RENOWNED RADIO, TV TALK SHOW HOST
BRINGS SMILES TO NEW ORLEANS
by Phil Moore
Driving through New Orleans after leaving a rousing, passionate, highly inspiring presentation
at the Morial Convention Center, I stopped at an art show. An artist, a New Orleans
"transplant", a white guy with two kids nearby, noticed the "press" badge hanging from my
neck. He asked how it was going down at the convention center, and if it was a mob.
"Where I'm from - California - Tavis Smiley's name is magical", he said.
Tavis Smiley's annual "State Of The Black Union" (SOBU) symposium Saturday Feb. 23,
broadcast live on C-Span, the government cable network, has been held every February since
2000. It has thousands of attendees and over 100 million viewers worldwide and was created
"to educate, enlighten and empower America by bringing people together and engaging them in
thoughtful dialogue, leading the way to constructive action", according to Smiley's website.
Smiley, a TV and radio talk show host, is such a renowned motivational speaker and man of
presence you can sense some sort of undeniable power. His "State Of The Black Union" this
year hosted 24 noted politicians, educators, social scientists, business leaders, entertainers,
and even Daron Boyce, a 17 year-old Memphis community activist. Smiley and co-host
Tom Joyner, of the popular morning talk show began a lively discussion of democracy and
the future, focusing on the role African-Americans play in this year's elections. "Hurricane
Katrina and its aftermath provided a portrait of disenfranchisement at its worse", Smiley said
in a press release. Last year's SOBU was held in Hampton, Virginia.
Panelists usually read like a Who's Who of African-Americans, among them Al Sharpton and
Jesse Jackson, this time they were joined by Louisianians, among them New Orleans mayor C.
Ray Nagin, Lt. Governor Mitch Landrieu, former senator turned congressman Cleo Fields,
Dr. Norman Francis, president of Xavier Univeristy, and Wendell Pierce, a New Orleans native
now appearing in HBO's "The Wire".
A capacity crowd of over 5000 from all ethnic groups filled the hall at the convention center, and some panelists appeared
to enjoy onstage banter and a light-hearted atmosphere as much as the audience did. Several panelists received ovations -
even Nagin - who also mentioned that, though President Bush promised 120 million dollars, the city still has not received
any of it.
New Orleans was rightfully chosen, because it mirrors problems confronting
black communities across America, including education, crime, and health
care. Diverse, sometimes partisan speakers held true to the theme of
"Reclaiming our Democracy".One by one, the scholars, politicians, business
leaders, clergy, and entertainers appealed to the audience in a variety of ways
to exercise their voting right for whatever candidate they choose. At an historic
era in American politics, the powerful partisan tone of the message is undeniable.
The day before SOBU hundreds of volunteers worked in various parts of New
Orleans helping to rebuild as part of the SOBU "day of service". Due to rainy
weather only three out of the five or six scheduled projects was tackled.
Landrieu, whose office helped mobilize volunteers, said before the event that he
applauds Smiley for bringing SOBU to New Orleans.
While the final synopsis of the speakers brought together may or may not represent the
views of some African-Americans, Smiley said all the major presidential candidates were invited, and only Hillary Clinton
accepted. Reports have been circulating that Smiley was highly upset at Barack Obama for not attending. Clinton was
warmly received when she took the stage fashionably late, causing the program - and C-span - to run into overtime. No
one seemed to mind. Clinton, at an Ohio appearance earlier in the day, blasted Obama over negative fliers Obama's camp
distributed by mail.
Smiley's next stops are Yale University on Feb. 29 to address the Black Student Alliance, and a return to New Orleans on
March 7 to host a third annual "National Summit on Equitable Development, Social Justice, and Smart Growth".
"It's about more than just a hurricane"
Tavis Smiley photo
"State of the Black Union 2008" members
attend a press conference