In 2010, veteran journalist Tavis Smiley gathered together a group of Black political, religious, educational, and business leaders to discuss the state of Black America and the lack of a Black agenda under President Barack Obama, who was then in the middle of serving his first term.
Rev. Jesse Jackson, Professor Cornel West, Nation of Islam leader Minister Louis Farrakhan, and civil rights advocate Dorothy Tillman were among those included at the event, entitled “We Count: The Black Agenda Is the American Agenda.” The special media event was broadcast on C-Span on March 20, 2010.
Smiley, then a PBS talk show host, said felt was compelled to hold the event because of the public debate over whether Black leaders needed to press Obama on the Black agenda, according to KBLA Talk 1580 Los Angeles.
Also included in the discussion was advertising pioneer Tom Burrell, Professor Michael Eric Dyson, and Julianne Malveaux, who was then president of HBCU Bennett College. The Black Agenda panel discussion took place at Chicago State University.
They discussed issues concerning the Black community, especially Obama’s policies.
“Now the truth of the matter is President Obama is not addressing the Black agenda. President Obama has been told that is all right not to address our agenda. If you don’t address it, don’t worry about it because they gonna be quiet,” said Tillman, a former alderman of Chicago’s 3rd Ward who held that office from 1985 to 2007.
Dr. West said he gave Obama a grade of C minus on policies and priorities focused on poor and working people, saying, “He has really not come through in any substantial and significant way,” The St. Louis Post Dispatch reported.
“A Black agenda is jobs, jobs, jobs, quality education, investment in infrastructure and strong democratic regulation of corporations,” Dr. West told The New York Times. “The Black agenda, at its best, looks at America from the vantage point of the least of thee and asks what’s best for all.”
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Smiley was an also outspoken Obama critic. He found himself at odds with several Black leaders after he said there needs to be a more national focus on a Black agenda, even though the U.S. has its first Black president, NPR reported.
Smiley and Rev. Al Sharpton, an Obama supporter, fiercely butted heads. They got into a heated debate over whether Obama had a responsibility to set a national agenda specifically for African Americans.
“When Black leaders start saying to Black people and the Black media that we don’t need to have this president focus on an African-American agenda, given that Black folk are getting crushed, I say that we need to come together to have a conversation about what that means. I think there’s a disconnect between those kinds of quotes and Black people,” Smiley said during an interview with NPR on March 11, 2010.
“I think there’s a disconnect between what you’re saying and what was said,” answered Sharpton. “First of all, we never said that, and second of all, the New York Times never said we said that. And if you thought we’d said that, you should’ve picked up the phone and called and asked us. When people were beating you down last year for your opposition to President Obama, I came to your forum and defended you.”
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