Tavis Smiley is no good for Black folks!

Actually, I believe the exact opposite, strongly.

I used the provocative title to draw attention to this blog post.  My hope is that you’ll continue to read the rest of what I’ve written and be moved to support the Brother’s efforts.

I freely admit that I was not always a Tavis Smiley fan.    When presidential candidate, Barack Obama declined to participate in Smiley’s 2008 State of the Union meeting; Tavis openly criticized Obama.  I felt Smiley’s reaction was a mistake; perhaps driven by pettiness or even jealously.   My opinion was reinforced earlier this year when an angry Al Sharpton criticized Tavis for misquoting him regarding Obama’s need for a Black agenda.

In retrospect, I don’t believe Tavis was being petty.  Tavis was simply not going to give Obama a pass because he was Black.  Many Black leaders apparently felt it was more important to get the man into office first, then deal with our issues later.  Well later has come and still too few Black leaders are willing to criticize the President.  Tavis continues to hold the President accountable with it comes to Black folks.  To do this publicly, as a Black man, takes courage, and for that Smiley has my respect and admiration.

But the real meat of Tavis’ impact comes from his institution building.

Tavis Smiley has been in the media for over 20 years; from his political commentary on the Tom Joyner Morning Show, to BET Tonight with Tavis Smiley (the one saving grace of BET if you ask me), to Tavis Smiley on PBS (over 1,000 broadcasts), to Tavis’ new radio program on PRI Smiley & West (download the podcast from iTunes), Smiley’s record of addressing important issues in our community and bringing important people to the fore front is prodigious and sorely needed.

As a book seller I’m most familiar with Tavis’ Publishing company SmileyBooks.  SmileyBooks led by publishing icon Cheryl Woodruff is a co-publishing venture with Hay House.  Tavis has written or edited over a dozen books himself, which is impressive enough, but the legacy he provides by publishing others carries greater importance.

Here are just a few of the titles released by SmilelyBooks:

Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through By Iyanla Vanzant
Iyanla is an AALBC.com best selling author going back to 1998.  The story of Vanzant’s personal journey toward peace from personal struggles and tragedy will resonate with many people.  Iyanla’s down to earth and humorous style is makes her books even more appealing.

Black Business Secrets: 500 Tips, Strategies, and Resources for the African-American Entrepreneur by Dante Lee
Dante has a business savvy which is rare for someone his age.  His business skill is matched by his consciousness which is quite rare for any business person.  Old and young can learn from this dynamic young Brother’s book.

Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell
Given the tremendous impact that media and marketing has on all of us; the issues addressed in this book make it required reading for Black folks.  Burrell founded Burrell Communications, one of the first Black owned advertising agencies.  Heed Burrell’s warning — he knows first hand.

Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud, a Memoir by Cornel West
In 2009 Dr. West explained to AALBC.com why he wrote his memoir, “…when the prostate cancer hit 8 years ago. I thought and thought about it and decided maybe I could tell my story to help somebody, so they could see how the power of love and education in my life had transformed me from a gangster with raw rage.”

I hope you are inspired to buy and read some of these or other titles from SmileyBooks.

The video below was shot during the launch party for SmileyBooks in 2007.   Since it was a completely positive event in the Black community it did not get much coverage from the major media


Troy D. Johnson is the President, founder and webmaster of AALBC.com, LLC (The African American Literature Book Club). Launched in March of 1998, AALBC.com has grown to become the largest and most frequently visited website dedicated to books and films by and about people of African descent.

  • aundrea

    In response to your email, all I have to say is that I don’t like the criticism of President Obama and I agree with your title. Hold President obama accountable to blacks. Give me a break. There is a long line of people we need to hold accountable before we get to President OBama. For instance. what has Tavis done positive for Black people since President Obama got in. All I can say is that I answered Obama’s call and I rolled up my sleeves and took action on a cause (HIV/AIDS) in the Black community and President Obama responded. Little old me, I am just a PhD student with a desire to help my people and I got an invitation to the white house to give imput and change history. Watch tv and look at the ads for preventing HIV/AIDS, he is doing something about it. I am not taking credit for the commericals but I can say that he listened and I was apart of the process for change. No other president has invited me to the white house just to share my ideas. So, Tavis and friends have more power than me. What have they done lately? What bill have they asked to get passed, what movement have they started, what March have they organized, what agenda have they asked for that involves the people not ratings for Tavis or book sales? I might be mistaken but to my knowledge Tavis hasn’t asked President Obama to do anything for Black people as a whole, just Tavis and his friends. He is not the authority on Black people. Has he asked President Obama to help with any of his covenant agendas? I don’t think so. Instead of asking President Obama to come to the show, why isn’t he trying to implement his covenant. How can poor, racist, tea-baggers organize and with all the Black organizations, churches, and non-profits and we haven’t organized a thing. Where is the million man march now? I don’t hear/see them marching or organizing on any subject agenda, issue at all. If we understand democracy we would understand how to make change happen. President Obama hasn’t let us down, we have let ourselves down. Where are the sorrorities, Masons, Elks, Shiners, etc? You have not, because you ask not! The only think Tavis has asked him to do is come on the show!! Well, that is Karma on Tavis. He has turned down many Black organizations for appearances because they didn’t have the money. So, President Obama not coming on his show is just Karma nothing else. At least Rev. Al Sharpton is creating a bill and notice he has no complaints with our President. Paraphrasing Kennedy, Don’t ask what the country can do for you, but what you can do for the country.Black people have done nothing to help themselves. Our ancestors are rolling over in their graves. Our ancestors would be hitting the white house will a list of ideas, suggestions, proposals, and economic solutions if they were alive. There is no way that they could have a black President and not get one thing done under his reign. Surely, they would not let the tea baggers out do them in getting people elected in office, etc. It is sad and Tavis will have to atone for his actions. Our spirit is broken and we have no fight and that is not President Obama’s fault. In fact, he is trying to resurrect that fighting spirit. Go back to the tapes of his campaign, I don’t know how plain he could make it. We have to create change we can believe in. Tavis is proof that Black people don’t believe in freedom anymore. We don’t believe. Thus, such a people will never be free, and that isn’t President Obama’s fault, nor Jesus, nor Moses, nor Farakhan, nor Jesse, nor King. I am proof, I believed President Obama and I followed his plan, and I got invited to the white house and my voice was heard and counted, and he allowed me to make a difference for all people. I don’t have any books, a tv show, or religious followers. I am one person with a dream and a will to fight for liberation, and President Obama listened. So, I don’t care what Tavis is saying about President Obama. When the history books are written, he will be sorry for what he is doing. What can Tavis say he has done to make life better for Black people? Nothing!!! And he has been doing this before we even knew that Obama existed. The Black community is no better now than before Tavis’ career started. His covenant book hasn’t changed one neighborhood. Now, I can’t say that about Farakhan, the Million Man March changed Black men. So, where is Farakhan now? The Nation is almost silent, why isn’t he organzing us now? Boy think how powerful a Million Man March would be now with a black president!! WE could diffuse the tea baggers in one event. However, nothing from them!! I could go on for hours and days about this situation and name numerous reasons why Tavis is tripping!! I will end on this, when you point fingers at someone, there are three fingers pointing back at you Tavis. Stop Talking, and start doing!! There are plenty of Black people who have read their books and got ideas that can make a difference and got great suggestions, doesn’t he want to hear them. I am sure there are hundreds of organizations who are on the front line that needs Tavis’s help to make a difference. In stead of putting President Obama on his show what about them. The one’s on the front line. What has he done to help them? I heard he still hasn’t paid Texas Southern University the million dollars he promised. So whatever.

    • Aundrea, you should be commended for your HIV/AIDS activism. I glad you had an impact on Pres. Obama.

      You’ve written a whole lot in your commentary and it would be impossible to address everything. But I will ask you two questions for the sake of clarity;

      1 – Do you truly believe believe your statement: “What can Tavis say he has done to make life better for Black people? Nothing!!!”

      2 – Can you think of anything that Pres. Obama. has done that you don’t agree with?

  • Here is an interesting conversation about this Blog post on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/aalbc/posts/471789257049

  • Tom Joyner wrote in his http://www.blackamericaweb.com/?q=blog_inner/17020/1573138/The%20Fly%20Jock/1 Blog

    When I hear and read about the hate people have for Tavis right now, it makes me sad. Because I know that if Tavis knew how to get out of this situation, he would. But it’s not in him to do what needs to be done, to recognize he has gone down a wrong path, and his only real option is to turn around.

    I believe the beef Tavis has with President Obama is personal, and only the two of them know what it’s really about. For all I know, it could stem from a pick up game of basketball where the president didn’t choose Tavis to be on his team. Whatever the problem is, I can’t change it. And you can’t either.

    So, I make my appeal to you, black America: Don’t use your energy to spew hate against a brother that you know deep inside is in a bad situation. Use your energy to help black leaders – including the president – find solutions to some of the issues that are plaguing our community.

    I agree with Tom. Then I read about those pesky Well’ Fargo Predatory-Lending Accusations and that Smiley Books is releasing R Kelly’s memoir
    And I have to ask is Smiley No Good for Black Folks?

    • AJ, thanks for sharing this article. Tom Joyner who has known Tavis personally for years is seemingly in a much better position that I to ascertain that Tavis’ issue with Obama is personal.

      However I think Joyner assertion that Black folk almost worship Tavis is off the mark, perhaps a skewed by Joyner’s audience’s demographic. This is why I have no problem with Tavis criticizing Obama. This is also why I have not allowed this criticism over shadow Tavis impressive accomplishments. Including the establishment of SmileyBooks.

      In fact, it is completely plausible that Tom Joyner’s reaction, as very strong Obama supporter, to Tavis Smiley is personal. Would you be willing to consider that possibility?

      It remains to be seen what the deal is with the R. Kelly memoir…

      • I would be willing to consider it. I am aware of Smiley’s continued contribution to keeping the conversation regarding Black interest in the forefront.
        But the problem Black folk are having with Mr. Smiley (and it’s hard to get blacks to turn on you, but they will, ask Bill Clinton) Tavis was responsible for creating a televised platform that brought Black Leaders together. Most Blacks, (including myself) saw him as one who would support Obama, not take him to task. After all did he not have two previous presidential candidates on stage with him? Did not his State of the Black Union’s host an array of Black leaders with diverse opinions? I do not believe Smiley ever endorsed Obama which ultimately most Black Leaders did, including Oprah
        The most unfortunate part of it all was had he not created a furor over Obama that energy could have been used to teach Blacks how to organize and demand answers on the issues of – health care; education; justice; economy; environment, energy & infrastructure; and democracy. Issues Tavis outlined in his previous books.
        I reflect over 2010 and think about the Tea Party, Limbaugh, Palin, Beck, the revisionist and the out and out attack on Black America and its leaders. Was there ever a time when we needed the State of the Black Union more?

        I truly believe Tavis has allowed himself to stumble over his own pettiness but it’s not too late, and I would love to see Tavis rise to the ranks he truly deserves.

        And thanks for creating this conversation. I think it’s truly needed.

        • AJ yes I think the conversation is needed. In reality the conversation is much borader than Tavis, though he is representative of some of the issues.

          I guess the point of contention we have is that you view Tavis’ behavior has petty. I view other reactions to Tavis as petty.

          We have to be able to say we do not like something Obama has done without being called “petty”. I know that is an oversimplification, but this is what it boils down to. This attitude will do us more harm than good.

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  • There is an interesting conversation on my Facebook wall regarding this Blog post: http://aalbc.it/fbtavis

  • ara patricia woodruff

    Black people are not monolithic, I must keep reminding myself. But, there should not be one black republican in America AT THIS TIME or petty criticism of this president, who took over from an idiot who literally turned America into a third world country, with the help of all of the fifth estates quietly helping. I saw Tavis Smiley on HBO’s Real Time, and he was embarrassing (to me), with his snide remarks about President Obama. I wondered who his ‘audience’ was? Bush got away with EIGHT years of silence from the black community. President Obama did not get TWO WEEKS. Come on People, give the man and his family, a break.

    • Hi Ara, thanks for the comments.

      If you ignored Tavis’ critique of President Obama for a moment, would you agree that he has made some postive contribution to Black people in general? If not, why not?

      If so, why would you call his critque of the of Obama petty, and not trust that it comes from the perspective of someone with our best interest at heart?

  • ara patricia woodruff

    I have been around for a long time and know that a president has to get a second term to really leave his agenda. (Remember when Clinton apologized for slavery?) Or, better yet, Bush’s mess right now. I wasn’t criticizing Smiley, I just happen to agree with the title presented to me: ‘Tavis Smiley is no good for Black folks.’ I certainly tried to be a believer in him, but, when Obama did not show up for his State of Black America conference, I became a bit disenchanted with him When he did not reply to my e-mail to the Tavis Group, which I joined immediately when I was told about it, he became too busy for the ‘little people.’ Got the e-mails for ‘fund raisers,’ thou??? I, or I should say, the book club that I am in BOUGHT both of his books and discussed them in our meetings. So, please, this woman has been very friendly to Mr. Smiley until I thought he had become ‘petty’ to Mr, Obama. And, no, I do not think he has ‘our best interest at heart,’ any more.

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