“You can‘t LEAD the people if you don’t LOVE the people. You can’t SAVE the people if you won’t SERVE the people.” Motto of the Tavis Smiley Foundation, Youth 2 Leaders
On Thursday, September 11th, 2014, I sat in an audience of people—friends, supporters, and employees of Tavis Smiley—in New York City’s Union Square Barnes and Noble for the signing of his seventeenth and latest book, The Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Final Year.
While on the stage underscoring his level of commitment to his work, he called my name, told the audience I worked with the young people in his foundation—Youth 2 Leaders—and led me in completing the motto of the foundation. I was in the notes section of my iPad trying to take down his most salient and thought-provoking points (there are so many all the time) so I was initially caught off guard, but I fell right in line with him in reciting our motto. Tavis responded, “See? She understands it. That’s what this work is all about.”
For nearly 20 years (I first met Tavis Smiley when I was 19 years old), I have been a student of Tavis Smiley. I have learned that he is deeply committed to the growth and development of all people, and particularly to Black people.
“I believe if we make Black America better, we make all of America better.” Tavis Smiley
I can appreciate the unapologetic resolve in that premise.
For ten (10) years, he provided a platform for many of our community’s intellectuals and cultural critics; and, they gained national notoriety from their inclusion and involvement in the State of the Black Union symposiums. As a spectator and as an attendee, I would look at the panelists and think to myself, “If Tavis Smiley included this person, they must be something!”
Tavis has always been my barometer of intellectual excellence and my go-to example of critical curiosity and inquiry. And, he fits perfectly into the cast of leadership. Through the publishing of books such as the Covenant with Black America (2006), and my all-time favorite, Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure (2011), Tavis has consistently provided an entry point for Black communities into discussions of politics and socio-economic growth. While his vocabulary is impressive and vast, his approach to giving our community the wings to fly in areas that sometimes compromise our esteem, has been practical, doable, and enumerated in a way that keeps many of us from getting lost or resorting to the comfort of believing our inability for doing better is because of not knowing how.
What I know for sure is that Tavis Smiley has always done what he has publicly said he would. I respect that on his imprint (Smiley Books), he publishes books that help to guide our ways of thinking about issues. Through media outlets in television and radio, The Tavis Smiley Show is what he uses to package his voice and his truth, on his terms. I also know that Tavis is personable, engaging, loves Black people, and there is nothing anyone can do about it.
I like Tavis Smiley!
At his young age, Tavis Smiley has done so much and he has not nearly tipped the scale in the more to come.
Happy 50th Birthday, Tavis Smiley!
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