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Smiley, Tavis

Tavis Smiley

1964—

Radio, television commentator

In a preview to its 1994 list of fifty future American leaders, Time magazine observed, "As surely as there are forces organic to today's America that stifle leadership, there are forces within some Americans that cause them to lead nonetheless. Ambition plays a role, as does a desire to do good, but doggedness is essential, as is a sort of questioning curiosity." In the years since he was named to that list of emerging leaders, Tavis Smiley has lived up to that promise and then some. Smiley has emerged as one of the most active black presences in American media, with a resume that includes high-profile slots on television and radio, bestselling books, and his own publishing company.

Smiley has been running on a political fast track since he was in college, when he served as an intern for Tom Bradley, the mayor of Los Angeles. After graduating from Indiana University, he worked for three years as an administrative aide in the Bradley organization, hosted radio talk shows, served as a guest commentator on several network television shows, and created his own sixty-second syndicated radio commentary, The Smiley Report. He reached an even broader audience in 1996 with the publication of his liberal manifesto Hard Right: Straight Talk about the Wrongs of the Right, which was into its third printing a mere month after first hitting the bookstores.

The third of ten children, Smiley was born on September 13, 1964, in Gulfport, Mississippi, the son of Emory G. and Joyce M. Smiley. When he was two, his father, a non-commissioned officer in the U.S. Air Force, was transferred to Grissom Air Force Base in Bunker Hill, Indiana. After arriving in Indiana, the Smiley family took up residence in a crowded mobile home in Kokomo. Smiley observed in the introduction to Hard Left: Straight Talk about the Wrongs of the Right (1996) that "while we never had a lot of what we wanted, I can't say we ever went hungry, either." His father often worked several part-time jobs to support his large family, and Smiley wrote of him, "I've never known anyone with a stronger work ethic." Smiley's mother was an associate minister at their church, the New Bethel Tabernacle, which was part of the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World. Smiley recalled for the Washington Post that he was in church every day when he was growing up.

Acutely aware that Indiana had once been home to the national headquarters of the Ku Klux Klan, Smiley nevertheless described his youth in Hard Left as "a typical midwestern small-town life." He was one of only a handful of African-American students in an otherwise all-white high school, but he did not allow this to become an obstacle. He was elected class president and voted "most likely to succeed." Smiley observed in Hard Left that "although I lived in a nearly all-White community, I never felt ‘less than’ simply because of the color of my skin. I learned that people of different races can and do get along. Which says to me that we don't have to buy this race-baiting, divide-and-conquer technique the radical Right is pushing."

Began Politics as a Teenager

Smiley's love for politics began at the age of thirteen, when he attended a campaign speech by the U.S. senator Birch Bayh at an American Legion hall. That night, he abandoned his dream of becoming a professional baseball player when he realized that politicians were in a unique position to motivate people and positively affect their lives. After graduation from high school, Smiley attended Indiana University in Bloomington, where he landed a spot on the debate team and became active in student government. He also got involved in local politics by working for Tomilea Allison, the mayor of Bloomington. Having achieved "everything I wanted to do in college except graduate" by the end of his junior year, Smiley told the Los Angeles Times that he considered dropping out. However, a friend persuaded him to stay in school and seek work as an intern. After repeated telephone calls and letters to the office of the Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley, Smiley was eventually granted an internship.

After graduating from Indiana, Smiley worked for three years as an administrative aide in the Bradley camp. At the age of twenty-four, he was the youngest member of Mayor Bradley's executive staff. In 1991 Smiley left Bradley's staff to run for the Los Angeles city council. Running against the incumbent Ruth Galanter, Smiley finished a respectable fourth in a field of fifteen challengers.

With no clear plan for the future, his defeat forced him to reassess his interests and options. He wrote in Hard Left, "I realized I was most fulfilled when I was helping educate, empower, and encourage people who live in the indigenous community." Undeterred by his election loss, Smiley was already planning to run again in four years. To keep his name before the public and maintain a political image based on current issues, he decided to tackle talk radio. "It's a high-profile job that allows you to say whatever you want—and keep in constant contact with the public," he wrote in Hard Left.

At a Glance …

Born Tavis Smiley on September 13, 1964, in Gulfport, MS; son of Emory G. Smiley (a U.S. Air Force noncommissioned officer) and Joyce M. Smiley (an associate Pentecostal minister). Education: Indiana University, bachelor's degree, 1986.

Career: Assistant to Bloomington, IN, mayor Tomilea Allison, 1984-85; aide to Los Angeles City Council president Pat Russell, 1987; special assistant to the executive director of Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Los Angeles, 1988; administrative aide to Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley, 1988-90; The Smiley Report, radio/television commentator, 1990-2001; BET Tonight, commentator/host, 1996-2001; Tavis Smiley Foundation, founder, 1999; Tavis Smiley, host, 2004—; The Tavis Smiley Show, host, 2005—; Smiley-Books, publisher, 2007—.

Memberships: Los Angeles' Young Black Professionals, operations committee, chairman, 1988-90; United Way of Greater Los Angeles, steering committee, 1989-90; Inner City Foundation for Excellence in Education, advisory board, 1989-91; Challengers Boys and Girls Club, board of directors, 1989—; LA Black College Tour, board of directors, 1991—; Kappa Alpha Psi; Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonniolent Social Change, advisory board, 1992-93.

Awards: Time, List of Fifty Future Leaders, 1994; National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Image Award, Best News, Talk, or Information Series, 1997-99, 2006; Time, Fifty Most Promising Young Leaders, 2004.

Addresses: Office—The Smiley Group, 4434 Crenshaw Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90043.

Created His First Talk Radio Show

Smiley developed a sixty-second daily commentary called The Smiley Report, which dealt with various social and political issues of the day. He gradually obtained sponsors, and the African-American-owned radio station WGFJ in Los Angeles agreed to broadcast the commentary. The Smiley Report became an over-whelming success and was eventually syndicated in markets nationwide. As his reputation grew, Smiley received air time on larger Los Angeles radio stations as well as KABC-TV, Southern California's number-one news station. In 1993 Smiley published Just aThought: The Smiley Report, 1991-93, a compilation of his one-minute commentaries.

In 1994 Smiley was working as a commentator on KABC-AM's morning drive show, The Ken and Barkley Company, when he was asked to cohost an evening talk show on KMPC-AM with Ruben Navarrette. The show, Twentysomething Talk, was aimed at a younger "twentysomething" audience, a demographic group not widely targeted for talk radio. "We want to get young people thinking and talking," Smiley told the Los Angeles Times in 1996. "I think too often we go through life in our younger stages not thinking that social or political issues are going to impact us."

Smiley was included in Time's 1994 list of fifty future American leaders based on his record of "ambition, vision and community spirit." Time also praised Smiley as "a young black man unafraid to take on the white establishment," and noted his success in "engaging both blacks and whites on sensitive issues." Smiley wrote in his introduction to Hard Left that even though he was "humbled and honored" to have been so distinguished by Time, he noticed that most of the other political honorees were "from the Right." It spurred him to write Hard Left: Straight Talk about the Wrongs of the Right in 1996. "We'd better raise our voices quickly," Smiley wrote, "before the rhetoric from the Right overwhelms us all. It's not that the country has gone conservative, it's that those of us who are left of center have allowed the Right to take control of the dialogue." As a result, he argued, the Right has managed to promote the idea that it is the only group that believes in God and family. Smiley also discussed in Hard Left the political beliefs of the Left, the unrestrained bigotry of talk radio, and many other topics. Publishers Weekly called the book a "partisan, thoughtful political statement" and a "hard-hitting intellectual counterpunch that liberals will endorse."

Became Host for Nationally Syndicated Program

In the summer of 1996 President Bill Clinton introduced Smiley to Tom Joyner, the host of a nationally syndicated show on WABC Radio. Two months later, Smiley was doing commentaries for The Tom Joyner Morning Show. In the fall of 1996, he was selected for an on-air slot at Black Entertainment Television (BET) in Washington, D.C. Smiley's audition was so impressive that he was offered the job as host of BET Tonight even before the other applicants had a chance to interview. He soon began an exhausting bicoastal schedule that brought him home to south-central Los Angeles every week. In 1998 Smiley published On Air: The Best of Tavis Smiley on the Tom Joyner Morning Show: Thoughts on Culture, Politics, and Race, and he traveled overseas to cover President Clinton's trip to Africa in March of 1998.

As his media profile grew, Smiley became a much sought-after public speaker. In 1999 he established the Tavis Smiley Foundation, whose purpose was to encourage and empower youth and help them build leadership skills. Smiley parted ways with BET in 2001 after a falling out with the network, but later that year he landed a sweeping multimedia deal that included work for ABC News, ABC Radio Network, CNN, and National Public Radio (NPR). In 2004 Smiley became host of his own Public Broadcasting System talk show, the self-titled Tavis Smiley. Later that year he left NPR, announcing that he was doing so because of public radio's perceived lack of commitment to diversity in its programming. Smiley's absence from public radio was short-lived, however. In March of 2005 he announced a deal with NPR to air The Tavis Smiley Show, a two-hour talker that debuted in April. The following year, Third World Press published the Smiley-edited book The Covenant with Black America, a collection of essays by high-profile black scholars and professionals that rose to the top of the New York Times bestseller list.

Smiley was in the news again in 2007 when none of the leading Republican presidential candidates saw fit to participate in a presidential debate organized by Smiley. Later that year, he launched his own publishing company, SmileyBooks, whose initial list of authors included well-known African American writers such as Cornel West and the Reverend Iyanla Vanzant. In 2008 Smiley incurred the wrath of many of his long-standing audience members by making a series of critical remarks about the presidential candidate Barak Obama. He reacted to the negative response to his position on Obama by quitting his job as commentator on the Tom Joyner Morning Show. By that time, however, Joyner's show represented only a small piece of Smiley's burgeoning media empire, collectively called the Smiley Group. As of 2008 the Obama flap showed no sign of slowing down the communications force of nature that was Tavis Smiley.

Selected works

Just a Thought: The Smiley Report, 1991-93, Pines One Publishing, 1993.

Hard Left: Straight Talk about the Wrongs of the Right, Anchor Books, 1996.

On Air: The Best of Tavis Smiley on the Tom Joyner Morning Show: Thoughts on Culture, Politics, and Race, Pines One Publishing, 1998.

Doing What's Right: How to Fight for What You Believe, Doubleday, 2000.

(Editor) How to Make Black America Better: Leading African Americans Speak Out, Doubleday, 2001.

Keeping the Faith: Stories of Love, Courage, Healing, and Hope from Black America, Doubleday, 2002.

(Editor) The Covenant with Black America, Third World Press, 2006.

Never Mind Success—Go for Greatness!, Hay House, 2006.

(With David Ritz) What I Know for Sure: My Story of Growing up in America, Doubleday, 2006.

Sources

Periodicals

Amsterdam News (New York, NY), October 11, 2007, p. 23.

Jet, October 30, 2006, p. 14; April 28, 2008, p. 6.

Los Angeles Times, July 22, 1996; October 1, 2006, E1.

Los Angeles Times Calendar, November 6, 1994.

New York Times, October 10, 2006, p. E5.

Publishers Weekly, May 27, 1996.

Time, December 5, 1994.

Washington Post, June 22, 1998; September 19, 2007, p. A1; April 12, 2008, C1.

Online

"Biography," TavisTalks.com, http://www.tavistalks.com/aboutus/tavissmiley/ (accessed May 29, 2008).

—Ellen Dennis French and Bob Jacobson

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Smiley, Tavis 1964–

Tavis Smiley 1964

Journalist, author

At a Glance

Drawn to Politics

Springboard to Talk Radio

Tapped as a Future Leader

Selected writings

Sources

In a preview to its 1994 list of 50 future American leaders, Time magazine observed, As surely as there are forces organic to todays America that stifle leadership, there are forces within some Americans that cause them to lead nonetheless. Ambition plays a role, as does a desire to do good, but doggedness is essential, as is a sort of questioning curiosity. Named to that list of emerging leaders, Tavis Smiley is an excellent fit for this leadership profile. Observers perceive him as impatient to get to the top. Yes, Im impatient, Smiley acknowledged to the Los Angeles Times in 1994, but I dont think I have to be patient. I have to be good. I dont see why you have to wait till youre 50 years old to be a success.

Smiley has been running on a political fast track since he was in college, when he interned in the administration of the late Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley. After graduation from Indiana University, he worked for three years as an administrative aide in the Bradley organization, hosted radio talk shows, served as a guest commentator on several network television shows, and created his own 60-second syndicated radio commentary, The Smiley Report. He has written three books since 1993, most notably the liberal manifesto Hard Right: Straight Talk about the Wrongs of the Right Published in June of 1996, the book was into a third printing only a month later.

The third of ten children, Smiley was born September 13, 1964 in Gulfport, Mississippi, the son of Joyce M. and Emory G. Smiley. When he was two his father, an Air Force noncommissioned officer, was transferred to Grissom Air Force Base in Bunker Hill, Indiana. Upon arriving in Indiana, the Smiley family took up residence in a crowded mobile home in Kokomo. Although the family was poor, Smiley observed in the introduction to Hard Left thatwhile we never had a lot of what we wanted, I cant say we ever went hungry, either. His father often worked several part-time jobs to support his large family, and Smiley wrote of him, Ive never known anyone with a stronger work ethic. Smileys mother was an associate minister at their church, the New Bethel Tabernacle, part of the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World. Smiley recalled for the Washington Post that he was in church every day when he was growing up.

Acutely aware that Indiana had once been the location of the national headquarters of the Ku Klux Klan, Smiley nevertheless described his youth in Hard Left asa typical midwestern small-town life. He was one of only a handful of African American students in an otherwise all-White high school, but he did not allow this to become an obstacle. He was elected class president and votedmost likely to succeedat his high school. Smiley observed in Hard Left thatalthough I lived in a nearly all-White community, I never felt less than simply because of the color of my skin. I learned that people of different races can and do get along. Which says to me that we dont have to buy this race-baiting, divide-and-conquer

At a Glance

Born Tavis Smiley September 13, 1964 in Gulfport, Mississippi; son of Emory G. Smiley (an Air Force noncommissioned officer) and Joyce M. Smiley (an associate Pentecostal minister). Education: Indiana University, bachelors degree, 1986.

Career: Radio/television commentator, author, 1990; asst.toBloomington, IN, mayor Tomilea Allison, 198485; aide to Los Angeles City Council president Pat Russell, 1987; special asst. to the exec. dir. SCLC, Los Angeles, 1988; admin, aide to Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley, 198890; The Smiley Report radio/television commentator, 1990; tv commentator/host, BET Tonight Black Entertainment Television, 1996.

Member: Los AngelesYoung Black Professionals, chairman, operations committee, 198890; Inner City Foundation for Excellence in Education, advisory bd., 198991; Challengers Boys and Girls Club, board of dirs., 1989; LA Black College Tour, board of dirs., 1991; Kappa Alpha Psi; Martin Luther King, Jr., Centerfor Non-Violent Social Change, advisory board, 199293; United Way of Greater Los Angeles, steering committee, 198990.

Awards: Dollars and Sense Magazine, Outstanding Business and Professional Award, 1992; Time Magazine, List of 50 Future Leaders, 1994; Vanity Fair Hall of Fame, 1996.

Addresses: Home Los Angeles, CA; Office Black Entertainment Television, One BET Plaza, 1900 W Place NE, Washington, DC 200181211.

technique the radical Right is pushing.

Drawn to Politics

Smileys love for politics began at the age of 13, when he attended a campaign speech by then-U.S. Senator Birch Bayh at an American Legion Hall. That night, he abandoned his dream of becoming a major league baseball player when he realized that politicians were in a unique position to motivate people and positively affect their lives. Upon graduation from high school, Smiley attended Indiana University in Bloomington where he landed a spot on the debate team and became active in student government. He also got involved in local politics by working for the mayor of Bloomington, Tomilea Allison. Having achievedeverything I wanted to do in college except graduateby the end of his junior year, Smiley told the Los Angeles Times that he considered dropping out. However, a friend persuaded him to stay in school and seek work as an intern. After repeated telephone calls and letters to the office of Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley, Smiley was eventually granted an internship.

Springboard to Talk Radio

After graduating from Indiana University, Smiley worked for three years as an administrative aide in the Bradley camp. At the age of 24, he was the youngest member of Mayor Bradleys executive staff. In 1991, Smiley left Bradleys staff to run for city council in Los Angeles. Running against incumbent Ruth Galanter, Smiley finished a respectable fourth in a field of 15 challengers. With no clear plan for the future, his defeat forced him to reassess his interests and options. He wrote in Hard Left, I realized I was most fulfilled when I was helping educate, empower, and encourage people who live in the indigenous community. Undeterred by his election loss, Smiley was already planning to run again in four years. In order to keep his name before the public and maintain a political image based on current issues, he decided to tackle talk radio. Its a high-profile job that allows you to say whatever you wantand keep in constant contact with the public, he wrote in Hard Left.

Smiley developed a 60-second daily commentary entitledThe Smiley Report, which dealt with various social and political issues of the day. He gradually obtained sponsorship, and the African American-owned radio station WGFJ in Los Angeles agreed to broadcast the commentary. The Smiley Reportbecame an overwhelming success and was eventually syndicated in markets nationwide. As his reputation grew, Smiley received air time on larger Los Angeles radio stations as well as KABC-TV, Southern Californias number one news station. In 1993, Smiley published a compilation of his one-minute commentaries entitled Just A Thought: The Smiley Report.

In 1994, Smiley was working as a commentator on KABC-AMs morning drive show, The Ken and Barkley Companywhen he was asked to co-host an evening talk show on KMPC-AM with Ruben Navarrette. The show, Twentysomething Talk, was aimed at a younger, twentysomethingaudience, a demographic group not widely targeted for talk radio. We want to get young people thinking and talking, Smiley told the Los Angeles Times in 1996. He further explained, I think too often we go through life in our younger stages not thinking that social or political issues are going to impact us.

Tapped as a Future Leader

In 1974, Time magazine created a list that predicted 50 future American leaders. President Bill Clinton was on that list. Smiley was included on Times list of 50 future American leaders in 1994 based, according to the magazine, on his record ofambition, vision and community spirit. Time also praised Smiley asa young black man unafraid to take on the white establishment, and noted his success inengaging both blacks and whites on sensitive issues. Smiley wrote in his introduction to Hard Left that although he washumbled and honoredto have been so distinguished by Time, he noticed that most of the other political honorées werefrom the Right. It spurred him to write Hard Left: Straight Talk about the Wrongs of the Right in 1996. Wed better raise our voices quickly, Smiley wrote, before the rhetoric from the Right overwhelms us all. Its not that the country has gone conservative, its that those of us who are left of center have allowed the Right to take control of the dialogue. As a result, he argued, the Right has managed to promote the idea that it is the only group that believes in God and family. In Hard Left, Smiley also discusses the political beliefs of the Left, the unrestrained bigotry of talk radio, and many other topics. Publishers Weekly called the book apartisan, thoughtful political statementand ahard-hitting intellectual counterpunch that liberals will endorse.

In the summer of 1996 President Clinton introduced Smiley to Tom Joyner, host of a nationally syndicated show on WABC Radio. Two months later, according to the Washington Post, Smiley was doing commentaries forThe Tom Joyner Morning Show. In the fall of 1996, he was selected for an on-air slot at Black Entertainment Television (BET) in Washington, D.C. Smileys audition was so impressive, that he landed the job as host ofBET Tonighteven before the other applicants had a chance to interview. Since then, he has pursued an exhausting bi-coastal schedule that brings him home to South-Central Los Angeles every week. In 1998, Smiley published the compilation On Air: The Best of Tavis Smiley on the Tom Joyner Morning Show and traveled overseas to cover President Clintons trip to Africa in March of 1998.

Smiley has enjoyed phenomenal success since losing the Los Angeles City Council election. As Esther Iverem noted in the Washington Post, From where he sits now, politics has lost its gloss. Hes seen that he can get more accomplished quickly with one commentary than with months of trying to pass some legislation. Iverem also wrote that Smileys commentarieshave been the catalyst for national campaigns that have registered voters, halted a planned auction of slave memorabilia, and packed a congressional hearing on legislation to wipe out affirmative action. Smiley has become a voice for the people, a frank delegate for the disenfranchised, a motivator for those who have given up. As Iverem wrote, In an era when many African Americans feel politically impotent, he has used the media pulpit to make his voice, and as an extension, the voices of African Americans heard in usually inaccessible halls of power.

Tavis Smiley has enjoyed many great accomplishments and has traveled far from his days as a poor boy in Kokomo. However, his past successes mark only the beginning of a bright future. Smileys driving ambition, political activism, and willingness to confront the issues of the day ensure that his voice will be heard on the American scene for many years to come.

Selected writings

Hard Left: Straight Talk about the Wrongs of the Right, Anchor Books/Doubleday, 1996.

On Air: The Best of Tavis Smiley on the Tom Joyner Morning Show, Pines One Publishing, 1998.

Sources

Books

Smiley, Tavis. Hard Left: Straight Talk about the Wrongs of the Right New York: Anchor Books/Doubleday, 1996.

Periodicals

Los Angeles Times, July 22, 1996.

Los Angeles Times Calendar, November 6, 1994.

Publishers Weekly, May 27, 1996.

Time, December 5, 1994.

Washington Post, June 22, 1998.

Ellen Dennis French

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Smiley, Tavis 1964-

Smiley, Tavis 1964-

PERSONAL

Born September 13, 1964, in Gulfport, MS; son of Emory G. and Joyce M. Smiley. Education: Indiana University, graduated, 1986.

Addresses:

Office—The Smiley Group, Inc., 3870 Crenshaw Blvd., Suite 391, Los Angeles, CA 90008. Agent— International Creative Management, 10250 Constellation Way, 9th Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90067.

Career:

Television show host and actor. The Smiley Report, commentator, 1990-2001; contributor to CNN and HuffingtonPost.com, 2001; ABC-TV, special correspondent, 2001; Tom Joyner Morning Show, commentator; Smiley Group, Inc., Los Angeles, CA, president and chief executive officer. Assistant to Mayor Tomilea Alison, Los Angeles, CA, 1984-85; special assistant to the executive director, Los Angeles, CA, 1987-88; council aide, Los Angeles, CA, 1987; administrative aide to Mayor Tom Bradley, Los Angeles, CA, 1988-90. Young Black Profiles, chairman of operations committee, 1988-90; United Way Greater Los Angeles, member of steering committee, 1989-90; Inner City Foundation for Excellence in Education, member of board advisory boards, 1989-91; After Class Scouting, Scouting USA, member of advisory board, 1991; Martin Luther King, Jr., Non-Violent Social Change, member of advisory board, 1992-93; Tavis Smiley Foundation, founder, 1999; Challengers Boys and Girls Club, member of board of directors; Black College Tour, Los Angeles, CA, member of board of directors.

Member:

Kappa Alpha Psi.

Awards, Honors:

Outstanding Business Profiles Award, Dollars & Sense Magazine, 1992; Image Award, best news, talk or information series, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, 1997, 1998, 1999, all for BET Tonight with Tavis Smiley; President's Award, Image Awards, 2000; Image Award, outstanding television news, talk or information series or special, 2006, for Tavis Smiley; Mickey Leland Humanitarian Award, National Association of Minorities in Communications; numerous honorary degrees including honorary doctorate from Indiana University.

CREDITS

Film Appearances:

Himself, Letter to the President (documentary), Image Entertainment, 2005.

Television Appearances; Series:

Host, BET Talk, Black Entertainment Television, 1996.

Host, EmergeTV, Black Entertainment Television, 1997.

Host, BET Tonight with Tavis Smiley (also known as BET Tonight), Black Entertainment Television, 1997-2001.

Host, Tavis Smiley, PBS, 2004—.

Television Appearances; Movies:

Himself, One Special Moment, Black Entertainment Television, 2001.

Television Appearances; Specials:

Host, Race in America: A Multicultural Dialogue, Black Entertainment Television, 1998.

Presenter, The 30th NAACP Image Awards, Fox, 1999.

Tavis Smiley Presents: The Road to Health—Obesity & Our Children: Parts 1 & 2," 2007.

Television Appearances; Episodic:

Himself, "The Last Auction Hero," For Your Love, The WB, 1999.

Himself, "Election 2000," The Parkers, UPN, 2000.

"It's Not Just a Word: Part 1," Any Day Now, Lifetime, 2001.

Thurgood Marshall, "What Dreams May Come," American Dreams (also known as Our Generation), 2004.

The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn (also known as The Late Late Show), CBS, 2004.

Real Times with Bill Maher, HBO, 2004, 2006.

Hardball with Chris Matthews, HBO, 2006.

Television Work; Series:

Supervising producer and managing editor, Tavis Smiley, PBS, 2004.

WRITINGS

Nonfiction:

Hard Left: Straight Talk About the Wrongs of the Right, 1996.

Doing What's Right: How to Fight for What You Believe and Make a Difference, 2000.

How to Make Black America Better: Leading African Americans Speak Out, 2002.

(With David Ritz) What I Know for Sure: My Story of Growing Up in America, Doubleday Publishing, 2006.

The Covenant with Black America, 2006.

Also wrote On Air: The Best of Tavis Smiley on the Tom Joyner Morning Show; Keeping the Faith: Stories of Love, Courage, Healing, and Hope from Black America.

OTHER SOURCES

Electronic:

Tavis Smiley Website,http://www.tavistalks.com, May 14, 2007.

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Smiley, Tavis

Tavis Smiley
1964–

Journalist, broadcaster, writer, entrepreneur, philanthropist

In the early 2000s Tavis Smiley was recognized as an influential broadcast and print journalist, respected political commentator, noted author, highly sought-after speaker, entrepreneur, foundation executive, and philanthropist. He came from humble beginnings, overcame obstacles, and used his considerable influence to positively influence the lives of others through his work in multiple communications media.

The third oldest among ten children of Emory G. and Joyce M. Smiley, Tavis was born on September 13, 1964 in Gulfport, Mississippi, but spent nearly all of his early life in and around Kokomo, Indiana. The family relocated when his father, a master sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, was assigned to work at Grissom Air Force Base in Bunker Hill, Indiana. In addition to being a wife and mother, Joyce Smiley was a Pentecostal minister.

The large family lived in a mobile home for a period, in which the young Smiley had to share a bed with sev-eral brothers. Despite the family challenges, Smiley became an energetic and inquisitive youngster, with a particular interest in politics. He was elected class president in high school, a notable accomplishment in that the overwhelming majority of his classmates were not African Americans.

After graduating from Kokomo High School in 1982, Smiley attended Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, where he became increasingly interested in politics and activism along with classroom studies. While in the city as a student, he served as an assistant to the mayor, Tomilea Allison. When an African American classmate died after an altercation with the police, Smiley was sensitized to issues facing the larger national African American community and felt that pursuing a political career would enable him to make a difference. As a result, he left Indiana to spend a semester as an intern for Tom Bradley, the first African American mayor of Los Angeles, California.

Smiley then made the decision to remain in Los Angeles, where he worked for a time as a special assistant to the executive director of the city's branch office of the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC) and networked with other young African American professionals. He eventually became an adviser to the city council president, administrative aide to Bradley, and campaigned unsuccessfully for a seat on the council.

Begins Media Career

Shortly after losing the election in 1990, Smiley started doing a short radio news commentary, The Smiley Report, which was favorably received by the local listening audience and eventually was syndicated to stations in other parts of the country. In 1994, Smiley was profiled by Time magazine as one of America's 50 most promising young leaders, which also attracted attention and recognition beyond his base of operations in Los Angeles.

Black Entertainment Television (BET), which had become a major success in the cable television industry since its founding by African American executive Robert L. (Bob) Johnson in 1980, approached Smiley about taking his talents to television and hired him to host a talk show, BET Talk, which began airing in 1996. During the same year Smiley published his book, Hard Left: Straight Talk about the Wrongs of the Right, and was introduced to Tom Joyner, the nationally syndicated radio host, by President Bill Clinton, who had been interviewed by both men. Shortly afterwards Joyner began to incorporate Smiley's commentaries into his Tom Joyner Morning Show (TJMS) broadcasts. As a result of this professional involvement, Smiley became a household name among the millions of TJMS listeners in various regions of the United States. Many of these listeners were also subscribers to cable television services, which included BET among their program offerings, and became viewers of Smiley's appearances on the cable channel.

Chronology

1964
Born in Gulfport, Mississippi on September 13
1966
Moves with family to Kokomo, Indiana
1982
Enters Indiana University
1987
Becomes aide to Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley
1990
Begins media career as host of local radio talk show
1993
Writes first book, Just a Thought: The Smiley Reportand establishes the Tavis Smiley Foundation
1994
Receives attention as promising young leader by Time magazine
1996
Hosts Black Entertainment Television (BET) talk show and does national broadcasts with radio personality Tom Joyner
2001
Lands multimedia broadcasting deal after being fired from BET
2003
Returns to complete degree at Indiana University
2004
Receives honorary doctorate from Indiana University-Kokomo and makes $1 million endowment to Texas Southern University for school and center named in his honor

The Smiley program filled a void in public affairs programming at BET, and BET Talk evolved into BET Tonight with Tavis Smiley as the program and its host became increasingly popular with its viewing audience. Like TJMS, it had tremendous access and influence, particularly in the African American community. The success of BET Tonight with Tavis Smiley helped to deflect some of the criticism from detractors of the cable channel, especially after Smiley landed exclusive interviews with world figures such as Clinton, Pope John Paul II, and Fidel Castro, along with numerous African American leaders, celebrities, and other personalities. In the opinion of media observers, Smiley's access to national radio (through TJMS) and television (through BET) enabled him to speak to more African Americans on a daily basis than any other person. Media research at the time indicated that Joyner's radio program reached seven million listeners, while BET reached sixty-five million households.

From Advocacy to Controversy

Smiley used his radio and television broadcasts, celebrity status, and considerable influence to advocate positions regarding a variety of issues facing the African American community. As a result, he became involved in controversy for not always assuming the neutral stance traditionally expected of journalists. While Smiley sought to maintain the proper balance of perspective in his role as a television host, as a commentator and author he exercised the right to express his personal viewpoint. Smiley also became an in-demand public speaker, and in 1999 established the Tavis Smiley Foundation with the stated purpose "to encourage, empower, and enlighten youth through education and by developing leadership skills that will promote and enhance the quality of life for themselves, their communities, and the world," according to his web site.

In September 1999, Smiley and Joyner initiated a boycott of CompUSA, a national retailer of technology products, based on a letter Joyner received after he commented that the company was unwilling to advertise on radio and television outlets that attracted African American audiences. Listeners were asked to send receipts of their CompUSA purchases for totaling and forwarding to the company as proof of the consumer power of the African American community. Minority businesses and individuals were then encouraged to stop buying products from CompUSA, another way to illustrate their impact on the company's profits.

Smiley noted the poor grammar and spelling in the letter during his comments, and days later, the letter was proven to be a hoax. Smiley and Joyner were obliged to admit mistakes in rushing to judgment and called off the boycott. While an on-air apology was made to Comp USA, Smiley and Joyner received considerable criticism for their actions.

In 2000, Smiley continued to balance his multiple roles as broadcaster, author, activist, and advocate through a variety of platforms. He collaborated with Joyner, the NAACP, and its executive director, Kweisi Mfume, to develop the Live Radio Town Hall broadcast to encourage voter registration and participation in the 2000 elections and sponsored conferences through his foundation to encourage and develop young leaders. In the same year Johnson sold BET to Viacom, a media conglomerate, for $3 billion yet retained the position of chief executive officer for the network. The change in BET ownership was noted as a milestone for African American business and for Johnson personally, yet Smiley and others expressed concerns regarding the future of the network in terms of programming, staffing, and other areas of operation.

Loses One Platform and Gains Others

On March 21, 2001 Smiley was informed by his agent that his contract with BET would not be renewed when the agreement ended on September 6 of the same year. He had just arrived in Warren, Ohio for the beginning of his foundation's Youth 2 Leaders nine-city tour and had already scheduled a trip the next day to Midway, Georgia for the funeral of his grandmother, Adel Smiley.

Smiley addressed his situation during his TJMS commentary on March 22, also expressing concern for the future of the program at BET, the viewing audience, his production staff, and others, as close to 50 BET employees were also laid off around the same time. The program had retained its popularity and high ratings, with Smiley receiving several honors and recognitions, including the NAACP Image Award for three consecutive years. He also expressed dismay that he was given no detailed explanation by BET, only a fax message that he referred to as "five years, four sentences." In support, Joyner asked his radio audience to boycott BET, and to call, write, fax, and e-mail Mel Karmazin, Viacom's chief executive officer, to express their displeasure at the network's treatment of Smiley.

BET responded by firing Smiley immediately, instead of at the end of his contract. Johnson indicated in his press release that "recent actions by Mr. Smiley left us little recourse but to make this move," and also made a rare on-air appearance on March 26 during the regular time slot of the former Smiley program to explain his position to the viewing audience. Johnson indicated that the decision "was his, and his alone" to fire Smiley.

Smiley had produced and conducted an exclusive interview with Sara Jane Olson, a radical fugitive and former member of the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), which gained notoriety with the group's kidnapping of heiress Patricia (Patty) Hearst in the 1970s. He opted not to air the interview on BET (which he had the right to do under the terms of his contract) and sold the broadcast rights to ABC News after CBS (also owned by Viacom) showed no interest in the production. Smiley's interview aired on ABC's Prime Time Live program and received higher ratings than the CBS program scheduled at the same time. Johnson indicated that Smiley's actions demonstrated "a lack of mutual business respect" which led to the termination of his BET contract.

Smiley made a final statement regarding his situation on the March 27 broadcast of TJMS in an effort to set the record straight. He said it was time for all the persons involved to move on with their lives and work. Joyner agreed and asked listeners who had been honoring the boycott of BET to end the protest.

By the end of 2001 Smiley had received an unprecedented multimedia deal, in which he would work as a broadcaster for ABC News, ABC Radio Network, Cable News Network (CNN), and National Public Radio (NPR). He became the first African American ever to host a broadcast on NPR. Smiley had already become a contributing editor to USA Weekend Magazine, was contracted to write books for Doubleday and for his own imprint, Smiley Books, and he continued his other activities.

Smiley made additional history in 2004 when he became host of Tavis Smiley, his talk show on the Public Broadcasting System (PBS). When he chose to base the program in Los Angeles, it became the first national PBS program to originate from the West Coast. Smiley was also invited back to his hometown to receive an honorary doctorate from Indiana University-Kokomo.

In September 2004 Smiley celebrated his fortieth birthday and was honored by Texas Southern University in Houston, Texas, when it established the Tavis Smiley School of Communications and the Tavis Smiley Center for Professional Media Studies. This made him the youngest African American ever to have a professional school and center named for him on a college or university campus. Smiley expressed his appreciation by presenting a $1 million gift to the center.

Smiley resigned from the NPR position in December 2004, stating his view that the public radio network was not fully committed to diversity and multiple viewpoints in its programming. He continued his other obligations, with the assistance of The Smiley Group, his organization of associates based in Los Angeles.

Tavis Smiley has accepted challenges, overcome setbacks and obstacles, and created numerous opportunities to, in his words, "encourage, empower, and enlighten" others through his gifts as a communicator. He is considered one of the important political voices of his generation, a person who maintains faith and hope regarding the possibilities for positive change in the African American community, in the United States, and in the world.

REFERENCES

Books

French, Ellen Dennis. "Tavis Smiley." Contemporary Black Biography. Vol. 20. Ed. Shirelle Phelps. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale Group, 1999.

York, Jennifer M., ed. Who's Who among African Americans. 17th ed. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Thomson Gale, 2004.

Online

The HistoryMakers. "Tavis Smiley Biography." http://www.thehistorymakers.com/biography/biography.asp?bioindex=78&category=media… (Accessed 9 February 2005).

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "NAACP 2000." http://www.naacp.org/news/2000/2000–09–09.html (Accessed 14 February 2005).

National Newspaper Publishers Association. "Tavis Smiley Responds to BET." http://www.nnpa.org/nnpanewsite/newswire/3-26-01/TavisResponds.txt (Accessed 14 February 2005).

Public Broadcasting Service. "About the Show: All about Tavis Smiley." http://www.pbs.org/kcet/tavissmiley/about/ (Accessed 29 November 2004).

Smiley, Tavis. "How a Pink Slip Can Fire You Up." USA Weekend Magazine, 2 September 2001. http://www.usaweekend.com/01_issues/010902/010902smiley.html (Accessed 29 November 2004).

Tavis Smiley web site. http://www.tavistalks.com (Accessed 29 November 2004).

The Smiley Group, Incorporated. "About Tavis Smiley—Complete Biography." http://www.tavsitalks.com/TTcom/about_02.html (Accessed 29 November 2004).

TV Barn. "Black Entertainment Television Terminates Contract with BET Tonight Host Tavis Smiley; Will Use Guest Hosts Until Next Fall." http://www.tvbarn.com/2001/03/23.shtml (Accessed 14 February 2005).

                                   Fletcher F. Moon

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Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.