Tavis Smiley Ends State Of The Black Union– What Now?


Talk show host Tavis Smiley has decided to end his annual State of the Black Union Conference. In 2005 the conference spawned the book “Covenant with Black America,” about issues in black community.

In more recent times the conference took a very critical tone towards President Barack Obama.

“[The State of the Black Union] doesn’t have the premium that it used to have – and that’s a good thing,” Tavis Smiley, The Associated Press.

Seems to me Obama as the first Black president was such a game changer conference regulars weren’t sure how to react. Which is fine because many of us didn’t, but I find their harsh tone is suspicious. As a nightly half-hour talk show host on PBS Smiley has facilitated many conversations about President Obama not being Black enough, acknowledging Black people, and not standing up for Black people enough.

I think the last criticism is valid because without Black people President Obama would have never been elected. A vote for him was not a given, as we saw in the early stages of the last presidential race when many Black people supported Hillary Clinton.

The first 2 criticisms about President Obama not being Black enough acknowledging Black people are suspicious to me coming from panelists who make a lot of money from speaking fees and speeches about what’s wrong with Black people.

Their comments come off knit-picky and anti Obama overall. I don’t readily criticize Cornell West but c’mon, are you really that upset because Obama called Martin Luther King Jr. “a preacher from Georgia” instead of by name?

OK, maybe it was weird that Obama did that twice in major speeches but we know who he was talking about. Aren’t there bigger issues we could focus on here?


“That the president of the United States felt compelled to join us live to acknowledge the power of this symposium over 10 years, and what it had accomplished, raising the kind of issues that helped him get elected – that was significant,” Smiley said.

In February 2009 Obama spoke to those at the conference via satellite from the White House.

Smiley claims money was not an issue in ending the conferences. Certainly there seemed to be lots of money around with broadcasts on C-SPAN, corporate sponsorship from Exxon Mobil, Nationwide Insurance and last year’s major sponsor Wells Fargo.

About that Wells Fargo sponsorship: Smiley ended up in some controversy when the NAACP filed a lawsuit against Wells Fargo for allegedly pushing blacks into high-interest mortgage loans while offering whites with the same qualifications lower rates.

Wells Fargo & Co. denied the allegations but Smiley ended his deal with the company when the lawsuit was filed.

Tavis Smiley is proud of the 2005 conference inspired “Covenant with Black America” book and feels responsibility and accountability were important aspects of the book.

As a person who actually took the time to watch more than one State of the Black Union Conference I can’t say I’ve seen accountability or responsibility come out of it.

What I have seen were a lot of speeches, rants about Hip Hop, Black people not loving themselves, baggy pants, praising God, speculating on what white people think of us, very little problem solving, lots of “entertainment” and posturing geared towards getting applause and laughter. Some may even say the conference always becomes a cook out.

Making a lot of speeches an little more is an issue with the American left now anyway.

Also, little or no references are made to environmental issues in Tavis’ conferences.

These conferences are all alike with very little representation of young people or a sane voice in Hip Hop. If you’re lucky somebody has seen fit to call Chuck D.

I used to think something would really come out of these but maybe the corporate sponsorship should have been a tip off. Or maybe the fact that it was televised, cause the revolution isn’t supposed to be.

The State of the Black Union Conference is outdated by someone’s masterstroke of electing President Obama. There is a new frame Black people, America and the world has to deal with.

This conference is as old hat as the phrase “old hat”. So it’s good that it’s gone and I can’t wait to see what shows up in its place.

Hopefully whatever that is it will involve sane voices of a certain age that actually know about and love Hip Hop and have vision.

I nominate these 3…

Harry Allen the Media Assassin

A very, very smart man who is considered by some to be the only Hip Hop journalist…ever.

Jay Smooth

Super blogger and vlogger supreme with nuanced and strong views, a love for Hip Hop, lots of sanity…and a cat. Jay Smooth also has a cat.

Rosa Clemente

Hip Hop lover, activist, former Green party Vice Presidential nominee that offers stinging criticism of President Obama for better reasons than most.

I’m sure Tavis Smiley will have nothing to do with whatever takes the place of his conference. In the meantime he will be busy publishing R. Kelly’s memoir among other things.

Who else should be involved in the State of the Black Union’s replacement?

Src: washingtonpost.com


  1. brownhornet

    There shouldn’t be anymore. The State of the Black Union in my 2 cent opinion is the equivalent of church on Sunday. A pre-scheduled event that has become nothing than a reason for black people to dress in their Sunday best and listen to a lot preaching only to go home and fall back into the same routines that lead to the same dire results that have been slowly crushing the black community for the past several decades. Most of the people on stage or self posturing who are more interested in monopolizing the struggle for their own gain. You want have a conference so badly have a conference in your living room with your kids, or the teachers as your kids school. Have a conference with your neighbors so maybe we can reverse the fractured nature of our so called commmunity.

  2. Madam Toussaint

    Word Up brownhornet! I can see you are very passionate about this subject. So glad to know it isn’t just me! What did you think about my suggestions for new participants in whatever replaces The State of the Black Union conference?

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  3. brownhornet

    Thanks Madam, my passion comes from working on the ground level at an after school program in a low income community. All that pontificating for these years hasn’t filtered down to the brothers on the street. They waist hours playing the blame game and nothing changes. I definitely think fresh faces and fresh ideas are needed. Sistah Soulja was right old Negroes are monopolizing the struggle.

  4. Madam Toussaint

    Old Negroes, lol. They won’t hear of it though, like they’ll live forever. I’ve heard they are hostile to young leadership within their own organizations. And you’re right the lack of urgency when some of these panelists speak is appalling. Good to know that you as an individual are trying to make a difference instead of waitng for them or anyone else. Thanks for checking in brownhornet.

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  5. Mike Washington

    I think the state of the black union spoke to the greatness of black people, as provocative speakers, thinkers, and etc. I live in Arkansas and if I depended on the news and newspapers to give or show me the powerful black intellectuals we had in the united states then I would never know Tavis Smiley, Cornel West, or Michael Eric Dyson.

    It spawned a powerful image upon black people and ignited other young educators like myself to watch these discussions and then come back to have our own roundtables, from college professors, school and college administrators to school teachers. The state of the black union inspired and ignited several groups to form mentoring groups for young black males and females. We have witnessed many to go on to college, become professors, encouraged me to go back to complete my masters and now working on my doctorate.

    And I am grateful for Tavis Smiley efforts and those he collaborated with like Tom Joyner! I hate the fact of when we have to tear each other down and especially in public just because we do not agree with one anothers methods and methodology of how to solve problems in our communities.

    Of course, I do not agree with the high prices of some of the black intellectuals to come speak and inspire, nor did I agree with Mr. Smileys criticism of Barack. And I immediately emailed him and to voice my opinion and concern. But, I will not neglect that Mr. Smiley has been powerful in my development as a young educator having taught in impoverished public school and now work on a college campus that have several young african americans that come from low socio-economic communities. We have to embrace the greatness and powerful intellect of a Tavis Smiley and Dr. West. These brothers along with so many others make a difference in our communities every day. There is not magic wand that we can wave to make brothers stop shooting and killing each other.

    But, as the Covenant of Black America so eloquently put, we can make ourselves a Committee of One and form and integrate our efforts with others so Each One can REach One and then our living Will Not be in Vain!!!! Please people let’s learn to support each other and not public critize anothers efforts because we do not agree with the methodology.

  6. Madam Toussaint

    “I live in Arkansas and if I depended on the news and newspapers…then I would never know Tavis Smiley, Cornel West, or Michael Eric Dyson”

    I understand your point and I think panel discussions and roundtables in general can be helpful and have their place. They are by no means a strategy though and tend to be unbalanced in terms of generation, gender, ethnicity. Smiley’s panels are very much geared towards entertainment as well and for me the sponsorship is of concern.

    “We have to embrace the greatness and powerful intellect of a Tavis Smiley and Dr. West.”
    Hey, I am a Cornell West supporter! I don’t think Smiley is in West’s realm, but to be fair Tavis is usually a moderator or interviewer and we may not get to hear his words as much.

    “Please people let’s learn to support each other and not public critize anothers efforts because we do not agree with the methodology.”
    There is so much to be gained in being critical or at least critical thinking. I don’t think it’s wrong to point out that these panels are slanted in favor of academics, older ethnically African American men, professional speakers etc.

    As a woman under 30 who is Black but not ethnically African American how could I not notice that women, Caribbean, Latino and African Black people among others and very few members of the Hip Hop generation are under represented.

    Mike Washington I appreciate your comments, the time your took to state your opinion and the work you do in the community. It seems I will be addressing this further in the future.

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  7. dialecta

    I too have been somewhat eviscerated by Smiley’s public-stance. His remarks and position on the United States’ first black President have been, in short, remarkable. The election of President Obama has in so many ways revealed fissures in the American socio-political polemic. The nation, perhaps for good measure, is being toggled.

    The truth is most of America does quite know how to “act” with a “black” sitting president. The entire executive branch of government has been virtually gridlocked since his election; yet still, the administration has still achieved some incredible milestones. For a while, it seemed every couple of months two or three appointments were resigning from his administration.

    No national spokespersons for (if I may) Black America have so fervently and adamantly as Smiley and West (and West to lesser degree) attacked Obama. They have even come to share a time-slot on the airwaves of public radio. While it is necessary to critically engage the actors of the politico-sphere there is a peculiar order and unspoken-reserved-poise that it seems most of Black America has assumed with the first black President of America. No one can really know what sort of dilemmas with which Obama has been in contention aside from his wife, Michelle. And even she, may be kept “in the dark” about some things.

    One could argue that Smiley is “just doing his job.” I would find no qualm with this but that as time passes it seems that his attacks are personally rooted. It is widely known that both Smiley and West were taken-aback for not being invited to a private White House function. Smiley, who has posited himself as a voice of Black America (and perhaps rightly so, as for some time he was one of the only African-American left-leaning pundit in broadcast), may have so truncated himself from the President Obama-phenomena that it may likely become difficult for him to regain his former posture with Black America. I for one, have become more circumspect of his method… though not necessarily his means. I realize that Smiley has assumed an agenda for “the people” but I feel some of his remarks should be “kept in the house… among us-folk.”

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