An Open Letter To Tavis Smiley and Rev. Al Sharpton

Dear Tavis and Al Sharpton,

I am writing this open letter to you two because I am confused.

The way I heard it, you, Brother Tavis, called out Rev. Al on the Tom Joyner Morning Show earlier this week and criticized him for not being open about what was said when President Obama met with him, NAACP Chair Benjamin Jealous, National Urban League chief Marc Morial and a host of other “black leaders.”  Then Rev. Al, you, decided to make it more public and had Brother Tavis on your show later on that day and you two decided to have it out on national radio.  And now this clip has been heard round the world.

I’m confused, because I really thought you two were better than this.

As a young African American male at the age of 25, I can’t help but wonder is this the legacy that you all are leaving behind?  One of a public discord amongst each other?  Come on now.  I’ve followed both of you all in my short post-high school existence and both of you all seem to care deeply about those of us who are a part of the black community and, daresay, both seem to push a “black agenda” at one point or another, so why turn this into a battle of the egos and neither one backing down on the other.

Rev. Al, you claim to “keep it real” on the radio show, but yet you’re mum on exactly what was said following the White House meeting with Obama–which ironically was held under the cover of the white snow from Snowmeggedon II.  Seriously, given the tenor of your radio program, for you to be quoted as touting Obama’s race neutral policies and being smart to not “ballyhoo a ‘black agenda'” is somewhat irresponsible to me on your behalf.

Brother Tavis, it’s becoming harder and harder to defend you by the day.

You can’t go around calling the meeting of the minds of the “Popes of Blackness” on a nationally syndicated talk show without telling the panelists when the meeting is, that’s just bad PR.  Moreover, you didn’t want to back down when Rev. Al pushed back on your comments.  Seriously, you should have seen this coming.  And all of this amounted to you speaking before you thought.  You’re a journalist, and have been doing this for a while, you know how media works and the potential of this. I supported you last year when the rest of black Americans were calling for your head on a platter when you simply asked for “accountability” from our elected officials, but when you go around throwing you’re weight as if you are the “Pope” of Blackness, then me and you have a problem.

And if this rumor I keep hearing about you publishing R. Kelly’s book has any validity, then SHAME ON YOU SIR!

I think it’s interesting that two individuals who supported Hillary Rodham Clinton through a significant portion of the Democratic Primary in 2008 would fall out over an issue such as this.

Just because the president doesn’t or maybe even can’t cater to a “black agenda” (whatever that looks like) doesn’t mean that you’re not supposed to. If we don’t speak up for ourselves, the history and present state of affairs clearly shows that no one else will advocate on our behalf.  But we can’t have two black public figures fall out on national radio programs over such a petty issue.  Thanks to you two, I’m not writing a blog about the work accomplished because of job creation from the White House meeting, but rather writing an open letter telling you two to get it together–not now, but right now!

I hope this is not the legacy that you’re leaving me.  And by the same token, why is it that whenever these meetings take place no one is ever bringing along the twenty-year-olds to sit in on these meetings and learn from the wisdom of the elders?  We’re left having to forge our own path and pray that you two will notice us hollering in the crowd “Pick me! Pick me!”  Just because your predecessors worked on the old system of “paying your dues” doesn’t mean you  have to make the same mistake.

But seriously? Where’s the mini-me Sharpton’s and the mini-me Tavis’?

Granted, neither of you two will be exiting the stage any time soon, but don’t make the same mistakes, enough of us have to last us a lifetime.  I’m just tired of not hearing any new names come onto the stage.  And when I do, its usually someone who’s knocking on the door of 40.  I know it’s not because we’re an apathetic generation. I’ve met far too many young women and men my age who clearly have an opinion and are more than qualified, so I have to believe it’s because neither of you are doing an effective job with training young activists and you all are sadly, focused on self-aggrandizement.

Guess what, it’s really not about you.

Either of you.

I say this in love, but get it together and zip up your egos back in your pants and look at the bigger picture.  Rather than sword fighting amongst yourselves, realize that it’s bigger than just you two and that there are a whole host of others of us who have serious issues that need to be addressed.  Anytime both of you feel so compelled to jump between radio shows just to prove your point means you’ve missed the bigger picture.

I hope I don’t have to write a letter like this again.  So, next time, someone take the high road and do what’s right.  Get it together.

Sincerely, JLL, The Uppity Negro

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17 responses to “An Open Letter To Tavis Smiley and Rev. Al Sharpton

  1. Where’s the mini-me Sharpton’s and the mini-me Tavis’?
    They are definitely around but they’re more than likely taking a different approach. Many people are advocating a cause online and some are taking it to the streets, school and senior centers.

    I’m just wondering if there is a black agenda. I once told my friend that right now, “Black” America is a myth. There are very little issues or movements that truly unify us. Not to mention the arguments around how to achieve abstract goals like freedom and equality. Some times I’m really baffled by the issues people do strongly support and bring to the forefront.

    All the arguments around brothers like Obama who choose not to uphold or advocate a black agenda reinforces that idea in my head. Jackson, Rangel, Sharpton and Smiley often play politics when it is not necessary.

  2. “get it together and zip your egos back into your pants” Well said, young negro! Because that whole display looked like they were just testing and measuring each others cojones, if you ask me! When the dust settles on this mess, I wonder who will sum this up and how? Those two made fools of themselves, this time for sure!
    http://black-folks.blogspot.com

  3. I believe that both of them need to sit down! I too ask the question, “where is the training/exposure for the new generation of thinkers?” I’ve stopped listening to both of them a while ago. As for me, I feel that Sharpton loves the media attention of suggesting there is a “black agenda” more than the “black agenda” itself. As for Bro. Tavis, I feel he pushes more of an “us vs them” agenda within the black culture. I feel he tries to “highlight” more of what those who are consider as the “them” are doing wrong and “illuminate” what those who are considered the “us” are doing right. I can’t deny that both of them have done and still do great works, but in other areas it seems as if they point fingers more than they extend hands. As I black man I feel out of the loop because I still don’t exactly know what the “black agenda” is. Based on my vocation, status within society and education, I figured I would have fulfilled as least some of the qualifications to be in the know……

  4. AGAIN – While all of this conflict is going on could a couple of the Black-Haves break me off a piece of that corporate money that fans the flames of seperation of the Black-Haves and the Black-Have-Nots.

  5. Since the young man feels that @ 25 he has all of the information regarding Mr. Smiley and Rev. Sharpton I’d like to see him get up and contribute some work instead of his mouth because it is clear that he has no idea as to what is going on. First of all, if he really wants to do some good and feel so committed to the cause of “racial goodness” then talk to the people who instigate these issues such as Larry King, Sean Hannity, etc. because they have worked hard to separate black people as a whole especially the black leadership. The Black Leadership is not Al Sharpton anyway, it’s really Rev. Jackson, but they have schemed to remove him from the conversation as they chose to use his personal life of what happened to a woman who was fully grown, had been in many relationships and decided to have a baby by Rev. Jackson to upset everyone about his committment to the cause which had nothing to do with the way he’s worked hard for our people over the years. Because he does the consulting work and brings millions to the organizations that seek his help and say give me a percentage which is right and he shouldn’t have to ask because it takes a lot of time to negotiate any situation like that so why shouldn’t he get paid? He too has to live, but because of that he is labeled, “a thief” and we’ve let it happen. Tavis Smiley deals straight up with everyone and has been a strong supporter of both the President and Rev. Sharpton not to mention his stance for the community and WHAT is right in any community. Why shouldn’t he be included in the conversation? Why can’the ask Rev. Sharpton a legitimate question? Brother Smiley has done nothing to embarrass anyone if anything Sharpton who is supposed to hold the “FLAME” of brightness in his hands should be the bigger person if there is a problem and since many have coined/labeled him a “black leader” because that’s what leadership is…MEEKNESS (having the authority to hurt someone but not doing it). So, until the young picks up a spiritual sword, a picket sign, gain some canones and steps up to the plate to do some good, I’d suggest he take a verbal sabbatical and meditate, learn to mediate, and from now on hesitate from opening the library of lack of knowledge…and if he feels so strong about reasoning, why did he write on this blog? If you’re a peace maker, you try contacting them by phone…but if on the other hand you think you’re making your “bones” then you take this step…the attempt to impress.

    Teeth and tongue fall out but they don’t boycott each other..remember the number of times you’ve bitten your tongue? Did you pull out your teeth? Sharpton and Smiley are friends and if they can’t debate a difference when and where they want to..there is a problem of public policy from those who would try building a house out of 3 Cinder Blocks.

    By the way…have you thought of talking to the Rappers who were so instrumental in signing up thousands of new voters and introducing them to the republican party? Now there’s some work for you.

    • @ Tanisha

      It seems like you have an ax to grind, and those types of comments really aren’t welcomed here. I try and keep an open forum that provides dialogue and intelligent conversation, not one person berating another with sarcastic comments. This is not to deter an opposing point of view, but let’s just keep it friendly. :-)

      • She’s probably part of the old guard. The old guard doesn’t like being challenged because, you know, “you young people don’t know anything”.

  6. WOW!! I enjoyed reading that. Maybe we should as the younger generation put together a forum of the young minds of the black generation. We must stand up and let our voices be heard. I agree with you. That’s what “they” like to see. For us to not get along and publically disagree. We must now more than even stand together, no matter what our differences are to push for the greater good. I love watching the SOTBU and hearing what is being said and done in our community. However, I do agree with you, it’s time to see more younger faces added to the panel, giving a new spin on what’s being done, seen and heard. We offer a different viewpoint and our presence should be made known. What can we do to make this happen?

  7. It was friendly and non negotiable. As for the person speaking of, “the old guard” I wonder what the grand-parents and parents would say. Hmm-mm. Thank God for the opportunity of living to be over 40.

    • They’d be plenty proud that I respected the old guard enough to know that while they laid the foundation, some change is imminent and healthy.

      From, the descendant of slaves worldwide who’s not that much younger than you. ;-)

  8. There is something that you are short on and it starts with an “r” and ends with a “t” and of course you don’t understand yet what you are displaying, but when you grow up you will. Also, it’s clear that you don’t know the difference between a “hedge” and a “Pinetree.”

    One of your lack of gifts also is knowing when, when not to, how, how not to and the lack of usage from the chin up.

  9. I am reminded of what Andrew Young told a gathering of seminarians that I attended a couple of years ago. He said there was no training, no preparatory class for what he, Dr. King, and others did to initiate the civil rights movement. They saw a need a problem and they strategized together to meet that need and fix that problem, most often to the disdain and even in defiance of their parents and those of their generation. I say that to say that the expectation that Smiley, Jackson, West, Sharpton, et al, would proactively and *consistently* engage young adults in their national conversations, while logical, is likely improbable. And, as you put so succinctly in the class that you and I were in in seminary, Joshua, just like many of the older generation that left Egypt and went into the wilderness, some of them will just have to die before the next phase can begin in earnest.

    • With every Joshua Generation, there is a Caleb, speaking truth to power happens in the language that power is minimally prepared to understand, IMO.

      Carry on young people, we support you in the work that you have been sent to accomplish in this journey; to do justice, love kindness, walk humbly….(Micah 6:8 NRSV)

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