Friday, March 03, 2006

From Words to Action: Examining Tavis Smiley and the "State of the Black Union"

I couldn’t agree more with Leutisha Stills recent piece (read here) in response to Tavis Smiley’s “State of the Black Union” (SOBU) Conference held this past weekend. In my brief corporate experience I have quickly learned that true success and results are largely dependant upon goal setting and accountability measures. A biblical verse more aptly makes the point: “Where there is no vision the people perish” (Proverbs 29, v. 13).

All of last week my e-mail inbox was flooded with forwarded messages from those dashiki wearin', Michael Eric Dyson readin', Spike Lee "School Daze" watchin', progressive-minded, undergraduate black students and recent graduates -- like those who contribute to this blog -- spreading the word that Smiley’s conference would be televised Saturday on C-SPAN. For those who enjoy tackling contemporary African-American social issues, this was must see TV. But what were our expectations in setting aside the time and effort to watch (perhaps attend) Smiley’s cerebral symposium of epic African-American proportion? Stills commentary gets at this question.

Surely, we all love to watch Cornell West (former professor of philosophy at Williams College -- holla!) and company set an annual feast of keen insight for us to devour; but how do we take this meal and make sure that it is nourishing for our entire community and has lasting results? Again, Stills get as this question.

By most accounts, Smiley has compiled a respectable journalism and media career that many of us might sensibly strive to achieve, while his detractors (haters) cite him as a classic African-American opportunist -- think about the whiskey drinking, immoral black pastor in Eddie Murphy’s Vampire in Brooklyn -- looking to profit off of a black community in seemingly constant search of progressive direction.

All things considered, I can’t knock Brother Tavis for getting his hustle on in similar fashion to Rick Ross (see recent hip-hop release: “Everyday I’m hustlin’”). While some might make the argument that he is “pimping” the black community, his goals all lie upon a progressive foundation. For this he can only be applauded.

Once we’re done applauding and posturing we need to get Tavis and friends down to business and set some timetables and realistic goals for our community. I’ll let the distinguished panelists decide what those goals are, but there’s no question that more absolute action needs to be taking place both during these annual conversations (in addition to everything else Stills points out) and after.

Simply, it’s not enough that we talk. Talk is cheap. And with every additional conference where we just talk the value of our collective power experiences inflation. Hopefully the discussion on this blog doesn't increase that inflationary pressure.


Brother Spotless said...

It appears Brother Lightness has provided a call to action. Yet, the only people hearing this call are those that are a part of this discussion forum, not the successful blacks that can actually do something dynamic for the community.

Wait a minute...rewind. We consider this to be the Ephblog, right? Most of us contributing are graduates or current students of Williams College. So I have a question: are we a part of those considered to be "successful blacks?" Even at our young ages??

If so, then it is us that are failing the community by talking and not acting. Don't get me wrong, forums like this are extremely important. The ability to discuss releavant issues is what drives action. Are we, as a discussion forum, at that point?

So answer my question: are we "successful blacks?" And if the answer is yes, we all should feel shame (yes, even the Spotless one). Then, we should figure out what we can collectively do. However, all of this is moot if we are not successful blacks yet.

Brother Tallness said...

I feel like Mr. Smiley's heart is in the right place with the "State of the Black Union" forums. If we as a community are going erase the long standing symptons of institutionalized racism that still exist in America, we as a community will need our ideologues from all religious, political, and socioeconomic backgrounds to come together and develop new ideas. To certain degree, it is highly theoretical, and with any symposium that grapples with ideas, the realists will have legitimate criticism. The familiar demand for practical application is a reminder that we have miles to go before we rest.

In an attempt to answer brother spotless's question, I think we end up going right back to the dilemma that brother smartness raised in the first of his "Am I my brother's keeper?" series. On one level, we not only defy the stereotypes of young black men, we completely obliterate them. We will go from a top undergraduate college to the top grad schools, to the highest levels of business, medicine, academia, and government. However, on our path to success (let's define success in this context as power), we become increasingly more isolated from our people.

We all do this Williams college thing because in the back of our minds we want to become leaders and make serious change in the black community (I hope). But after we embark on the path to material success-- the 7 figure job, house in the hamptons, sitting on multiple boards-- can you still maintain the inter-personal bond with the community?

brother smartness put it most concisely: are you as a brown eph, riding the train in your business suit, equipped to find common ground with that group of 14-18 year old brothers who are talking loud, quoting dipset, and mean mugging the other passengers?

No1important said...

There seems to be so much discussion but what action steps are all of you "Brothers" taking to help the black/African-American/whatever you want to call it community?

The question of whether you relate to the youngsters now and whether you will relate ten years from now is interesting, but actually, quite irrelevant. A child will be positively impacted when someone takes the time to care. Therefore, if you can share your time, insight, hobbies, and/or affection with a young person or group of people, then you are making a difference.

There are two books I have read that made this point quite clear. The first book explained that when you die and are at the gates of Heaven, God will ask you, "What did you do with the gifts that I gave you?" I hope that you already-successful brothers will be able to say more than, "Well God, I discussed the issues of the community with my friends and gained a lot of insight. I had intentions to do something, but was afraid that I would not be able to relate to the young people in the community where I once lived."

The second book explained that we can not worry about what we do not know, we can only ACT on what we do know. We all know that Black America is in trouble. We all know that young black boys and girls need role models. So what are you BROTHERS going to do about it??????
If you are already doing something, then that is what should be shared on this blog to help inspire others.

Anonymous said...

Brother lightness your are right on point.