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Sen. Barack Obama's letter to Tavis Smiley

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The following letter dated February 13, was sent to Tavis Smiley asking him to reconsider his decision not to let Michelle Obama stand in for her husband at the 2008 State of the Black Union forum in New Orleans.

February 13, 2008

Mr. Tavis Smiley

President and CEO

The Smiley Group

3870 Crenshaw Boulevard

Suite 391
Los Angeles, CA 90008

Dear Tavis,

Thank you for the invitation to participate in the 2008 State of the Black Union forum in New Orleans, Louisiana February 21-23. The exchange of ideas raised at this annual symposium are invaluable as our nation strives to address the critical issues facing not just African Americans, but Americans of every race, background and political party.

I especially commend you for hosting this dialogue in New Orleans. On the eve of the Louisiana primary, I visited this great city for the fifth time since declaring my candidacy to share policy proposals for rebuilding the Gulf Coast so that we never experience another Hurricane Katrina. On February 9, I was deeply humbled to win the Louisiana primary with 86 percent of the African American vote and a 14 point lead among all voters who said they were adversely affected by Hurricane Katrina.

Uniting our country and creating a national constituency for fundamental change is why I am running for President of the United States. We have come a long way in this race, but we still have a long road ahead. In the final stretch, I will be on the campaign trail everyday in states like Ohio, Texas and Wisconsin talking directly with voters about the causes that are at the heart of my campaign and the State of the Black Union forum such as affordable healthcare, housing, economic opportunity, civil rights and foreign policy. I am committed to touching every voter, and working to earn their vote.

That is why with regret, I am not able to attend the forum. I understand that you have declined the campaign’s request to have Michelle Obama speak on my behalf. I ask that you reconsider. Michelle is a powerful voice for the type of real change America is hungry for. No one knows my record or my passion for leading America in a new direction more than Michelle Obama.

Tavis, this is our movement and our time. I look forward to working closely with you throughout this election. Thank you for your continued support.


Barack Obama

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It incenses me to no end to see the lack of critical thinking taking place. This situation is indicative of several others. No, African Americans are not by any means a monolith. Support who you wish in this election, but why resort to the very politics that you fought against decades ago (Rep. Rangel)in an effort to please "Ol'Massa and da'Mistress"(Bill and Hilary Clinton). Someone please tell Rangel and our dear brother Andrew Young that the Civil War ended slavery and they are free to leave the plantation. I suppose they want to stay remain sharecroppers in the unharverstable fields of self-righteousness and live in shacks built with the timber of delusions of grandeur.

I was, however, glad to see Rep. Lewis remember why he bled on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965, but I fear that Julian Bond and several others have forgotten those lessons, and like professional athletes purging themselves at Congressional Hearings, they too tarnished their legacies.

With regard to Tavis Smiley's grand display of intellectual masturbation called "The State of the Black Union" it is time to stop talking and start formulating sustainable solutions to the systemic problems we still face as a race and nation in particular. Smiley, along with Drs. Cornel West and Eddie Glaude compiled a book called The Covenant and so Smiley's efforts should be focused there. Hold not only presidential candidates accountable but also governors, mayors, city/ward councilmen/women, etc. Help to foment the localized change that is the foundation of any movement.

I grow so tired of the same talking heads every year on C-SPAN along with their representative "mini-me's" who pontificate and postulate "tales told by an idiot...full of sound an fury signifying nothing." Despite my Shakespearean reference I do hope my point is understood. We do not need "Amen corners" that serve as opiates of the masses the way that some of us attend church to get our weekly dosage of the "the word" and never ponder how to make the gospel relevant beyond self. You feel good and go home...warmed by a "hot" song and a "good sermon" never thinking of the true revolutionary foundation of our spirituality. Smiley's "forums" are no different.

Brother Tavis needs to understand that it is NOT about him and that it is about the people, the American people. His pettiness is embarrassing and his grand standing is at the very least dishonorable at such a critical juncture in Obama's campaign. This so-called controversy is just another way that Willie Lynch's tactics for oppression are still helping to steal away our righteous minds. May God help us all.

Here's the thing, I personally have to agree with Tavis here. Here is why. This election, as historic as it is has to have balance. We cannot, must not, should not behave as lemmings going to the cliff. It is almost as if Barack is drinking is own kool aid, and feeling as though he does not have to DIRECTLY address the issues that confront African Americans. The Symposium is an opportunity for him to DRIRECTLY address these issues. Barack is running for president, not Michelle. While she can answer some questions, and defer to a website, or even news reports unfortunately it will not be president Michelle Obama, it will be Barack. If he cannot spare a few minutes of his time, to DIRECTLY address issues that are important to the people from which he comes, how can we be assured that he will address the issue after we give him our votes. Are we the ones being dissed here or is it him. What is more important his discomfort or ours?
I have to applaud Tavis for attempting to hold Barack accountable before he takes office, because voting blindly is what we all did with Bush, and we all know what that has cost us so far.

I am so proud of Mr. & Mrs. Obama for their grace and respect for us as a country and holding up their integrity. Continue to turn the other cheek. The real people are in your corner. I wish them the very best.

Dear Mary Mitchell,

Again, you have shown that your bias has no bounds. During the debates, Senator Obama ask on several occasions if he was talking to Senator Clinton or 'her husband.' So, why is it a double standard in your column to focus on why Mr.Smiley has refused the spouse of Barack Obama, participation in the State of the Black Union?

It is clear that Barack Obama has a busy schedule on his pursuit of presidential aspirations. It surprises me that he would send his wife instead of coming in person. I thought this election was between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Mr. Obama preaches that this country is hungry for change, nevertheless the old proverb states that you must teach a man how to fish. So, he can feed him self. Also, does Mr. Obama believe that he can maintain the support of the Black vote without showing face, or taking the time to meet with his black constituents. I am appalled by your column and your continued campaign to disrespect fellow African leaders. Your whole agenda is if you don't follow Obama, then you aren't really black enough. How do you define being black? You should stop using your race as a defense to promote a sort of jounralistic tone that does not represent our diverse culture.

I am so dissappointed in Tavis Smiley...I have admired his passion for out people for seveal years now...but when unity is most critical, he as opted to become self centered and blind to the devices of the enemy in whom he has claimed to belive in. I am referring to the album I purchased "The Covenent". This dynamic project proclaimin the saving grace of Jesus, seems to have been lost in this political tug of war.

Tavis...get over it for the bigger father was the first black city council person elected to our local government here in Wisconsin. I did not hav a dad for many years because his passion was for his people...however, my watching his passion instilled a passion in me that I would not understand until my adult years...I use to chastise my dad about his choices to support certian endeavors and the main thing that I remember my dad teaching me was that "Our people our like crabs in a bucket". I know that this is a clique for some, but this is something I have personally lived. Tavis...get over it and focus on the better good...focus on the big picture...I don't give a hoot about your show our your prestige...I care about my struggle at the gas pump. I care about my 11 year old grandson failing in school...don't make me lose all respect for you!

obama does not want to be associated with any black institution or gathering. That is the reason why michelle obama has been dispatched to black churches, etc... He states he wants to represent all Americans but he can't be seen at any event that is prdominately black. That is unacceptable to this African American.

To Harriet Knight-Everette - Beloit, WI
February 15, 2008 08:48 PM Harriet Knight-Everette OF Beloit, WI said:

"obama does not want to be associated with any black institution or gathering. That is the reason why michelle obama has been dispatched to black churches, etc... He states he wants to represent all Americans but he can't be seen at any event that is prdominately black. That is unacceptable to this African American. "

I agree but I understand why... White America would NEVER SUPPORT an Africam American who acts like he actually is Africam American. Think Colin Powell and Condolessa Rice.

I think that Tavis is taking this too far and personally I dont like his show. I take my lead from the Bible in Romans 8:28 which reads: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him,[j] who[k] have been called according to his purpose. I believe that Barack Obama was sent by the Father for the good of all. We as Black Americans needs much, but white america needs even more....they are ignorant to our needs (whether by choice or whatever) and this will help to enlighten them on many issues both here and abroad. Tavis' show and/or approval is NOT the 10 commandments of Black America! Get over it Tavis!

I really sympathise with Tavis in the dillema that he found himself in the wake of Senator Obama not being able to physically show up at this Black event.One thing is sure here, Senator Obama might have prior engagement vital to his election as he stated or he was just being careful not to get involved in another controversy that will derail his campaign agenda.Who can blame him ,is it not said that" discretion is the better part of valor."
Tavis should have viewed the situation from this perspective and would have looked more compassionate and could have avoided the negative reactions that followed his rejection of Mrs Obama as a substitute for his husband.Could he have preferred an out right rejection of his invitation by the Senator?
However Tavis, is a GENTLEMAN WHO LOVES HIS BLACK PEOPLE AND WE LOVE HIM TOO AS ONE OF OUR OWN.In this case there was an oversight for which he should be pardoned as it was not intentional .TAVIS WE LOVE YOU DON'T YOU FORGET THAT

GET over it Tavis ..good lord ... you are a better man than that,
this man is running for president of the USA..their will be another opportunity TAVIS..


GET over it Tavis ..good lord ... you are a better man than that,
this man is running for president of the USA..their will be another opportunity TAVIS..


My sentiments exactly Justin ... get over yourself Tavis. It's not about you and the forum you orchestrated. It's about a BLACK Candidate and what's politically necessary to win. There was already too much controversy surrounding what Rev. Wright said. Obama didn't need to show up for this forum. Respect the position taken and don't be part of the problem, but part of the solution to move Obama's candacy forward on a positive note! If you don't have anything positive to say, don't say anything. This is the 1st time in history that a person of color has come this far on the political front ... this is history don't try to tear it down and cast negativity in the arena. United we must stand!

Ebonei in Atlanta

I have to agree with Tavis on this 'dis' and dismiss of Michelle Obama. Obama is becoming untouchable by what he assumes as his own (black folks). He is taking for granted that the majority of these same black folks are voting for Barack Hussein Obama soley because he is black, and want to get to know Obama's views more directly-addressing black people, not just being a black face on the ticket. He obviously thinks that black folks are ignorant and will blindly sip the Kool-aid in support for him. Obama is willing to throw his 20 year pastor under the bus, his 6 year association with William Ayers under the bus, his friendship with the jail bird that gave him his 1.6 million dollar home under the bus, his own mother under the bus, and his grand mother that is scared of black people under the bus, and last but certainly not least, black folks under the bus. Black folks should not feel so bad though, because he has a hold on all his history at Yale and Columbia, and his birth certificate too. SO, myself (a hispanic), black folks, and white people alike cannot really get to know Barack Hussein Obama. He is untouchable. This we know: that he voted 'present' as a Junior Senator, and that he was a community organizer for certain people (including ACORN). He is married, we know that. He has two kids, we know that. What we don't know is what really makes him qualified to be president, and he missed his opportunity to talk to Tavis and show black people, as well as hispanics, what makes him a good and qualified person to rule over the affairs of The United States of America.

People…., get over it. This is nothing short of grandstanding to draw attention to an individual that needs a rating boost. It is appalling that such a great event, State of the Black Union forum, is being used to smear our next president. For years, black leaders have stood up and condemned white America for thinking they’re entitled to something just because they’re white. Well if Mr. Smiley believes President (Elect) Obama is obligated to participate in this event just because he’s black…..what makes him any different then the people who think their entitled because their white? If any of you happen to know Mr. Smiley, ask him if he remembers getting an invitation to address the student body of an HBCU in which he declined, At least Obama offered to send his wife when he couldn’t make it.

broack obama if this is you please write me to my email at i was very inspired by you and our class would like to send you an quilt from the shakopee middle school that has been home made thanks for the inspiration you made a difference

Has it occurred to anyone that maybe Mr Smiley knows something that millions of people don't know. History shall birth that wisdom. What I don't understand is why he said no to Mrs Obama. That decision was precipitous, dare I say tres emotional. But we all make mistakes, even if it is at the village square.

it really does not matter if oboma could attend or not he did not leave anyone just standing he did offer a reprensitive who could better represent than his wife,lets not be selfish lets try to understand and just get alone.

Regarding Tavis' response to now President Obama taking a pass on SOBU 2008.
At the time, I too felt the then Senator should have accepted the invitation. I also felt Tavis' reaction was only natural. It's funny that many were so quick to condemn Tavis on this matter, and yet when he is "sticking his neck" out for you losers you don't complain.
Yes, I said it! Where were some of you when Tavis was putting his neck on the chopping block?

I had the pleasure of watching Tavis Smiley's entire production of the "2008 State of the Black Union" on CSPAN last week–and as usual, it was quite entertaining. But while I thoroughly enjoyed the show, I failed to see the urgency of having Senator Barack Obama in attendance. I could see it if the scholars, politicians, and community leaders in attendance were actually involved in a sober discussion of the Black condition and ways to move the community forward, but that wasn't what it was at all. What it generally turns out to be–and it was true to form this year–is a cross between the Def Philosophy Jam, an infomercial for Tavis Smiley Enterprises, and a Southern revival meeting ("Say amen, Black folk"). That's not the appropriate venue for a man who's trying to convince America that he's a serious contender for President of ALL of the United States. So I don't blame Obama a bit for not attending.

Admittedly, every year there are serious people with serious things to say in attendance, but every year there are also a host of people in attendance who are flamboyant, grandiloquent, and simply love to hear themselves talk. There were moments in this year's proceedings, for example, that sounded more like a Mack-man's convention than anything else. While I enjoyed it, I also enjoy Thelonious Monk, but there are literally millions of voters across this land who share neither my taste in music, nor my understanding of the polyrhythmic pronouncements of Michael Eric Dyson, no matter how profound the underlying message. Thus, Senator Obama had to ask himself a very serious question–Do I want to be elected president, or simply hold up a raised fist for Black America? How would you answer that?

Yes, Senator Clinton did attend–but at this point, Hillary would attend a dog fight if she thought it would get her an extra vote. When Hillary put out a video claiming the endorsement of Ann Richards--the former governor of Texas who's been dead for a year and a half--that made it clear that she's willing to do anything to become president. And besides, Hillary didn't have anything to lose by attending. The voters knew she was just humoring Black people–or in this case, Tavis–thinking that might help her to get Black votes, which in itself should give us pause. Does she really think that Black people are so shallow that catering to the whims of a talk show host would be enough to get our vote? If she did, judging from her lukewarm reception, now she knows better. Obama, on the other hand, had everything to lose. Being a Black candidate, if some loose cannon on that stage (and their were many of them) happened to say something outrageous, Obama would have had to spend the next three weeks disavowing the remark. So as far as I'm concerned, his decision to decline Tavis' invitation showed excellent judgement–presidential Judgement.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not anti-Tavis in anyway. Tavis mentioned during the proceedings that some of us wanted to throw him under the bus–and indeed, some of us are like that. We see a successful young brother with a big future and everything going for himself, and the first thing we want to do is tear him down. That's an unfortunate part of our cultural makeup. That is not my intent, however. I see Tavis Smiley as a shining star in the Black community, and an excellent role model for young Black people. As a matter of fact, I was trying to give Robert Johnson the benefit of the doubt until he fired Tavis from BET. After that, I wondered out loud, how he could flood the airways with all of that garbage, then fire the only bright spot on the network.

But we do have a responsibility to keep one another in check, as long as we do it in a positive manner, and with positive intent, so at this point I want to take Tavis to task. At one point Tavis remarked during the proceedings, "I knew Barack Obama, before he was Barack Obama." I don't know what Tavis' intent was, but it implied that Obama's newly acquired national stature has changed him in some way. I thought that was uncalled for and wholly unsubstantiated. Then, during Tavis' infomericals, while he was shamelessly promoting his books, "The Covenant With Black America", and "Accountability", I felt the strong implication in Tavis' remarks that Obama was being less than accountable to the Black community by failing to attend.

First, I'd like to point out that while Tavis is a very impressive brother, and is undoubtedly a positive reflection on the Black community, we must always keep in mind that neither Tavis, nor his production, represents the Black community. Thus, Senator Obama is under absolutely no obligation to accept his invitation as an extension of the Black community--and for Tavis to imply otherwise is both arrogant, and a gross abuse of his stature within the community.

And secondly, accountability goes for talk show hosts too–especially when they profess to represent the Black community. So how accountable is it to produce a show called "The State of the Black Union" then sponsor it with companies that are largely responsible for the very conditions that you're complaining about?

One of the sponsors was Allstate Insurance–a company that is alleged to have denied the claims of thousands of Hurricane Katrina victims. One victim, Michael Homan, alleges that Allstate denied his claim based on the position that "Katrina wasn't windy enough." Another sponsor was Exxon/Mobile–a company that's raking in record profits while many Black people have to flip a coin to decide whether they're going to eat or put enough gas in their car to get to work. Wal-Mart was another sponsor–a company that's committed to blocking collective bargaining, providing their employees fair wages and health care, taking away jobs by running other businesses out of the community and purchasing their merchandise from outside the United States, and humiliating their customers by searching them before they leave the store. Is that accountability?

Appropriately enough, the most profound statement that came out of the entire proceedings came from the mouth of comedian, Dick Gregory. He said, "First, we told Bill Clinton he was Black, then we told Barack Obama that he wasn't Black enough. We must be fools."

I'd say that just about sums up the state of the Black union.

Eric L. Wattree

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This page contains a single entry by Mary Mitchell published on February 14, 2008 3:51 PM.

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