What Will Replace Tavis Smiley’s State of the Black Union?

Tavis Smiley (Getty Images)
Tavis Smiley (Getty Images)

Last February, I was heading out to Los Angeles to be a part of the annual State of the Black Union event that featured some of the greatest members of our generation of black Americans. From the conversations around dinner tables to the panels to the fundraiser concert by Prince and Sheila E., it was one of the most energetic and rousing times of my life. And did I mention that the concert was slammin’?


One year later, I’m facing the reality that the annual State of the Black Union will not happen for the first time in a decade. Even those who take pleasure in attacking Tavis Smiley can’t dismiss his dedication to addressing issues that impact black America politically, socially, academically and economically through a host of black historians and activists.

After all of the chatter about Tavis’ role during these past 10 years, it must also be said that he filled a void. He gave us something valuable to aid the advancement of black people in America.

Now, the question is: Who or what is going to replace his event? In an America in need of serious discussion, there is an obligation for those of us that attended, watched or participated (via chat rooms and other dialogue) in the State of the Black Union events over the past 10 years to move the discussions of the past into action.

For us all—particularly at this critical time—it means doing what Washington has not done but what Tavis’ SOBU attempted: working together across ideological, socioeconomic and geographic lines in order to improve America—particularly black America. The bashing of black Republicans who bring suggestions to the table to improve our communities must end. At the same time, the amnesic and condescending attitudes of certain black Republicans toward the black community must also cease. The political and social viability of black America is at stake and is too valuable to be a casualty of political and ideological wars.

We must work to restore a greater sense of community among black professionals and those with resources to invest in our struggling urban environments. The toxic credos of underclass black America that denigrate common sense and common decency need to be retired so that the groundwork for prosperity and change can take root. Perhaps a new set of bipartisan black politicos can create the policy bridges that allow these two groups to find common ground.

The growing apathy toward social conditions that is again hurting black America (despite having a black president) must be replaced with a passion for change among our diverse people, from academia and the ministry to civics and business. As the State of the Black Union showed, we are not at a point where we can segment our talent into silos, fail to communicate with each other well and not exchange ideas for solutions. We must share the stage, push each other with respect and fight for black America with a sense of honor and togetherness that has been lost on our younger generations. We must be infected with a sense of history and immune to the HNIC syndrome.


We will disagree on the methods and solutions, but we must not be afraid to find the energy it takes to move a culture of millions past a dark time in our history. With the door of Tavis’ conference closed, the window of opportunity for a new generation of black leaders has opened. We need a new level of political savvy and balance, a new activism that looks primarily within ourselves for solutions and a new paradigm of leadership—particularly within young black America. We must work to create a union that is more perfect in the days to come.

Lenny McAllister is a syndicated political commentator and the author of Diary of a Mad Black PYC (Proud Young Conservative). He is featured regularly on outlets including CNN, Fox News, and XM Radio. Follow him on Twitter.