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there’s still a lot of conversation to be had about how we, black people, take this moment and advance the causes and concerns

that we care about so that we don’t look up four years from now and have celebrated a symbolic victory, but not

have a substantive victory. That’s what the conversation’s going to be about.   



Books by Tavis Smiley


My Story of Growing Up in America / The Covenant with Black America  /  The Covenant in Action


Never Mind Success: Go for Greatness  /  Keeping the Faith   /  Black Rage, Black Redemption


Accountable: Making America as Good as Its Promise


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The State of the Black Union 2009

Tavis Smiley Interviewed by  Kam Williams


Born in Gulfport, Mississippi on September 13, 1964, Tavis Smiley was raised by his mother and step-father in a modest mobile home in Peru, Indiana along with his seven siblings and five orphaned cousins. After earning a B.A. at Indiana University where he majored in law, Tavis started his career as an aide to the late Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley.

He currently serves as the host of his PBS-TV talk show, Tavis Smiley, and he heads the Tavis Smiley Foundation whose mission is to enlighten, encourage and empower black youth. He is also the founder of Tavis Smiley Presents, an organization which brings ideas and people together through symposiums, seminars, forums, and town hall meetings.

In addition, he has authored ten books, making publishing history when “The Covenant with Black America reached #1 on the New York Times best-seller list.  Most recently, he published “Accountable: Making America as Good as Its Promise.”

In 2004, he was honored by Texas Southern University which opened the Tavis Smiley School of Communications and the Tavis Smiley Center for Professional Media Studies, making him the youngest African American ever to have a professional school and center named after him on a college campus.

Furthermore, Time named Tavis one of America’s 50 most promising young leaders, while Newsweek dubbed him one of the “20 people changing how Americans get their news.” From his celebrated conversations with world figures, to his work to inspire the next generation of leaders, as a broadcaster, author, advocate and philanthropist, Tavis continues to be an outstanding voice for change.

Here, he talks about the State of the Black Union, the 10th annual gathering of some of the most influential black thinkers, entertainers, and political leaders. This year, the event is being staged at the Los Angeles Convention Center on Saturday, February 28th and airing live on C-Span from 11 AM to 7:30 PM (ET).  

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KW: Hey Tavis, thanks for the time.

TS: My pleasure, man.

KW: Congratulations on staging another State of the Black Union. What do you have planned for Saturday?

TS: Another riveting conversation, as we enter into this Obama era. As you know, we’ve been doing this for ten years, and when we started, Kam, nobody could have ever imagined that in our 10th anniversary year we’d be celebrating the 100th birthday of the NAACP, Lincoln’s 200th birthday, the inauguration of the first African-American President, and even the election of Michael Steele as the head of the Republican Party, for that matter. So, it’s an interesting time to come together and reflect on these conversations we’ve been having for the past decade.   

KW: What makes the gathering so special each time?

TS: It’s the only time when, for a whole day, you can turn on live television and watch the best thinkers in black America engaged in a dialogue. It only happens that one day a year, so everybody looks forward to it.    

KW: Is there a theme that everybody will be addressing this go-round? 

TS: Yes, making America as good as its promise. To answer your question, Kam, what we really want to get down to is how we navigate this gap between the promise of America and the possibility in America. Even with a black man in the White House, there’s a gap between the promise and the possibility in this country. There are people who think that, just because we have a black President, black kids no longer have any excuses. Well, that’s a bit naïve. There are structural barriers to other African-Americans becoming the President. So, there’s a lot to celebrate about the Obama election, and I’m on the front line doing the Electric Slide myself, celebrating. But at the end of the day, there’s still a lot of conversation to be had about how we, black people, take this moment and advance the causes and concerns that we care about so that we don’t look up four years from now and have celebrated a symbolic victory, but not have a substantive victory. That’s what the conversation’s going to be about.   

KW: In 2006, your book, The Covenant, made my Ten Best List, while Obama’s book, The Audacity of Hope, was # 1 on my 10 Worst List.

TS: I remember reading that piece.

KW: What I appreciated about The Covenant, Tavis, was that it very specifically addresses areas where black people need help urgently, in employment, healthcare, education, housing, criminal justice, and so forth. By contrast, Obama’s book was vague if not silent in terms of the concerns of the African-American community, and amounted to little more than the transparent game plan of guileful politician. In it, he seemed to be taking the black vote for granted while clearly courting Republicans by praising President Reagan, who had supported apartheid and repeatedly referred to Nelson Mandela as a terrorist.

That’s why I trashed the book in 2006, although I did support him after he threw his hat into the ring. Most black leaders seemed to clam up and were afraid to talk about any black agenda after Obama declared himself a candidate. Even last year’s State of the Black Union seemed almost like a referendum on Obama, and his conspicuous absence sort of hung over the event.  

TS: You’re right, but that was hard to avoid, given all that was happening last year. It was hard to avoid the conversation being about Obama to some degree. That was to be expected when you have someone who’s driving towards making history. And he wasn’t even in the building. If you recall, Hillary did attend, and the conversation was still about Obama. This year, now that he’s President, the conversation, in a word, is going to be about accountability. How do we advance the causes and concerns of African-American people about health, about education, about the criminal justice system?

Believe me, we’re going to get serious this year. Part of what happened last year was that there were many voices in the black community saying, “Let’s not discuss these issues. Let’s help the brother win first, and we can discuss these issues once he wins.” Well, that moment has arrived. He has won, and he’s safely ensconced in the West Wing of the White House. Now the moment has arrived to raise these issues. And it’s not about casting aspersions on him. And that was not what I was doing last year. My issue was with the question of accountability. And this conversation in this symposium in this 10th anniversary year was going to be about accountability no matter who the President was. What I’ve spent the bulk of my career talking about is accountability, and trying to move our people toward an accountability politics. We have to move beyond symbolism and get to substance.

I believe that time for us is running out. The statistics are getting to be so damning that it would take ten generations of steady progress to turn it all around. The numbers are getting so bad for us in so many areas, pick one, education… the digital divide… health… that we may never catch up. One thing’s for certain, Kam. The only way we will catch up is if we have an agenda that we hold ourselves and our leaders accountable to.  It won’t happen around celebrations of symbolism. We’ll have to get aggressive here, not unlike our Jewish brothers and sisters do on behalf of Israel.

KW: Yeah, you notice how Rahm Emmanuel’s father assured the Jewish community when his son was named Obama’s Chief of Staff that, “Obviously, he will influence the president to be pro-Israel. Why wouldn't he be? What is he, an Arab? He's not going to clean the floors of the White House."

TS: Exactly. That’s my point. We’re going to have to get serious about an accountability agenda and about accountability politics. I don’t apologize for that. I just don’t see any way that we are ultimately going to advance the cause of our people.

KW: Your colleague at PBS, Gwen Ifill, has a new book out, The Breakthrough.

TS: Yeah, I’ve read it.

KW: In it, she quotes my review of the 2006 State of the Black Union in which I say that the younger leaders on the dais for the late afternoon session “were unfortunately given short shrift since long-winded speeches and CPT delays meant little time was left when they finally got their chance.” Is there any way to abbreviate the long introductions where the luminaries tend to hug and lavish praise on each other before getting down to business? And will the next generation of black leaders be allotted more time?

TS: I hear your concern. First, it’s important for you and others to understand that this event only happens one day a year, so most of these people don’t see each other but this one day a year. It’s not like we get together all the time. Number two, the greeting is part of the black custom. We don’t roll in cold as ice like other people and just go right at it. It’s just part of our tradition that we are warm and brotherly and sisterly with each other. That being said, there are a couple of things we’re doing differently this year.

On Friday, the 27th, we’re hosting a youth symposium on the campus of USC in conjunction with MTV. Taking nothing away from young people, let’s be honest. The truth of the matter is that it’s hard when they’re trying to hold their own as part of a dialogue with Cornell West, Michael Eric Dyson, Jesse Jackson, Charles Ogletree and Julianne Malveaux. It’s not that we gave them short shrift. If I didn’t have young leaders on there, somebody would complain that no young leaders were included. When I do include them, Kam complains that I don’t give them enough time. I catch hell either way. I’m a big boy and I can handle that.

But it does require that people be a little sensitive about the challenges of putting on the program. Like I said, this year, on Friday, we’re having a panel specifically for young scholars. And the entire audience will be young people. Another thing we’re doing differently this year is we’re having a one-hour blogger’s panel at the end of the Saturday’s program. And some of the original panelists are going to stick around to engage in dialogue with five, pre-selected African-American bloggers. That bonus conversation will not be on C-Span, but a live webcast on the internet. So, yeah, we’re trying to evolve.

KW: Sounds good.

TS: I remember that we were in Houston the year you referred to, specifically. It was when I had that youth panel at the end. They were young influencers who weren’t really very well known. But nobody had ever thought of putting all those people on the same stage together before. We got a good hour and fifteen minutes in that day. It wasn’t as long as I’d planned, but at least we introduced them to the nation. Remember, this is television, and to get this thing televised nationally every year…  

KW: You have to bring the big names.

TS: Exactly. It’s all a part of the process. So, I understand it when people want to take their shots, it’s cool, but I have a sense of what I’m doing here, because ten years ago, this didn’t exist at all. I don’t take that criticism personally, but I know what I have to do to make the event successful. And I can’t please everybody.

KW: I’ve always given the event a very positive review, so I was surprised to see the excerpt Gwen used in her book.  

TS: Gwen just took the negative part, that’s all.

KW: Yep. The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?

TS: Very much so.

KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?

TS: Yes, of death.

KW: “Realtor to the Stars” Jimmy Bayan question: Where in L.A. do you live?

TS: I live right in Hancock Park.

KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?

TS: Ooh, great question. Looking for Lincoln.

KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What music are you listening to nowadays? 

TS: I have the most eclectic musical taste of anybody. Right now, I’m listening to a lot of Sixties soul music… Stax… Motown… Chess… because I’m working on a film documentary.

KW: The Rudy Lewis question: Who’s at the top of your hero list?


KW: Is there a question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?

TS: [Chuckles] That’s a good question, but no, I get asked more than enough questions.  

KW: The Laz Alonso question: How can your fans help you?

TS: That’s another good question. By being the leader that they are looking for.

KW: Thanks again for the time and good luck on Saturday.

TS: Thanks, Kam. See you, brother.

For more information click Tavis Talks: State of the Black Union

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State of the Black Union

By Kam Williams

March 2, 2009

The 10th Annual State of the Black Union, hosted by Tavis Smiley, convened in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 28th, again bringing many of the best and brightest African-American thinkers together to air their concerns for the community during an all-day affair aired live on the C-Span Network. The event was divided into two different panels consisting of leading luminaries from all walks of life.

The morning session was moderated by N.J. Attorney Raymond Brown, Jr., and featured Reverend Jesse Jackson, Sr., Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Harvard Law Professors Charles Ogletree and Stephanie Robinson, motivational speaker Les Brown, Brown University Professor Tricia Rose, former talk show host Iyanla Vanzant, former N.J. Attorney General Peter Harvey, Washington Post finance journalist Michelle Singletary, Georgetown Professor Michael Eric Dyson, and Urban League President Marc Morial.

Highlights from the first half of the program included Dyson’s spirited indictment of America as perhaps “post-racial” but not yet “post-racist,” Brown’s assertion that “Any lawyer who is not a social engineer is a parasite,” Waters’ criticizing the event’s sponsor Wells Fargo for being among the corporate vultures taking advantage of the poor via predatory lending, and Jackson’s suggestion that college students ought to have access to TARP loans at the same 0% interest rate available to banks.   

By far, the most compelling person sitting in the overstuffed beige armchairs on the stage had to be Ms. Vanzant, who shared the intimate details of how she recently came to lose her home. The fall from grace was understandably humiliating for the attorney-turned-talk show host and author of 13 books, 5 of which have landed on the New York Times best-seller list.

Her host of woes include the death of a daughter, having to take custody of her granddaughter and an inability to get health insurance due to a pre-existing condition. “I can’t get sick,” she told the shocked audience,” after admitting to feeling ashamed and guilty about her plight.

The standout of the afternoon session, hosted by Tavis himself, was newly-named Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele, if only because his right-wing agenda and subdued speaking style sharply contrasted with the passion and progressive ideas of public intellectuals Cornel West and Julianne Malveaux, L.A. Sentinel publisher Danny Bakewell, Sr., Psychologist Na’im Akbar, Environmentalist Van Jones, California State Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, Obama youth organizer Erica Williams, African-American Images founder Jawanza Kunjufu and L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Steele seems to have served himself well by attending, despite the cool reception he received. For not only did he get a chance to make his Republican Party recruitment sales pitch, but he even seemed to be taking mental notes, such as when he nodded in agreement with Dr. West’s assessment that President Obama won the election because the “Southern Strategy” of demonizing blacks no longer worked. 

Kudos to Tavis Smiley for successfully juggling so many celebrity egos to produce another very worthwhile day’s worth of informative and thought-provoking conversation designed to inspire impressionable young minds to aspire to be the very best.

To see an excerpt from the State of the Black Union featuring Tavis Smiley and Michael Steele, visit: YouTube

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Tavis Smiley is a broadcaster, author, advocate and philanthropist. TIME Magazine honored Smiley in 2009 as one of "The World's 100 Most Influential People." He is currently the host of the late night television talk show, "Tavis Smiley" on PBS and "The Tavis Smiley Show" distributed by Public Radio International (PRI). In 2007, Smiley made television history as the moderator and executive producer of the All-American Presidential Forums on PBS, the first Democratic and Republican presidential debates broadcast live in primetime with a panel exclusively comprised of journalists of color.

In addition to his radio and television work, Smiley has authored fourteen books. His memoir, What I Know For Sure: My Story of Growing Up in America, was a New York Times bestseller.

His latest book, Accountable: Making America As Good As its Promise, addresses how our political leaders, corporations and finally, American citizens themselves can enforce accountability and effect change.

The Tavis Smiley Foundation, a non-profit organization, was established to provide leadership training and development for youth. Since its inception, more than 6,000 young people have participated in the foundation's Youth to Leaders training workshops and conferences.

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Tavis Smiley (born September 13, 1964) is an American talk show host, author, political commentator, entrepreneur, advocate and philanthropist. Smiley was born in Gulfport, Mississippi and grew up in Kokomo, Indiana. After attending Indiana University, he worked during the late 1980s as an aide to Tom Bradley, the mayor of Los Angeles. Smiley became a radio commentator in 1991, and starting in 1996 he hosted the talk show BET Talk (later renamed BET Tonight) on BET. Controversially, after Smiley sold an exclusive interview of Sara Jane Olson to ABC News in 2001, BET declined to renew Smiley's contract that year. Smiley then began hosting The Tavis Smiley Show on NPR from 2002 to 2004 and currently hosts Tavis Smiley on PBS on the weekdays and a weekly self-titled show on PRI. . . .

Smiley was honored with the NAACP Image Award for best news, talk, or information series for three consecutive years (1997–99) for his work on BET Tonight with Tavis Smiley. Smiley's advocacy efforts have earned him numerous awards and recognitions including the recipient of the Mickey Leland Humanitarian Award from the National Association of Minorities in Communications.In 1999, he founded the Tavis Smiley Foundation, which funds programs that develop young leaders in the black community. Since its inception, more than 6,000 young people have participated in the foundation's Youth to Leaders Training workshops and conferences. His communications company, The Smiley Group, Inc., serves as the holding company for various enterprises encompassing broadcast and print media, lecturers, symposiums, and the Internet.

In 1994, Time named him one of America's 50 Most Promising Young Leaders. Time honored him the next year as one of the "100 Most Influential People in the World." In May 2007, Smiley gave a commencement speech at his alma mater, Indiana University at Bloomington, Indiana. In May 2008, he gave the commencement address at Connecticut College, where he was awarded an honorary doctorate. In May 2009, Smiley was awarded an honorary doctorate at Langston University after giving the commencement address there.

On December 12, 2008, Smiley received the Du Bois Medal from Harvard University's W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research.Wikipedia

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The Katrina Papers by Jerry W. Ward, Jr The Richard Wright Encyclopedia (2008)

Michael Eric Dyson to President Obama  /  Michael Eric Dyson: To The Young & Disillusioned

Michael Eric Dyson: Obama isn't Moses, he is Pharaoh  /  Smiley and West: Obama & Sharpton

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#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
#2 - Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree
#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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Sex at the Margins

Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry

By Laura María Agustín

This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label 'trafficked' does not accurately describe migrants' lives and that the 'rescue industry' serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. "Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality."—Lisa Adkins, University of London

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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posted 22 February 2009 




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