Love him or hate him, Tavis Smiley‘s influence is undeniable and Hollywood has taken notice.
On April 24, Smiley became the 2,522 star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. And surrounded by famous friends and family, Smiley shared details about his path to success.
“When I was a kid, I hated my name,” says the Midwesterner whose childhood pipedream was to play first base for the Cincinnati Reds. “Tavis Smiley. I got teased so much. It was Travis, Tayvis and Smiley became Smelly and ‘Oh, you’re Tavis Smelly.’ So I hated it as a kid. But, lo and behold, years later you’re a TV guy and it works.”
“1996 was a seminal year in my career,” says Smiley, whose the Smiley Group Inc. headquarters are inconspicuously perched adjacent to a closed-down burger joint in the artsy Leimert Park section of South Central Los Angeles. “Within months of writing my book I was in the White House as a guest of Bill Clinton and then as a regular on Tom Joyner’s radio show on NPR. So now I’m talking to 10 million people every day around the country. A couple of months after that, BET gave me my own latenight show. At that point I realized, well, maybe the political campaign thing of mine is done.”
In 2002 Smiley became the first “person of color” in the history of the United States to have his own daily show on NPR, and then, in 2004, become the first African-American to have his own daily show on PBS. That same year, he became the first and only American — “forget my color,” he notes with a quick flick of the wrist — to host daily talkers on both PBS and NPR.
“The whole thing was always about public service for me, and I saw delivering commentary on issues affecting people as a means to provide that service. My goal has always been to empower people with information that can help them live better lives.”
“There is so much work to be done, and I never lose sight of this,” says the infectiously optimistic media maven. “I say this with humility, that I have quietly become — we have quietly become — the longest-running show in the history of latenight television hosted by a person of color. Arsenio [Hall] lasted five years his first time around. I’m at 11.”
Smiley tweeted the following to his Twitter followers:
Feeling honored for the 2,522nd star on #HWOF, but most of all for friends, family & supporters along this journey. http://t.co/f5H5LQASLj