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A conversation concerning the current state and future of our country will take place this week in D.C., and it won’t be held in the halls of Congress or The White House.

Tavis Smiley’s “America’s Next Chapter” will air this Thursday from 6 to 9 P.M. EST on C-Span and feature eight prominent figures of all political and racial backgrounds conversing about the problems affecting our country; and what can be done to alleviate some of the weight on the backs and shoulders of the American public.

Last week, we had the pleasure of sitting down and talking to Smiley about his panel, President Obama’s agenda, and the current state of Black America.

NewsOne: Tell me about America’s Next Chapter and what you hope to accomplish from it?

Tavis Smiley: Over the last dozen years, I’ve done a number of these bringing together influencers both inside and outside of Washington. This will be a three hour conversation two weeks before the State of the Union, the halfway point of President Obama’s first term, and the entrance of a new Congress. We also can’t forget that the current black RNC Chairman Michael Steele may be out of a job by this weekend.

I think the timing is great for us to have this discussion. According to a recent Rasmussen poll, nearly half of all Americans think our best days are behind us.

NewsOne: Do you think that poll may have skewed towards Whites more because they seem to be the ones concerned about the future of country more than Blacks?

Tavis Smiley: I’ve done some polling on my own and Blacks are definitely more hopeful than Whites. But throughout history, despite what’s happened to us, we are a hopeful people and haven’t done anything without that hope.

When you throw in that we have a Black President, you have to expect us to be more understanding of the current situation and more optimistic with the country in his hands. But, at the same time, we cannot dispute that we are catching the most hell. Unemployment is at sixteen percent. How much faith can you have when you are catching the most hell?

NewsOne: Do you think there has been enough focus on the people catching the most “hell?”

Tavis Smiley: Not at all. There has to be more of a focus on getting all people back to work; but speaking from a Black perspective, having unemployment this high is startling.

NewsOne: But don’t you agree that as President he can’t focus on one specific group’s plight especially when that plight is one that the whole country is going through?

Tavis Smiley: Our President may be accused of being tribal, but to the victors go the spoils. Over 90 percent of Blacks voted for him. We are his most loyal base and the White House and Congress have turned their backs to our community in our most pressing time. There has to be a way to sync those two things; those who vote for you deserve to be rewarded.

NewsOne: Do you think the Obama Administration focused on the right initiatives out of the gate?

Tavis Smiley: Healthcare was the major focus out of the gate for President Obama. But the main issue was unemployment at the time and things haven’t changed. It’s sort of like being rushed to the hospital and getting shot in the chest, but they look at your foot. Healthcare is a major problem in our country, but only jobs put food on the table and clothes on our backs.

NewsOne: Recently, President Obama passed the Bush Tax Cuts in an end to his year which many people saw as a great rebound from his shellacking in the Midterm Elections. What do you think of the Bush Tax Cuts?

Tavis Smiley: Well, what I think is what many top economists like Paul Krugman think; the stimulus was not big enough for the country to rebound and the Bush Tax Cuts extension is not the answer either. We also have to realize that the money that came from the stimulus went through the states and not the cities. If you want to help the people who have been hit hardest, you have to support the cities. That’s where the people are catching hell.

NewsOne: Can you point to specific examples of action your panels have produced in the past?

Tavis Smiley: These conversations always yield something. We have produced three NYTimes best-selling books: The Covenant with Black America, The Covenant in Action, and Accountable. These books went in order from the 10 most important issues to our community, to how we can gather ideas to fix these issues, and the last book detailed everything President Obama promised us during his campaign trail. These panels and books have allowed Americans to follow exactly what our current President promised and if he decides to stick to his word.

NewsOne: Have you seen any legislation passed or have any hope of things changing on an employment level?

Tavis Smiley: I sure do hope so, but I haven’t seen anything that makes me any more optimistic for the future. I understand why the American public is pessimistic about the future which is why we’re holding this panel. This can be a great start to a month where a lot can change for the American public.

The broadcast of “America’s Next Chapter” will be replayed in three parts on January 18, 19, and 20.


Tavis Smiley will host Radio Show with Cornel West

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