More than a century ago, world-renowned scholar W.E.B. Dubois delivered his famous “Talented Tenth” speech. In this speech, he stressed the importance of educating the upper crust of African-Americans and that the entire “Negro Race” would be saved by its exceptional men, trained to the knowledge of the world and man’s relation to it.
But as brilliant as the Harvard-educated Dubois was, some then and now saw this concept as flawed. The main objection being: if only a group of “worthy” leaders will serve as the voices for the race, who will advocate for blacks without Ivy League educations?
Despite this view, broadcaster and activist Tavis Smiley is resurrecting the Duboisian model with his nationwide “Talented Tenth Tour.”
The Tavis Smiley Foundation, along with Exxon Mobile Foundation, is sponsoring the 10-city tour. The focus is to inspire America’s Black youth to take a greater interest in math, science, technology and engineering.
“I want the youth to know how important the sciences are to creating the mindset for leadership, and that science and Math are not to be feared,” Smiley said.
Austin High School, 231 N. Pine, was one of the stops on the tour. Smiley, host of the ‘Tavis Smiley Show’ on PBS, and his own radio show on National Public Radio, traveled to high schools across the country, encouraging the next generation of leaders.
The tour was created partly out of Smiley’s concern that this will be the first generation of future African-American leaders who have not lived through the civil rights struggle.
“I’m basically on the road, speaking at several different schools throughout the
country to talk about the importance of leadership in the community,” he said.
The Biloxi, Miss. native grew up in the Midwest. In the early ’90s while making a name for himself in broadcasting, Smiley was considered an up-and-coming leader in his own right, not only within the Black community but the larger society.
Though his tour is geared toward the visiting school’s more promising students, Smiley doesn’t feel that he’s alienating the ‘least talented’ of Black youth.
“If I was to strictly use the Duboisian model, I would probably be touring
private schools since they would be considered the most privileged,” said Smiley following his talk with Austin High students. “However, I am a product of public school myself, I attended a school in Indiana so I know the importance of reaching out to those students who would otherwise be overlooked. It is currently beyond my capability to reach everyone, but I want to inspire those particular public school students who have displayed their leadership qualities and let them know that they can make a difference.”
Smiley started his foundation in 1999 to help young people achieve their potential. The foundation’s mission to “enlighten, encourage and empower youth,” has not waned. Smiley’s own accomplishments have helped spread that message.
Smiley is the first American ever to simultaneously host signature talk shows on both PBS and National Public Radio. He is also a best-selling author. One of his early books took on conservatives.
Commenting on the recent statements by conservative radio host Bill Bennett, who said that crime rates would go down it you could ‘abort every black baby,’ Smiley responded: “Some people were shocked when Bennett said that ‘if people really wanted to effect the crime rate solely, they would abort black babies.’ which would be true with any racial group. If white or Latino babies were aborted that would effect the crime rate as well since it would be fewer civilians to be participants in and recipients of crime, so his comments were ridiculous on that level alone. But, I’m never shocked when a radio announcer makes those kinds of ‘stuck-on-stupid’ comments. I will, however, acknowledge the fact that Bennett is a former Education Secretary. That is the saddest part.”
Smiley acknowledged that racism remains alive and well in America today, demonstrated clearly through events such as the Katrina tragedy.
“That was a seminal moment in American history,” he said. “It was such a cataclysmic event that it shook the very foundation of this country. I hope that the level of public outrage and realization of the class and racial inequalities in this country will inspire our people to rally and unify.”
The “Talented Tenth Tour,” runs through November. Remaining tour dates are:
10/13/05 – Jackson, Miss., Callaway High School
10/14/05 – New Orleans, La., George Washington Carver High School
10/21/05- Brooklyn, New York, Benjamin Banneker High School
11/4/05 – Atlanta, Ga., Frederick Douglass High School
11/18/05 – Houston, Texas, Booker T. Washington High School