Tavis Smiley Talks

tavis smileySmiley is the presenter and creative force behind America I AM: The African American Imprint. This unprecedented traveling museum exhibition, which debuted in January 2009, will tour the country for four years, celebrating the extraordinary impact of African American contributions to our nation and the world, as told through rare artifacts, memorabilia and multimedia.

Smiley’s most gratifying accomplishments are rooted in his passion to inspire the next generation of leaders. The Tavis Smiley Foundation, a nonprofit 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.

His communications company, The Smiley Group, Inc., is dedicated to supporting human rights and related empowerment issues and serves as the holding company for various enterprises encompassing broadcast and print media, lectures, symposiums and the Internet.

Young Urban Voices had a wonderful opportunity to speak with Mr. Smiley about his career and recent events going on in America.

Young Urban Voices: What lead you to write the book, “My Journey with Maya?”

My-Journey-With-Maya-658x1024Tavis Smiley : When she passed last year, May 2014, I started seriously thinking about the role she played in my life. We had a 28 years we had a wonderful friendship. So when she passed I thought I would write this book to share with readers some of the efforts I’ve learned from her, that might be important and instructive to pass on to other people. That was the essential reason for writing the book, to celebrate her and share some of these lessons.

YUV: Is “My Journey with Maya” becoming a stage play?

TS: Yes, I’m glad you asked. They just announced it about a few weeks ago before the book came out. So we are on our way to Broadway. “We are Broadway bound!” The stage play will be directed by a wonderful director named Kenny Leon. He won a Tony award last year along with Denzel Washington for the play, “A Raisin in the Sun,” He’s worked with Denzel Washington, Roger McDonald, and Phylicia Rashad. We’ve announced the book will be turned into a stage play and we are on our way to Broadway.

YUV:  What do you think about the police brutality going on in America?

TS: It’s a tragedy and a moral disgrace. But this is what happens when you do not have the respect for the dignity of all people. {In reference to the Walter Scott murder—if you watch that video tape the cop shot him eight times in the back. He falls, he die.} He’s no threat to you. But you shoot him in the back so many times. He’s face down dead, you walk up to him and handcuff him. Why are you handcuffing a dead body? Once you’ve already shot him in the back. It just goes again to show there is a lack of respect for certain human beings in our country. I think often times black men are used as target practice. I was disgusted people are hurting and there is a way to deal with police brutality and it’s not to just give all of these cops a pass. These are isolated incidents. The question is how many isolated incidents are going to happen. Too often black men lives just don’t matter.

YUV: What lead you to write the book with Cornell West? “The Rich and the Rest of Us?”

TS: It was simple, it was a way to discuss one of the biggest issues facing our country; poverty. We believe poverty is threatening our very democracy. This country cannot afford to let poverty grow. It’s expanding. It’s not going to pass and we’ve got to do something about the raise of poverty. Income equality, economic immobility. We hope that this book can be serve as a research guide because something can and will be done about it.


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