Tavis Smiley Profile

One of the most influential philanthropists and human rights activists to come out of media, Tavis Smiley is a driving force for political justice, youth empowerment, and the end of poverty. He is the author of 16 books and currently hosts the Tavis Smiley talk show on PBS in which he interviews world figures daily. On radio he is the high-energy voice of several news programs dedicated to delivering listeners a rapid exchange of various viewpoints from newsmakers and authoritative commentators.

In both his broadcasting and writing career, Smiley advocates better representation of African Americans in history, politics, and numerous vocations. Some of his best known books include Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Final Year as well as Smiley’s bestselling memoir, What I Know for Sure: My Story of Growing Up in America. He helped make literary history when an anthology he’d edited, Covenant with Black America topped the New York Times list, marking the first time that a book produced by a black-owned publisher had reached the coveted number 1 spot.

Outside his successful broadcasting and writing career, Smiley directs much of his energy to the Tavis Smiley foundation, which aims to make a difference in teens’ lives by helping them learn goal setting, team building, project planning, and decision making. As part of the institute’s initiatives, Smiley speaks at high schools in underserved neighborhoods throughout the country.

Smiley has received a multitude of recognition for his work and accomplishments. Among them, Time magazine has honored him as one of “The World’s 100 Most Influential People” and EBONY Magazine’s POWER 150 LIST ranked him as the number two change agent in the field of media behind Oprah Winfrey.

  • View Extended/Alternate Bio

    From his celebrated conversations with world figures to his work to inspire the next generation of leaders, Tavis Smiley—broadcaster, author, publisher, advocate, and philanthropist—has emerged as an outstanding voice for change. Smiley is currently the host of the late-night television talk show Tavis Smiley on PBS, as well as The Tavis Smiley Show from Public Radio International (PRI), and the daily online radio program, Tavis Talks, on the Tavis Smiley Network (TSN) on BlogTalk Radio.

    In addition to his radio and television work, Smiley has written 16 books. His memoir, What I Know for Sure: My Story of Growing Up in America, became a New York Times best seller, and the book he edited, Covenant with Black America, became the first nonfiction book by a Black-owned publisher to reach #1 on The New York Times best-sellers list.

    In his latest New York Times best seller, The Rich and the Rest of Us: A Poverty Manifesto, Smiley and his co-author Dr. Cornel West challenge all Americans to re-examine their assumptions about poverty in America—what it really is and how to eradicate it.

    His next book is Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Final Year. In the book, Smiley recounts the little known story of the denunciations by the press, rejection from the president, dismissal by the country’s Black elite and militant youth, assaults on his character, ideology and political tactics—all of which MLK had to rise above in the final year of his life in order to lead and address the racism, poverty and militarism that threatens, even still, to destroy our democracy.

    Smiley was the presenter and creative force behind AMERICA I AM: The African American Imprint. This unprecedented traveling museum exhibition, which debuted in 2009, toured the country for four years, celebrating the extraordinary impact of African American contributions to our nation and the world, as told through rare artifacts, memorabilia and multimedia. Many of the artifacts Smiley discovered and displayed during the AMERICA I AM tour are now on permanent display at the Smithsonian Institution.

    Smiley’s most gratifying accomplishments are rooted in his passion to inspire the next generation of leaders. The nonprofit Tavis Smiley Foundation has provided leadership training and development for America’s youth. Since its inception, more than 6,500 young people have participated in the foundation’s Youth to Leaders training workshops and conferences. The Foundation recently announced a $3 million four-year campaign called ENDING POVERTY: America’s Silent Spaces to alleviate endemic poverty in America.

    His communications company, The Smiley Group, Inc., is dedicated to supporting human rights and related empowerment issues and serves as the holding company for various enterprises encompassing broadcast and print media, lectures, symposiums, book publishing, and the Internet.

    Smiley’s achievements have earned him numerous awards and honorary doctorate degrees, including one from his alma mater, Indiana University which named the atrium of its School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA) building “The Tavis Smiley Atrium.” Smiley is also the recipient of the prestigious Du Bois Medal from Harvard University and the Interdependence Day Prize from Demos in Istanbul, Turkey. TIME magazine has honored Smiley as one of “The World’s 100 Most Influential People”, and the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce honored Mr. Smiley with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Tavis Smiley Speaking Videos

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Tavis Smiley's Speech Descriptions

Enlighten, Encourage, Empower
Tavis Smiley is a dynamic and engaging diversity speaker, able to connect with audiences and show them how individuals can make a positive change in the community, especially when it comes to young people. He is passionate about the need for African-Americans to find new ways to empower themselves and their communities, and he shares this conviction in keynote addresses that are compelling, forceful, and moving.

America I Am: The Multimedia Experience
This presentation is a riveting 45 minute visual and oratorial keynote by Tavis Smiley that peers into the heart of American culture through the nearly 500-year-old lens of African American history. Smiley takes the audience on a virtual journey through history beginning with the "door of no return" and ending with the election of President Barack Obama.

Other Topics Include:

    • African Americans in the 21st Century
    • Diversity and Multiculturalism: A National Perspective
    • A Five-Part Plan to Succeed in College and the Workplace
    • Advocacy: How to Fight for What You Believe and Make a Difference

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Books by Tavis Smiley:


Too Important To Fail: Saving America’s Boys
Too Important to Fail: Saving America’s Boys is the companion volume to TAVIS SMILEY REPORTS PBS special which is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting as part of its American Graduate: Let’s Make It Happen initiative. It examines an undeclared crisis in America—the staggering dropout rate among young black males. In countless urban schools the graduation rate has plummeted to less than 20% and nationwide fewer than 50% of young black males will graduate from high school. Low graduation rates combined with disproportionate rates of suspensions, expulsion and young black males assigned to special education classes, fuel this state of emergency.

Tavis Smiley’s candid conversations in Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia and Oakland with frontline experts and educators, detention center administrators and the boys themselves urges viewers to ponder the societal and economic cost of losing another generation of uneducated young black males to lifetimes of prison and poverty. This volume picks up where the special leaves off with expanded discussion, dot-connecting data and real life examples of the information and resources needed to harness our frustration and concern into collective and effective action. The e-book contains an extensive resource guide that lists 125 organizations who have a stake in solving this monumental challenge.


On Air: the Best of Tavis Smiley: 2
Smiley has compiled a second volume of his two-minute commentaries featured on the Tom Joyner Morning Show, from 2002 to 2003, which can be heard in more than 100 radio markets. The book’s five chapters are titled “Reflection”; “Advocacy”; “Public Policy”; “Race, Racism, and Black Folk”; and “Another Thing.” His thought-provoking discussions about issues that affect and reflect on the black community are humorous, wise, and contentious. As with all of Smiley’s essays, including tributes to Althea Gibson, Ben Carson, and Maynard Jackson, listeners are touched and inspired by his compassion and honesty. He challenges all African Americans to critically review the political, educational, and social climate in which we live. Also, some of his more controversial commentaries—including the boycott of MCI—that implore listeners to unify and call the phone numbers or send e-mail messages are in each chapter. Probably headed to the best-seller lists.

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