Every weekday evening, viewers across the nation tune in to their local public television station to watch Tavis Smiley interview guests from every walk of life and degree of fame on his PBS show, Tavis Smiley. Known for his acumen and grace, Smiley draws audiences with probing questions, real dialogue, and the opportunity to learn something about a person or issue they had never considered.
Smiley began his career in 1996 as a political commentator on the Tom Joyner Morning Show. In 2002, Smiley broke boundaries as one of the few non-white voices on NPR with The Tavis Smiley Show. He left in 2004, claiming that NPR was not diversifying quickly enough, and began his public television show. His radio show continues as well, now distributed by Public Radio International. A longtime advocate for uplifting marginalized voices, Smiley sat down in April with Sojourners editor-in-chief Jim Wallis to discuss how to speak to the soul of the nation every night while keeping the faith.
Jim Wallis: Media are often focused on being entertaining and controversial, and getting ratings. But you provide a different perspective. What is your goal?
Tavis Smiley: My role on television is to help people re-examine the assumptions they hold. Where the issue of poverty is concerned, there are so many assumptions we all bring to the table. One, that it doesn’t exist in our country. Two, that we can’t cut it in half in 10 years.