Tavis Smiley’s genius doesn’t come from his radio and television talk shows, nor does it come from his appearances as a guest social commentator on multiple international outlets. It comes from his formation and continuation of the “State of the Black Union” annual symposium.
The genius of the panels during C-SPAN’s most-watched event doesn’t come from the high level of academic acumen on stage at any given moment. It comes from the depth of understanding shared by a common people with a unique history, one that highlights both significant American adversity and accomplishments.
Of all the talking points, we are beckoned to bridge the growing gap between black intelligentsia and those who feel the effects of black-on-black violence, higher levels of school dropout rates and dangerous levels of inadequate health conditions.
Never before have we seen such a deep contrast within the African-American community. We can proudly point to the accomplishments of black authors, professors, businesspeople and politicians in a manner never before seen in America. But we must also realize the stark contrast between those Americans and others who’ve given up on the American dream and, in many ways, have given up on dreaming at all. Over the past several decades, the widening of socioeconomic diversity within the black community has not built a bridge for an adequate flow of education, mentorship, community reinvestment and black solidarity. Many of the problems within black America are not directly dealing with race, but more so with poverty. Unfortunately, we constitute a higher percentage of the poor in our nation—granted, in some part because of racism, but also because of our failure to connect all African Americans, a call that we must receive and enact immediately.
Some panelists spoke to the need to spend wisely and value education zealously. Others spoke to the need for increased federal reinvestment economically. During my panel, I presented the idea of African-American professionals with two or more weeks of paid vacation per year giving one week back to their local black community as a volunteer until we can change the conditions we face.
Over the past 20 years, the black leadership of America has done an excellent job of making African Americans proud. It has done a good job of serving the community. Where black leadership—from black intelligentsia to black media personalities—has failed is in the area of inspiration.
Because of our inadequate response to the current state of partial connectivity within black America due to socioeconomic dispersion, we have watered down our ability to inspire black America to overcome the challenges of the 21st century (e.g., black male incarceration, academic inadequacies, etc.) at a level consistent with the inspiration channeled in times past to overcome past challenges.
And this is the genius of President Barack Obama.
It lies not in his Harvard education, his ability to effectively campaign across demographic delineations, nor his eloquence at the podium. It lies in his ability to inspire. Obama’s administration has the ability to inspire a nation of people to do more, be more and have more in a way that we have not seen in decades. At a larger level, his presence as the relatively unknown politician who became president in four short years highlights the new American dream. He inspired black America to vote in record numbers. He inspired them to donate in record figures. Perhaps Obama is the dose of inspiration that we need to move our people toward accomplishing a record social change.