Can Tavis Get Obama to Address Poverty First?

Tavis Smiley (Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images Entertainment)

(The Root) — When we spoke to Tavis Smiley back in September, right in the midst of widespread hand-wringing about his and Cornel West's election-season criticism of President Obama's treatment of the issue of poverty, he made a promise: Regardless of which candidate won the election, Smiley said, he'd challenge the nation's new leader to make a White House Conference on the Eradication of Poverty in America not just high on his second-term agenda but the very first item on his Jan. 21, 2013, agenda.

Four months later, Smiley is doing just that. He's planning a Washington, D.C., event designed to encourage the president to give a major policy address on poverty and then hold the long-awaited conference on the issue. The Jan. 17 event will bring together conservative and liberal experts to create a national plan to cut poverty in half in 10 years and eradicate it in 25.


"During the campaign, poverty was written about everywhere, but the candidates gave lip service to it at best," Smiley told The Root. "So here we are, just days before inauguration, raising the issue again."

He's asked the members of the public to sign a letter pushing the issue, which he says couldn't be more timely ("What kind of economic policy do you really have when you're teetering on cliffs and bumping up against ceilings?" Smiley asks). Plus, in his view, with the inauguration falling on anti-poverty activist Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, to ignore the issue would be an abomination.

Smiley's "Vision for a New America: A Future Without Poverty," a nationally televised symposium, will take place at George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium on Jan. 17, 2013, at 6:30 p.m.

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