Tavis Smiley, the host of PRI’s weekly Tavis Smiley Show, said on Tuesday’s “St. Louis on the Air,” that the protests at Mizzou and the subsequent shakeup in the university’s administration were “heartwarming” to see. He also said that “what happened in Missouri can catch fire on campuses all across the country, if people aren’t careful about taking these issues for granted.”
“Young people seem so disconnected from what really matters in their lives,” Smiley said. “To see young people be self-resilient and self-determined and to recognize the agency they have to make a contribution, to make a difference to advance the causes they care about, that was exciting for me.”
Smiley said he was proud of MU football coach Gary Pinkel for standing by his players, who said they would not be involved in the program until fellow student Jonathan Butler’s hunger strike was ended. He also said that the whole incident should be a “shot across the bow” to those who thought “they could ignore that racism is still the most intractable issue in this country.”
He also said he thought the era of athletes who took a stand for social justice issues was over, referencing Bill Russell, Jim Brown, Muhammad Ali, Kareem Abdul Jabar, Arthur Ashe and Billie Jean King, among others. “You just don’t see that kind of courage, conviction and commitment and character in athletes today, amateur or professional,” Smiley said. “To see these athletes take a stand is a powerful situation.”
Smiley also echoed a thought that has been the source of much chatter surrounding the resignation of UM System President Tim Wolfe and reassignment of MU Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin: It only happened because of the football team and the money associated with the sport. That might not be a bad thing, or something without historical precedent, Smiley said.
“At the end of the day, it is all about green,” Smiley continued. “When these African American athletes figure out that money talks, and everything else walks, that makes a difference too. Dr. King understood that. This is not the first time that the black tradition, the best of the black tradition, has understood that economics and social justice are oftentimes linked.
“Sadly, it is a statement about America that we only seem to get serious about issues when money is involved. We can’t seem to do the right thing for the right reasons.”
Economics and social justice is something Smiley is well versed in—he has been traveling around the country on an “Ending Poverty: America’s Silent Spaces” tour, where he brings together panels to chip away at what contributes to poverty in the U.S. On Thursday, he’ll be in St. Louis to moderate a panel of experts on the topic of poverty and police-community relations. Guests include St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar and FOCUS St. Louis’ Director of Development Felicia Pulliam.
“There’s a highway into poverty these days, but barely a sidewalk out,” Smiley said. “Many Americans find themselves entrenched in poverty and can’t find a way out. So when you talk about poverty, it’s not really a conversation about poverty…it is about poverty, income inequality and economic mobility.”
Smiley believes the issue of poverty is a matter of national security. “Put another way, it is the new slavery,” he said. “That’s not hyperbolic. Poverty is threatening our democracy. … This is not a skill problem, it is a will problem. We could eradicate poverty in the next 25 years, if we had the will.”
What: Town Hall Discussion: 'Ending Poverty: America's Silent Spaces'
When: Thursday, Nov. 12 at 6:00 p.m.
Where: Saint Louis University's Busch Student Center, Wool Ballroom, 20 N. Grand Blvd.,
More information. RSVPs encouraged.
"St. Louis on the Air" discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter and join the conversation at @STLonAir.