From Tavis Smiley, love and criticism for Obama
By Hamil R. Harris
PBS commentator Tavis Smiley said he deliberately placed a 6-by-6-
foot inch cube with the word "love" on stage during his recent gathering of African American leaders in Chicago, where there was plenty of tough love for the 44th occupant of the White House.
"The time has come for a serious conversation about black America and the president being more aggressive about an African American agenda," said Smiley. "This entire conversation was rooted in love, in love for the president, in love for the country and in love for black people."
From the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan to educators Cornel West and Michael Eric Dyson, Smiley said every speaker who took part in the black agenda conference have "love and admiration" for Obama -- but also that the president needs an agenda for Black America.
"The bottom line is the president needs to take the issues of Black America more seriously because black folks are catching hell, number one," Smiley said." Number two: this theory that a rising tide lifting all boats -- that theory was soundly dismissed. Thirdly, because black people are suffering disproportionately, it requires a disproportionate response."
Not all African American leaders were on board with the approach Smiley's conference took. The Rev. Al Sharpton, who didn't attend the event, was critical of it, saying last week that Smiley is not a leader in the black community but a "commentator" who didn't hold the last Democratic president to the same scrutiny.
Smiley said he has taken inspiration from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the criticism he weathered after speaking up against President Lyndon Johnson's handling of the Vietnam War.
"In the last year of King's life, the entire country practically turned against him, given his anti Vietnam stance" said Smiley, who will also host a program about King's April 4, 1967 speech.
"And yet King stood for the truth and he didn't back down. Sometimes telling the truth will turn everyone against you...My job is to raise unsettling questions," he said.
*Note: This post has been corrected. It originally said the cube was 16 feet by 16 feet instead of six feet by six feet.
Hamil R. Harris
March 24, 2010; 6:13 PM ET
Categories: 44 The Obama Presidency , Barack Obama
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