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‘Are Black Americans better off today?’

By Scott Ammons
Editor

In honor of Black History month, and in conjunction with the University's Distinguished Speaker Series, the Givens Performing Arts Center hosted syndicated talk show host Tavis Smiley Feb. 11.

Talk show host Tavis Smiley tells his Givens Performing Arts Center audience, “We cannot lead the people, unless we love the people. We cannot save the people, unless we serve the people.”

UNCP Photo
Talk show host Tavis Smiley tells his Givens Performing Arts Center audience, “We cannot lead the people, unless we love the people.  We cannot save the people, unless we serve the people.”

Smiley currently hosts a nationally syndicated talk show on PBS and PRI radio network, in addition to being an author, actor and filmmaker.

Smiley began his career in broadcast journalism in 1991 as a radio commentator for an urban radio station in Los Angeles where he used one-minute slots as building blocks for his media empire.

And while much has changed for Smiley over the last 15 years, his concern for the plight of Black America hasn't. He continues to argue against the social, economic and racial inequality many Black Americans are subjected to on a daily basis.

Smiley's platform for the evening was based on the question, "Are we (Black Americans) better off today?" As proof that America isn't as good as its promise, Smiley denounced a recently published Newsweek article that stated, "Now is the best time to be black in America."

As a whole, Smiley dismissed the article.  However, he did concede that Black Americans are better today compared to four centuries ago, but not compared to their white counterparts.

As an example of the separate and unequal treatment of black citizens, Smiley referred to the government's inadequate response to the victims of Hurricane Katrina.           

Government, media failed

"We learned that we cannot depend on the government. Your president was in Texas chopping wood, and it took him a few days to get there," Smiley said.

Tavis Smiley, winner of three NAACP Image Awards, speaks to 1,000 people in the Givens Performing Arts Center Feb. 11 as part of the Distinguished Speaker Series during Black History Month.

UNCP Photo
Tavis Smiley, winner of three NAACP Image Awards, speaks to 1,000 people in the Givens Performing Arts Center Feb. 11 as part of the Distinguished Speaker Series during Black History Month.

"Folks in New Orleans were dying in the water and stranded on their roofs.

Not only did the government fail the citizens of America, so did the media, Smiley explained.  "The media portrayed Black victims as "refugees" and "looters" and whites as "survivors" who found food," Smiley said. "The media can't tell between a citizen taxpayer verses a refugee.

They told our story recasting us as refugees, not as taxpayers.”

In closing Smiley told the leaders within the Black community, "We cannot lead the people, unless we love the people. We cannot save the people unless we serve the people." As individuals, "each of us should write our obituary, then go out and live it."

Dr. Jesse Peters, dean of the Honors College, was in the audience of 1,000 people.

Peters said he was pleased with Smiley's performance.           

Problems plague America

"He worked hard to bring our attention to the problems of racial inequality and socio-economic differences that continue to plague America," Peters said.

"He provided the audience with views on complicated issues that should lead to further intellectual study and debate, both inside and outside the classroom."


The University of North Carolina at Pembroke The print edition of The Pine Needle
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Updated: Monday, February 27, 2006
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