Tavis Smiley is a young man full of energy and motivation. This is especially true when it comes to inspiring our youth. As he told the young people during his speech at Austin High School on Sept. 30: “I knew I couldn’t play sports, but I did know I had the gift of talking.”

Tavis said he used this talent to build his career. It’s all about knowing your niche and capitalizing on it.

Born in Kokomo, Indiana, Tavis is one of 10 children. He has authored six books, the most recent “Keeping the Faith: Stories of Love, Courage, Healing and Hope from Black American.”

Tavis was selected by Time Magazine as one of America’s ’50 Most Promising Young Leaders.’ Newsweek profiled him as one of the ’20 People Changing How Americans Get Their News’ and calls him one of the captains of the airwaves.

Texas Southern University recently honored Tavis with the opening of the Tavis Smiley School of Communications and The Tavis Smiley Center for Professional Media Studies. He is the youngest African American to ever have a professional school and center named after him on a college or university campus.

Educated at Indiana University, Tavis began his career as an aide to former Los Angeles Mayor the late Tom Bradley. He has interviewed such notables as former president Jimmy Carter, Coretta Scott King, Fidel Castro and Pope John Paul II.

In a brief interview with The Austin Weekly News it became apparent that his warmth and love of people was infectious. Everyone was important to him and was greeted with his infectious smile.


AWN: “Tell us about your visit and current tour”

Tavis: “Well, actually I’m on a couple different tours concurrently. I’m doing two or three things at one time. I’m speaking to high schools across the country and speaking to HBCU (Historical Black College/Universities), talking about leadership. We’re talking to high school students and college students about leadership issues on this ‘Talented Tenth’ tour. But we’re also on a tour with Wells Fargo. It’s a wealth building strategy seminar, what it is essentially is a tour talking to Afro-Americans, specifically about home ownership.”

AWN: “Is this in conjunction will Magic Johnson?”

Tavis: “No, I’m coming back to Chicago later in the month, the last weekend in October. We’re doing a weekend-long motivational conference. It’s called ‘Success Soul;’ you can’t have success without having some soul. I’ll be here all weekend Oct. 28th and 29th at McCormick Place with Maya Angelou, Magic Johnson, Barack Obama, B. Smith, Susie Orman, a whole bunch of us will be here all weekend at McCormick, for a weekend of motivation.”

AWN: “You’re close to home; you’re from Kokomo, Indiana?”

Tavis: “I’m from Indiana right next door, so I grew up in Indiana and came to Chicago a lot as a kid. Loved Chicago; came here all the time. When I was in college at Indiana University as a matter of fact, I came over to Chicago a couple of times to help Harold Washington get elected. A bunch of students from I.U came to Chicago to campaign on the weekends trying to get Harold elected. We were so pleased and excited the day he actually won of course, so I got a long history; got a lot of cousins in Chicago, so I’m here all the time.”