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Cause Magazine


Tavis Smiley Tavis Smiley is the creative force behind “America I AM:


The African American Imprint.” He is also one of America’s most respected media personalities. A celebrated broadcaster, author, advocate, and philanthropist, he manages to maintain a popular mainstream appeal while continuing to be voice for change. With an appealing on-air personality that can be serious, relaxed and humorous by turn, he is able to conduct insightful interviews with world leaders, celebrities, authors and communi- ty activists. Smiley hosts the late night television talk show, “Tavis Smiley” on PBS and “The Tavis Smiley Show” distributed by Public Radio International (PRI). Smiley is distinguished as the first American to ever simultaneously host signature talk shows on both public television and public radio. With the enormous range of his national audience, Newsweek rightly profiled him as one of the “20 people changing how Americans get their news” and dubbed him one of the nation’s “captains of the airwaves.” Smiley has also built up a national reputation as a political commentator with numerous appearances on political discussion shows on MSNBC, ABC, and CNN. In 2007, Smiley made television history as the moderator and executive producer of the All-American Presidential Forums on PBS, the first Democratic and Republican presidential debates broadcast live in primetime with a panel exclusively comprised of journalists of color. Back in 2000, along with friend Tom Joyner, Smiley began annual hosting town hall meetings called "The State of the Black Union" which are aired live on the C-SPAN cable television net- work to over 100 million viewers worldwide every year. These inspired town hall meetings focus on specific topics affecting the African-American community, featuring a panel of African- American leaders, educators, and professionals assembled before an audience to discuss problems related to the forum's topic, as well as potential solutions.


In addition to his radio and television work, Smiley has authored eleven books. His memoir, “What I Know For Sure: My Story of Growing Up in America,” became a New York Times bestseller and the book he edited, “Covenant with Black America,” became the first nonfiction book by a Black-owned publisher to reach number one on the New York Times bestseller list. The third and latest entry in the Covenant series, “ACCOUNTABLE: Making America as Good as Its Promise” is also a bestseller.


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 empower Black youth. Since its inception, more than 5,000 young people have participated in the foundation’s leadership training workshops and conferences.


His communications corporation, 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. Over the years, he has launched several advoca- cy campaigns to highlight discriminatory practices in the media and government and to rally support for causes such as the award- ing of a Congressional Gold Medal to civil rights icon Rosa Parks. Smiley’s many achievements have earned him numerous awards and honorary doctorate degrees including one from his alma mater, Indiana University. At 44, he is the youngest African American to have a professional school and center named after him on a college or university campus. The Tavis Smiley School of Communications and The Tavis Smiley Center for Professional Media Studies are located at Texas Southern University. Smiley, currently lives in Los Angeles, but hasn’t forgotten his modest beginnings. Born in Gulfport, Mississippi, he and his parents and nine siblings soon moved to Indiana. His mother then took in several orphaned nephews and nieces, and as a result, at one point there were 13 kids in addition to Mr. and Mrs. Smiley all living in a small mobile home. Smiley's mother is a very religious person and the Pentecostal Apostolic church was central in the lives of the family. Tavis would later say that the values he learned as a child helped to shape his ethics and values as an adult.


Smiley did well in school and received his bachelor's degree in law and public policy at IU. He got involved in political organ- izations on campus and took an interest in advocacy. He started his career as an intern and later as an aide to the late Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley. Subsequently he became interested in broadcasting and got work as a radio commentator on an urban radio station. Then, in 1996, he became the resident social and political commentator on the Tom Joyner Morning Show, a post he held for 12 years. He also hosted and produced a television show on BET for several years and a radio show on NPR. Tavis Smiley continues to be inspiring and successful, not merely as a journalist or media personality, but also because he is a thinker, a questioner, and an advocate who continually challenges us to set a new standard for those who lead and those who follow.


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