agreed to a plea bargain which this week finally brought her long ordeal closer to an end. Tuesday, Marissa Alexander walked out of jail under an agreement that will subject her to two years of house arrest and electronic surveillance. And while the sentence means she will remain for now in the supervision of the criminal justice system with a felony conviction on her record, it also means that for the first time in five years, a future as a free woman is finally within her reach. Marissa Alexander is joining me now from her home in Jacksonville, Florida. And here in New York with me is Marissa`s attorney, Faith Gay, and host of MSNBC`s "THE REID REPORT", Joy Reid. Marissa, I am so thrilled that you have joined us. Can you talk to me now that you can expect to have some sort of future with a level of freedom? What are you planning for your years to come? MARRISA ALEXANDER, JUST RELEASED FROM PRISON: What am I planning to do with my time? HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, what are you planning in the coming years? ALEXANDER: Well, right now, it`s just to really focus on the development of my kids. I have a 4-year-old and teenagers. And I believe this is a crucial time for them as teenagers to try to identify their individuality. And they have peer pressure and they`re getting ready for college. So, I really have planned to be available to them, you know, work with their teachers, that`s something I have always believed in, continue with the development of my baby. And then, I would like to attend school, to probably to obtain my paralegal certificate. And just continue to grow in knowledge. I would like to be able to explore different opportunities in the legal community as far as helping other victims in criminal law and dependants. So, I`m just -- my -- the heart of me is service. I like to help people. So, that`s what I want to continue to do moving forward. That`s what I did when I was at the other company that I worked for, for almost 10 years. HARRIS-PERRY: So, you know, it`s interesting when you bring up this idea of service and of helping others. And I know sometimes in our darkest hours, in our greatest struggle, we find kind of surprising allies, people on our side who we wouldn`t have thought would have been the people in our corner. Over the course of the past four years, in the ordeal that you`ve been through, are there any folks standing on your side who you were surprised to find there? ALEXANDER: You know, actually to be honest with you, a lot of law enforcement, I found that they, you know, were on my side. And also people from overseas, you know, individuals who felt strongly about gun violence were on my side. So, I was just grateful that anybody could look at it and say, you know, this is a tragedy for at least a sentence was entirely egregious. But for the most part, these people that were in the arena that said, you know, you never know until you have the experience, you know, the situation that`s eminent threat, but for them to say, I haven`t, but I still support you. HARRIS-PERRY: Hold on for me just one second. I want to come out and introduce you to Joy Reid. I`m not sure if you had an opportunity to talk with Ms. Reid before. She`s been one of the people on your side here at the network. Joy, I`m just wondering. I know you have been reporting on Marissa`s case, if you want to engage a bit here. JOY REID, THE REID REPORT: Yes. No, it`s wonderful to talk to you, to meet you, Marissa. Your case -- you know, when I was at, this was one of the cases that was the one people were being most passionate about. They were very passionate about you. And I`m wondering if you were surprise by -- or really fully aware of just how much passion people invested in you? You know, were you able to see that and did it surprise you? Particularly around the issue of domestic violence. ALEXANDER: Right, right, when you`re incarcerated, you don`t have a connection with the outside that you`d normally have if you were at home. So, I wasn`t really aware of just how passionate or how big this particular case had gotten, here for a minute (ph). And then sometimes I could tell from the amount of mail that I would receive so that gave me some type of perspective. But once I was able to get home and when I was out on bond, then I realized just how big it was. And it was -- it was very overwhelming in a great way to see people say, it might not have happened to me, but I care about somebody else that we`re connected. All of humanity`s sake was there to just support me and encourage and say a prayer. So, I was extremely grateful, that helped me through a lot of days. HARRIS-PERRY: So, Faith, let me ask you about this, because, you know, we were in Nerdland, in Joy Reid`s world, we`re going to -- you know, we`re doing -- just our producers are so happy. But I need to ask you, is it over? Like as a legal matter, is it finally over? Is Marissa Alexander home with her children, free to pursue her education, her service, her life? FAITH GAY, ATTORNEY FOR MARISSA ALEXANDER: Well, she has two years of community control. And that means there are limited numbers of things she can do. She can take her kids to school, she can pursue education, she can go to church, she can do things that are necessary to do with the court`s permission, but it is limited freedom and she has to, of course, abide by the court`s rules there. HARRIS-PERRY: I need to ask you, Marissa, because on this question of domestic violence. Part of what struck so many of us so closely is how young your daughter was. You know, I have a baby who is just a year old, but. The vulnerability in those first days and that first week, there`s nothing like how you feel as like a mother tiger almost in those first days. What do people need to know and understand about fear, about domestic violence, about the way that having -- being pregnant or having a new infant can make that worse? What do people need to know from your story, beyond the law, of the kind of human part of how you were reacting in that moment? ALEXANDER: OK. Well, I can just tell you this without getting into the details of what happened that day. Fear is subjective, so to tell someone what their level of fear is, it`s -- that`s kind of hard to do. For myself being that you have a newborn that is an infant who is in the NICU, this is where premature babies go, and to come into contact or the realization that it`s a possibility that this life that I`m breast-feeding and trying to make sure I get to the hospital two and three times a day, I need to be there for her and for anything or to try to separate that is -- I mean, it`s kind of indescribable. You go into survival mode. So, for me, beyond a shadow of a doubt, I needed to be there for her that day. And so, that`s kind of the train of thought goes as a mother. HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, I understand that, I feel that in my fingertips when you say it. Don`t go anywhere, because up next, we`re going to continue this conversation with Marissa and talk to her about her reunion with this precious 4-year-old girl. Still to come, it is the show that Shonda Rhimes watches when she`s not working on her own. We`re going to discuss the hip-hop dynasty "Empire" in this week`s installment of "TV Now in Color". (COMMERCIAL BREAK) HARRIS-PERRY: This week, the end of Marissa Alexander`s three years in prison meant for this mother of three, a time of new beginnings, including yesterday, in what for many parents is the most mundane of moments was so much sweeter for Alexander, because it was the first time she`s ever been able to do this -- going to school to pick up her 4-year-old daughter who was just a baby when Alexander went to jail, allowed under the conditions of her plea agreement which permitted her to leave home for certain approved appointments and employment. And it was a family reunion of sorts that brought Alexander together with all of her children, including her teenage twin boys. Marissa, you talk about wanting to do something that might be in the field of law, helping folks. I`m wondering, what kind of parenting you`ve been able to do during your years that you have been imprisoned, and whether or not part of what you might do is actually advocate for parents to be able to keep that relationship. ALEXANDER: Well, you know, you have to spend the extra time and effort to really connect with the kids. And for one thing, my kids were in a transition of going to teenage years. So, it was a little difficult because that`s the time when they are into their electronics and your parents are not as cool. So, when I left, we were in the bed together and, you know, sleeping together and when I came back, when everybody was on their cell phones and laptops. But, you know, one of the things that I did, I continue to write them, I did call them. I didn`t push them to come and visit if they had things they wanted to. You know, I wanted to make sure they had some normalcy. But when I got back home, I realized just how much they missed me. My teenage daughter had -- you know, because I have twins, that boy and girl twins, and my teenage daughter had all of my clothes that she was wearing when I was gone, just my sleeping clothes, because she wanted to feel some type of closeness to me. So, those are the things that I did make sure I wrote, I called, and allowed for them to have a life and not be tied down because I was. HARRIS-PERRY: Marissa, hold on for me one second. I need to ask a question that I don`t want to ask to you, but, Joy, I do want to ask to you, because to hear her talk -- to hear Marissa Alexander talking that way about her children, I keep thinking and no one was shot, no one was injured. Can you please rift for a moment on Angela Corey, the prosecutor, who thought that the most just thing to do was to take this woman who clearly cares about the welfare of her children in such a mature and -- I mean, what you want every parent to do away from her children for these years? REID: Yes. It -- this was truly one of the strangest cases that I have to say I`ve ever covered, because I know my share of prosecutors personally that I have dealt with in Florida. I`ve really never seen a prosecutor more passionate about a single case or more passionate about wanting us -- you and me, people in the media to change the narrative to make Marissa Alexander the villain. They`re really angry that the media was not accepting the notion that Rico Gray -- and there were two children in the house. She was actually charged with three counts because two of his children were in the home at the time. So, setting (ph) those two, I mean, obviously, those are minor children, but that Rico Gray really was the victim here. So, that, of course, was the state`s case. HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. REID: That`s the case that they were out and charged to make. But Prosecutor Corey was really, really passionate that Rico Gray was the victim and really not necessarily accepting even his own admission of having battered multiple women as evidence that he might be the villain in the case. It really did surprise me in the conversations I had had with her, just how passionately she believed in Rico Gray as the victim. And I think that colored the passion with which she pursued the case in a way that I have not seen before. HARRIS-PERRY: So, Faith, then help us out for folks who are advocates, who are activists around this. It really did get wrapped up in part because Angela Corey was the same prosecutor on the George Zimmerman case that got wrapped in this. But is the thing we should be pressing against here, stand your ground? Is the thing we should be pressing against here, the mandatory minimums? What`s the thing? GAY: Well, I think what changed the narrative really in the case was the helpful ruling that the judge made under a lot of stress here to let in the domestic violence of Rico against all his prior partners. Whether Marissa Alexander knew about the violence or not, that kind of evidentiary law is very helpful to have in the future. But in terms of your question, I think the real issue is mandatory minimums. This kind of alleged crime should not be met for a first time offenders with a 20-year mandatory minimum -- much more important than stand your ground. HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Marissa, I want to give you the final word here. What do we need to know now that you`re home? What can we do as a people to be most supportive of you going forward? ALEXANDER: Well, you know, just continue to, you know, be educated, you know, support other people. I mean, all the way around when you have an incident where, you know, people`s lives change and sometimes, they end in fatality, people are still hurting, you know? So they are impacted in some kind of way. So, I think that we can all rally around, you know, supporting those people and trying to identify ways that we can prevent it and stop being so reactive to the things after the fact. I think it`s going to be more work put into the things in the forefront, things that we could be doing prior to getting to such a tragic end. And that`s everyone, you know, domestic violence or any type of violence, or any type of criminal activity, you know, criminal-wise. But as a community, we can educate ourselves on the laws and the lawmakers because we can get out there and vote, and then we can decide at that point what these guys what they know about the things that we need and educate ourselves and vote in the way that supports the views that we have as a community. So, those things are going to be huge going forward in the future because there`s a lot of changes I think can take place. And we as a community have the power to influence that. HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Marissa Alexander in Jacksonville, Florida, in your own voice, in -- I know you can`t see yourself, but just you transcendent -- you being here this morning means so much. Thank you so much for having a conversation with us. And here in New York, thank you to Faith Gay. Joy is going to stick around a little bit. Up next, a political trial balloon pops. Plus, TV now in color, from the "Rise of Empire" to the return of "Scandal", you know we`re going to talk about that. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) HARRIS-PERRY: OK. How many times have you heard in recent months, probably a lot right here on this network, the words "the invisible primary"? It`s the presidential primary that isn`t really a presidential primary. OK. You just zoned out, stay focused on these balloons. Just watch the balloons. OK. Right now, no one is technically run in running for president yet. No one has officially declared a candidacy. What`s happening is even more fun -- more than a dozen contenders are -- well, they`re floating their trial balloons. They are testing out campaign messages. They are reaching out to big money donors. They are traveling overseas to polish up their foreign policy credentials. And they are doing all this before they actually run for president, before they say, hey, I`m getting in. That`s the invisible primary. Yesterday, whoa, one of those trial balloons popped. A former Massachusetts governor and 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney told a group of supporters he is not going to run in 2016. And that leaves a lot of balloons still up in the air. Which brings me to our new segment we`re going to call "Stumble and Tumbles", an opportunity to tell you from time to time about when a little bit of the air, you know, seems to be leaking out of one of those trial balloons being floated by the presidential class of 2016. And who better to kick off our inaugural edition than the person who`s received the most MHP show letters to date, Louisiana`s Bobby Jindal. After 2012 midterms, when Republicans started to look for the party`s next crop of candidates, Governor Jindal worked hard to brand himself as the GOP`s policy wonk. The Beltway press did its part by helping to establish that reputation with headline after headline describing Governor Jindal as a new kind of policy-oriented Republican. It sounded like Governor Jindal was on to something when he said -- (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R), LOUISIANA: We`ve got to stop being the stupid party. I`m serious. It`s time for a new Republican party that talks like adults. It`s time for us to articulate our plans and visions for America in real terms. (END VIDEO CLIP) HARRIS-PERRY: Well, that sound advice. Why is the governor talking about a roundly debunked no-go zone in Europe? You see, in a recent speech he gave at a British think tank, Governor Jindal offered, "In the West, non- assimilationist Muslims establish enclaves and carry out as much Sharia law as they can without regard for the laws of the democratic countries which provided them a new home." Sharia law in Western countries, you might think, why haven`t I heard about this? If you watch FOX News, you actually probably have. Recently, that network`s resident terrorism expert Steve Emerson lamented the proliferation of no-go zones all over Europe and especially in Great Britain. That prompted this response from none other than British Prime Minister David Cameron. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DAVID CAMERON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: When I heard this, frankly, I chocked on my porridge and I thought it must be April Fools Day. This guy is clearly a complete idiot. (END VIDEO CLIP) HARRIS-PERRY: Now, to FOX News`s credit, both the network and Steve Emerson issued an apology for his comments and the coverage of no-go zones. But you know who didn`t apologize? Governor "stop being the stupid party" Bobby Jindal. He`s even using the state`s Web site for the governor`s office to offer a defense there are pockets of Western society governed by Islamic law. In a recent radio interview, he even said that Western leaders must demand and insist on assimilation and integration from those who want to come into our country, and he warned that the dreaded no-go zones might come to America. So, as he considers an official campaign for president, Governor Jindal`s preliminary moves are insulting our European allies, fear mongering here at home and being a step behind FOX News. Is that Republican nominee material or his the next balloon to go -- (COMMERCIAL BREAK) HARRIS-PERRY: TV is now in color. There are a notable number of popular shows featuring actors of color in lead roles. "Blackish", "Jane the Virgin", "Fresh of the Boat" which appears -- excuse me, premieres on Wednesday, and "How to Get Away With Murder." Not only do they have colorful casts, these shows rate. In fact, "How to Get Away with Murder" pulled in profit 14 million viewers when it premiered in September and the show`s lead, Viola Davis, is a fan favorite for her portrayal of powerful, yet vulnerable, cunning and devious defense attorney, Annalise Keating. This month, Davis earned the Screen Actors Guild Award for outstanding performance by a female actor in a drama series. And during her acceptance speech last Sunday, Davis stated just how remarkable her win really is. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) VIOLA DAVIS, ACTRESS: I`d like to thank Paul Lee, Shonda Rhimes, Betsy Beers, Bill D`Elia, and Peter Nowalk for thinking that a sexualized, messy, mysterious woman could be a 49-year-old dark-skinned African-American woman who looks like me. (END VIDEO CLIP) HARRIS-PERRY: While Davis, as show creator Peter Nowalk, and executive producer Shonda Rhimes, have received a lot of attention for the smash hit, there`s another show even Shonda has become a fan of, telling her Twitter followers that she is all about "Empire.", Tweeple. That`s right, we can add FOX`s new drama "Empire", a series about a music mogul, his hip-hop dynasty, and his family to our colorful roster. Now, the series features a cast of critically acclaimed actors and was created by film producer and director Lee Daniels. It launched on January 7th and took Nielsen boxes by storm. According to the rating agency, the show earned 9.9 million viewers nits first week and even more tuned in the second episode, with Nielsen reporting 10.3 million viewers. In the third week, the numbers ticked up again, with 10.9 million tuning in. And by week four, most shows tend to lose steam. That just the way it worse. There might be less buzz, many characters are seen as noble, some viewers start to taper off. That`s not what happened to "Empire." This week, instead, 11.3 million viewers tuned in. This consistent increase is unprecedented in recent TV history. No drama has picked up more viewers in its second and third weeks in more than two decades. So, what`s behind the rise of this "Empire" and what has more and more viewers tuning in each week? Joining me at the table now, Jason Lynch, Adweek contributor and founder of Joy Reid, host of MSNBC`s "The REID REPORT", and Janet Mock, host of MSNBC`s Shift, "So POPular". All right. So, I finally watched it. I watched three episodes back to back. Here`s what I think it is that`s making the people watch the show. I think you take the existential threat of "Breaking Bad", right, like that you know from the beginning. You put the musical performances of "Glee", everybody loves "Glee", you take the strategic power moves of "House of Cards" and you mash them all together with the satisfying personal drama of "The Real Housewives", and, of course, everyone will watch it. JASON LYNCH, CONTRIBUTOR, ADWEEK: Absolutely. HARRIS-PERRY: OK. LYNCH: And FOX realized early on that this was a show that had a little bit of something for everybody. It`s coming on the heels of a disastrous fall for them when everything tanked except for "Gotham." But they, early on, knew the potential of "Empire" and they knew, just as you said, that "The Real Housewives" are going to watch this, that black audiences are going to watch this, that audiences love high-end dramas would want to watch this and that "Glee" loving music audiences would want to watch this. And they managed to come up with a marketing campaign that reached out to all those audiences, got them in. Once they were in, they started telling their friends, the Shondas of the world started tweeting about it and that`s why the ratings have gone up. HARRIS-PERRY: Right. It is kind of stunning thing. I mean, Joy, I know it`s not your most favorite show on TV, but I want to play this one part that I thought was kind of -- I don`t know what other show could do this. It`s this sort of moment where the lead character gets playful with a fake President Obama who he`s on the phone with. Let`s just play it for a second. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, I`m so, so sorry. You know how he feels about you. He loves you. I love you. We all love you. He`s just young and stupid and had a little too much to drink. Come on, Barack, you know you don`t have to use that kind of language. (END VIDEO CLIP) HARRIS-PERRY: I`m sorry, the idea -- (LAUGHTER) REID: Come on, Barack. Why you got to be like that? HARRIS-PERRY: Can you imagine if your child did say something ridiculous and offensive about President Obama, and it goes viral? You`re just like, oh, Lord, Mr. President, I`m so sorry. REID: I know. You know what, I think sort -- those moments of kind of absurdity. I mean, Jay-Z knows President Obama. HARRIS-PERRY: Sure. REID: I doubt they had a conversation like that. So, I guess, maybe (INAUDIBLE). And I`m a little old school. We were trying to figure out my reference from the `90s. So, I think it`s like more "Fame" meets "New Jack City", right? HARRIS-PERRY: But that would be great. "Fame" meet "New Jack City". REID: Yes, and -- HARRIS-PERRY: I`m about to produce that. REID: Yes. And I guess maybe because it`s hard to suspend that much disbelief for me personally. And that it feels very campy to me. But I understand why it`s popular. I understand the elements of it are there for all of these various audiences. I can see why it`s popular. I`m three episodes in. I`m not sold yet. HARRIS-PERRY: So, Janet, let me ask, because one of the things that happened, if it was just campy and, you know, then it tries to do a variety of serious things. I got into it not for what everyone else should, I suppose get introduced, you know, the Twitters, or whatever, but for watching your show, and this really kind of careful conversation that you were having with two of your guests about the representations of a gay black man, one of the sons is gay and out, or at least out to his family. And the ways it was like, in the midst of all of this madness, there`s also something that`s serious that`s supposed to be going on. Let`s play just a clip of that and then I want to have you talk about it. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You never take me anywhere. (INAUDIBLE) homophobia in the black community. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your sexuality has a choice, sir. (END VIDEO CLIP) HARRIS-PERRY: All right. So, it`s the problem a mix to happen to deal with the serious or is that actually the thing that allows more people to enter in, to do the serious with it? JANET MOCK, MSNBC`S SHIFT: I think it`s the second part. I think it`s the idea of we`re going to have all this broom-beating, cookie scenes stealing, all these other things going on and in the context of that, we`re going to throw in a black gay man, right, who is unapologetic about his sexuality, who`s trying to discover himself, who`s trying to navigate community and identity at the same time. And so, I think what it does, it forces that 61 percent of African-American viewers to be confronted with the character that they must acknowledge and understand its struggles, right? HARRIS-PERRY: But then also reproducing a notion of this homophobic black community. MOCK: Yes. And I think what Michael Arsen (ph) said on "So POPular" was that, it`s not that the black community is more homophobic. It`s the way in which it shows up. It has lot to do with black masculinity and the way that black masculinity is policed in our culture. I think it`s very hard for a young, black, gay man to be himself in his community. Even outside of his community. So, there`s a lot of things to navigate when you`re walking around in terms of your community and also your identity struggles. HARRIS-PERRY: I love Michael. Listen, we`ve got more. We`ve got so much TV. And you know we are going to a show next that Joy really does love. The inside scoop on "Scandal." (COMMERCIAL BREAK) HARRIS-PERRY: Watch the hair because when TV`s super sister producer Shonda Rhimes wants to signal a shift in her lead character, she`s going to signal it with the hair. When "How to Get Away with Murder`s" Viola Davis removes her wig in episode four, it signals a vulnerability we had not yet seen in Annalise Keating. This Thursday, the hair to watch was on the head of Nerdland`s favorite, Olivia Pope. This week, Ms. Pope found herself in some pretty dire and disgusting conditions of confinement, but being Olivia, the clothes were still fly, the skin was still dewy, and the brows remained thick. So, what was the one thing, the one physical manifestation of her captivity, of her despair and ultimately of her resilient strength and determination to be free? Her hair. Back at the table with me are Janet, Jason and Joy. Janet, did you watch it on Thursday? MOCK: Did I watch it? Of course, I watched it. (LAUGHTER) HARRIS-PERRY: Did you watch the hair, do the hair thing? MOCK: Yes, I did, and I also watched those nails, too, because I don`t know what kind of manicurist she has on, because Olivia, even in captivity, the manicure is still on point. HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, I thought that was important that they didn`t have her whole self degrade, right? Clearly someone was coming in and threading every other day in the jail and doing the nails, right, keeping the jail straight. But the idea of like the black woman`s hair is representing how long it`s been and sort of where she is psychologically. MOCK: And I think there`s also an important point too. I think that the way that Olivia or at least Kerry as an actress navigates aesthetics. I think that, you know, playing the clip with Viola Davis, there`s a more realness with Viola Davis`s character that she sheds these layers off in a way. And I think it`s because Kerry and Viola have different representations, right? So, one is called less classically beautiful and the other, by "The New Yorker" is called a doll, right? One has L`Oreal contracts and Neutrogena contracts and the other doesn`t. So, I think that the way that they balance one another back to back is very interesting. HARRIS-PERRY: Right. And they are performing these kind of different aspects of black womanhood, which is also interesting, Joy, when we connected. If we go back to "Empire" for a moment, because my favorite person in "Empire" is Cookie. I just find Cookie fascinating. You know, I called it "Real Housewives", but I actually think she`s way more layered and interesting than that. REID: No, definitely. And I would watch a spinoff of "Empire" that was just Cookie and her assistant. That`s the show that I actually would be obsessed with, because they are everything. And one of the things that she actually does bring to the table is this narrative of the protective mama cub, mama grizzly, right, with her gay son. And in so many real lives of gay and Hispanic black men, it`s the mom that`s the protector of the family. I think she`s bringing that to the table and she shows a vulnerability and a toughness that I think are important to represent for black women. So, I think she does bring that. But just real quick on the hair thing, I`ll tell you, Olivia Pope gets dangerous. So, it goes to show you she had it in her. And I thought, one of the interesting scenes in that episode was the fact she comes in and still has the Olivia Pope primness with the toilet. HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, yes, yes. REID: But as she becomes more shorn of all of these adornments of being Olivia Pope, she becomes more vulnerable too. HARRIS-PERRY: There`s no one to see you but yourself. So, Jason, I`m actually interested in this because in part I do see "Empire" and even some of the kind of TV in color that we have been doing as barring a little bit from Shonda`s representations of complicated, powerful, vulnerable black women in all of these kinds of ways. I see that in "Empire." But there`s also the lead male character being played by multiple accusations of domestic violence against -- in Terrence Howard. In other words, there`s been complications with the actual actor, Terrence Howard`s relationship with black communities, and particularly with women. And there is this kind of funny, like at the same time that TV in color is also about these women of color, and then he in that lead gives me these kind of different feelings about it. LYNCH: Right, and that infuses the role, because it`s hard to separate the actor from the role because there are similarities in the violence in their past and Terrence spoke about it to reporters a few weeks ago and said that that`s behind me, I`m a different person. But it still fuses what you think of him when you see him in a role. You know, I think Shonda speaking to this and tweeting about "Empire" was really important because she`s had to kind of shoulder this entire thing herself. It`s one -- it`s really difficult for one person to do. And I think the fact that she can now share that and have "Empire" in there, have "Blackish" in there, it`s great for her. It`s great for TV. HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. You know, the idea that it`s great for TV, that people are tuning in and watching it, I was playing with the "Breaking Bad", but I`m wondering, have these shows learned something from the Netflix ways of watching that creating a new way of thinking so race and gender aside or part of it, new ways of thinking how to attract audiences that is different than sort of before those interventions. REID: Yes, I think also because of the shrinking audience overall, trying to get a hit series is a lot harder because they have so many choices other than network TV. But you`re starting to see the networks come back in a big way. ABC has been a big leader in creating quality programming that`s competing with the Netflix and competing with these new mediums because they realize the audience for broadcast TV is very heavily black women. Very -- you know, we`re an oversample in that audience and also on things like Twitter. If you can bring that audience to the table, you get both of those two things. HARRIS-PERRY: The social media part was what was happening when I was watching it. Not only was everyone watching the show, we were watching each other watching it in a way that doesn`t happen with the on demand viewing. MOCK: It`s also the pressure to show up, right? You have to show up in communities and you have to watch live. I was talking to Jason about this in the green room. It`s the idea that when "Scandal" is on, "Empire" is on, I have to show up with my community and put my thoughts out there. I heard you. You (INAUDIBLE) (CROSSTALK) HARRIS-PERRY: I was like Olivia Pope should live, don`t talk to Ian. Yes, yes. MOCK: But it`s the idea what you said. And I think that`s what`s so powerful is an example that 61 percent is that African-American is watching is that we can make hits on network television alone when we have shows that reflect this and that we actually love. HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, it`s a new power for the viewer then, particularly for the viewer of the color. LYNCH: Yes, I believe so. And one other point how FOX doing what Netflix has done, it`s part of FOX`s marketing campaign, was if you miss a show, go to VOD. They have an agreement with the studio that every episode of that season will be available to go back. So, even, if before episode 12, you can go back to, and you can start watching from the beginning. So that`s absolutely a lesson they have taken. HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, I mean, I certainly -- you know, I hadn`t caught up with it yet so I binge watched last night and being able to do did in fact draw in. I would totally watch "Fame" meets "New Jack City". (LAUGHTER) HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to -- I`m going to go cast it right now. Thank you to Jason Lynch and Joy Reid and also to Janet Mock. Please do not forget to tune in to Joy`s show right here on MSNBC, "THE REID REPORT", weekdays at 2:00 p.m. Feel free to tweet that, too. And do not Janet Mock`s show "So POPular" on Shift by MSNBC, Fridays at 11:00 a.m. Up next, a designer who mixes style and diversity, the combination since Romaine coke. We`ll explain when your foot shoulder joins us live. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) HARRIS-PERRY: In 2013, designer Courtney Smith left the world of finance to fill what she saw as an urgent dual need, to create stylish, affordable retail fashion for women of all sizes and, more specifically, to emphasize the beauty of women of color. Her line is called Rum and Coke. And its advertising campaign has featured only plus-size models of color, an aesthetic foreign to most runways in high-fashion magazines. In a recent interview with fashion Web site Refinery 29, she said, "No one questions why there are only small women in other brands` shoots. I put women of color and larger women in my photo shoots for many reasons. One, because I believe in the multiplicity of beauty, and, two, so many women seldom see women like themselves in advertisements." Joining me now with what she calls a new perspective is Courtney Smith, our foot soldier of the week. Everyone here loves on the Nerdland productive staff loves your stuff. So, tell me, what is sexy for you? What is the sexiest setting? COURTNEY SMITH, OWNER/DESIGNER, RUM + COKE: Sexy is all about confidence for me. You can wear whatever you want. But as long as you have that confidence, you`ll feel sexy. And that can be pretty much anything. If you`re going to a gala and you have a gown on, you don`t want to feel self-conscious about it. You want to fell like, yeah, I`m the boss, I feel good, I have my Olivia Pope on. HARRIS-PERRY: Right, exactly. So I love this idea that you were in finance. You saw a need and you decided to sort of enter into the world. What inspires that? At what moment are you like -- is it because you were drinking rum and coke? What inspired this move? SMITH: Well, I was -- I really -- after graduating from Williams, I really wanted to be in finance -- well, I thought that`s what I wanted to do. And as I was going to the interviews, I hated what I had on. Like, I would go shopping and I hated the pants, I hated the blazers, I hated the dresses. And I was saying to myself, I`d made my own suit, I`d change this, change that. And then one day, you know, I started interning for another designer who`s been amazing, been my mentor. And we kind of -- she kind of groomed me on what to do. And then I went out on my own. I was like, you know what, I can do this, I can create my own line, created what I wanted to see in the world. HARRIS-PERRY: So, this idea of what you want to see in the world and that the models you`re using are in part because there are so many of us who don`t see ourselves reflected. Do you hear from women about how not only your clothes but even just the advertisements for your clothes make them feel? SMITH: Yes, definitely. Most of my e-mails are, thank you for acknowledging that I`m beautiful, thank you for seeing me, thank you for acknowledging my presence, my being. And then I get e-mails from husbands like, hey, I want this dress for my wife. She`s a beautiful woman. And she never sees herself as a beautiful woman. And I want to buy this for her. So, that`s been the most amazing part about all this. HARRIS-PERRY: If you could pick one or two beautiful women that you would like to see in your clothes, who would be the top picks for you? SMITH: Definitely Beyonce. HARRIS-PERRY: Because? SMITH: Love her! HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. SMITH: And I love Oprah. I love Taraji. I love Viola. I scream for these women. I scream for Eva DuVernay, Laverne Cox. I love these women. HARRIS-PERRY: I love it. SMITH: I would love them to wear anything. HARRIS-PERRY: I`d love to see all of them in your clothes and also the first lady in some Rum + Coke. Yes, wouldn`t that -- all that would happen and be great. Thank you to Courtney Smith. Thank you both for your work and for joining us here today. SMITH: Thank you for having me. HARRIS-PERRY: That`s our show. Thanks to you at home for watching. I`m going to see you tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m. Eastern. Super Bowl Sunday and Dave Zirin is going to be here for the annual tradition of all sports talk. You know, I will chat a little bit about NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and this burning question -- (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REPORTER: Can you envision any set of circumstances which would lead you to resigning or being fired as your job as commissioner? ROGER GOODELL, NFL COMMISSIONER: No, I can`t. I -- does that surprise you? (END VIDEO CLIP) HARRIS-PERRY: Right now, it`s time for a preview of "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT." Hi, Alex. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END