STAFF & GUEST BLOG
March 9th, 2013, by Guest Blogger

BY MICHAEL R. WENGER

Both personally and professionally, my life journey has been blessed by its racial diversity. I grew up in a working class Jewish family in New York City and got involved in the civil rights movement while in college in the early 1960s. In the late 1960s, I worked in the anti-poverty program in West Virginia. Then, in 1970, just three years after the U.S. Supreme Court, in Loving v. Virginia, ruled that laws prohibiting inter-racial marriage were unconstitutional, I married an African American woman from rural, segregated North Carolina. Although we divorced 11 years later and I am now married to a white woman, we remain a close family with three children, four grandchildren and a great grandson.

Professionally, I had the privilege of serving as Deputy Director for Outreach and Program Development for President Clinton’s Initiative on Race in 1997 and 1998. Since then, I have worked at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a think tank focused exclusively on issues of particular concern to the African American community and other communities of color.

Through my experiences I have had the opportunity to peer into a world far beyond the comprehension of most white people in our society. I have become aware of the pain that well-meaning white Americans inflict on people of color, often without knowing it, and I have come to recognize the richness that awaits those with the courage to embrace our nation’s growing diversity. Yet, I also have come to understand how much I still have to learn about race in this country and how much I will never be able learn. The following excerpt from the book’s first chapter illustrates what I mean.

In 1999, at a reception in Washington, DC, for members of the Joint Center Board of Governors, a rather portly and well-dressed African American gentleman approached me.

“Hello.” He smiled as he stuck out his hand. “My name is Hector Hyacinthe.” I had never met him, but I recognized his name from the list of board members and knew he was a prominent businessman from Westchester County, New York. “Mike Wenger,” I replied as we shook hands.

“Good to meet you, Mike. Are you from D.C.?”

“Nope, originally from Brooklyn,” I replied.

“Really? What part?”

“East New York.”

“Really? What street?”

“Bradford Street.”

“What number?”

“Three hundred.”

“Three eighty!” he proclaimed triumphantly.

“That’s right across the street from my grandparents’ house. They lived at three-eighty-one.”

Hector nodded. “Yep, lived there until I finished high school.”

We spent the next several minutes comparing notes on the old neighborhood. Then I spent the remainder of the evening trying to reconcile my surprise at what I’d just learned about Hector with what I’d suddenly realized was the subconscious mixed message of my childhood. Simply stated: “Blacks deserve equal rights but they are not really our equals.” More importantly, I was left to ponder how this mixed message conspired to make us liberal white people complicit in the pervasive racial discrimination that we so glibly condemn…

All the neighbors on my grandparents’ side of the street had similar backgrounds. They were primarily older Russian and Polish immigrant families who had bought their homes many years earlier and raised their children on that block. Now, they yearned for nothing more than to finish their lives in these familiar surroundings, the men playing checkers in the park, the women preparing for daily or weekly visits from children and grandchildren, most of whom had not strayed far from the old neighborhood. They feared, however, that their modest dream was being challenged by an influx of black families with young children. Many were from the South, and they now occupied every house on the other side of the street, two or three families to an apartment, in some cases. Although they were separated only by the width of a tree-lined city street, these two groups had virtually no contact with each other. Not even the Berlin Wall that divided colorful and lively West Berlin from gray and dreary East Berlin when I was there in 1983 could have made the divide any more explicit.

The houses on my grandparents’ side of the street were all owner-occupied and had the look of being lovingly cared for as the prized possessions they were. Their red brick exteriors were clean and bright and screens hung in every window frame. Meticulously trimmed hedges defined each owner’s postage stamp front yard. Across the street, nearly all the families were renters, the prevailing ambiance was drab, window screens were the exception, and little healthy shrubbery was visible in the front yards, many of which were paved over. There was no obvious hostility between the two sides of the street, but there was no communication, either. Rarely did anybody on my grandparents’ side of the street even park their car on the other side of the street. As children, we understood that we were not to walk on the other side of the street. I spent a major portion of my childhood at my grandparents’ house, but until I met Hector when I was fifty-seven years old, I’d never actually met anyone who lived across the street…

The unspoken message of my childhood, conveyed by my grandparents’ attitude toward the people across the street and by my parents’ acceptance of Woodmere’s norms, was that black people were different. Those who lived across the street from my grandparents didn’t take pride in their homes, or work hard, or place much emphasis on doing well in school. As a child I did not comprehend the fact that they were renting from landlords who had fled the neighborhood and who refused to maintain their properties. Nor was I cognizant of the fact that while my grandfather could get a union job as a skilled laborer in a shoe factory, the best work that the men across the street could hope for were nonunion jobs as janitors in the factory. Nor did I perceive anything wrong with the fact that all of the teachers at the local elementary school had my skin color, as did all of the store owners and other financially successful adults I encountered in the neighborhood.

I doubt that any of the adults in our family were conscious of these factors. Certainly, no adult ever tried to discuss any of these issues with me. Of course, I would have been too young to understand such matters, anyway. But these negative racial stereotypes ingrained at an early age took hold, and I was unsettled, nearly fifty years later, by my surprise at finding someone from the even-numbered side of my grandparents’ block who had achieved Hector’s level of success. It seemed that I had learned the unspoken message quite well. In my head, I knew better, but I was incapable of turning off the default setting in my brain, even if the setting lasted for just a split second.

_______

Michael R. Wenger is a Senior Fellow and Acting Vice President for Civic Engagement and Governance at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington, DC. He also teaches classes on race and minority relations and on Institutional Racism: Policies and Prescriptions as an adjunct faculty member in the sociology department at The George Washington University. This passage is excerpted from his memoir, My Black Family, My White Privilege: A White Man’s Journey Through the Nation’s Racial Minefield. He can be contacted at wengerjm@verizon.net.

A LOOK BACK
March 5th, 2013, by Staff

 

In September 2006, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chàvez sat down with us just days after his controversial speech to the United Nations. Among the topics discussed during our conversation: his comment during that speech calling then-President George W. Bush “the devil,” his overall feelings about the United States, how the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. impacted his life and his thoughts on how to end poverty.

Although the outspoken soldier-turned-politician was diagnosed with cancer in 2011, he won re-election to a new term in 2012.

Chàvez recently passed away at age 58, after more than 14 years as leader of the oil-rich Latin American country.

On our March 11, 2013 show, we reflected on his complex legacy.

A LOOK BACK
February 21st, 2013, by Staff

Update: Kudos to Malik Bendjelloul, director, editor and animator of Searching for Sugar Man, for his win in the best documentary feature category. It was the first music-oriented film to win the documentary award since 1986.

 

From the “2013 class” of Academy Award nominees, there were several who joined us for enlightening conversations about their films. Take a look below at the rewind of our  exchanges with these talented actors/filmmakers.

Congratulations to all of this year’s nominees.

As Oscar night nears, the frontrunner for best documentary feature seems to be Searching for Sugar Man, which has won numerous festival awards, as well as the BAFTA and the Producer’s Guild Award. Filmmaker—and first-time nominee—Malik Bendjelloul explained how he came upon the remarkable story of singer-songwriter Rodriguez and his unlikely resurrection in South Africa following a forgettable career in the U.S.
(View full post to see video)

 

With 12 nominations, Lincoln topped all the films this year. For her feisty portrayal of Mary Todd Lincoln, Sally Field earned her third Oscar nod—this time for a supporting role—and, in her two nights with us, she not only reflected on her two previous wins (for leading roles in Norma Rae and Places in the Heart), but also on her nearly 50 years in the business.

Part 1
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Part 2
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Screenwriter David Magee earned his second adapted screenplay nomination for Life of Pi (his first was for Finding Neverland). His nom is one of 11 for the story of a young man who survives a disaster at sea and hurtled into an epic journey of adventure and discovery.
(View full post to see video)

 

Among the 8 nominations racked up by Silver Linings Playbook are two nods for writer-director David O. Russell. He was a nominee for 2010′s The Fighter and has already won several awards this season for this romantic comedy. He explained his personal connection to the subject matter when he sat down with us just a few weeks ago.
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A LOOK BACK
February 7th, 2013, by Staff

“I am Essie Mae Washington-Williams, and at last I am completely free.” Those were the words used at the 2003 news conference at which Washington-Williams revealed her secret of being the mixed-race daughter of onetime segregationist Sen. Strom Thurmond.

Born in 1925 after Thurmond, then 22, had an affair with a 16-year-old Black maid who worked in his family’s Edgefield, SC, home, she kept in touch with her famous father, even though he never publicly acknowledged her.

Washington-Williams passed away February 4, 2013 in Columbia, SC at age 87.

She sat down with us twice: In our inaugural 2004 season, shortly after her riveting press conference, and again in 2005, to talk about her then-new autobiography, Dear Senator: A Memoir by the Daughter of Strom Thurmond. Read the transcripts of our engaging conversations here.

STAFF & GUEST BLOG
January 14th, 2013, by Staff

Kudos to our 2012 guests who took home 2013 Golden Globes: Don Cheadle; Kevin Costner; Damian Lewis; and Jay Roach. And, check out our roundup of their visits with us, which includes conversations about their award-winning projects.

Don Cheadle – February 21, 2012
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A TELEVISION SERIES – COMEDY OR MUSICAL (Marty Kaan in House of Lies)

The co-exec producer of and actor in Showtime’s House of Lies shares what it’s like to play a character that was not written explicitly for a Black man.
(View full post to see video)

 

Kevin Costner – May 24-25, 2012
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A MINI-SERIES OR MOTION PICTURE MADE FOR TELEVISION (“Devil” Anse Hatfield in Hatfields & McCoys)
In a two-night conversation, the two-time Oscar winner reflects on his body of work and the moment he fully committed to becoming a thespian and discloses the one thing he feels people would envy of him.
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In part two, Costner discusses his role in the History channel’s first scripted miniseries, Hatfields & McCoys, and his band’s companion CD.

(View full post to see video)

 

Damian Lewis – May 4, 2012
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A TELEVISION SERIES –- DRAMA (Nicholas Brody in Homeland)
The British actor reflects on portraying American history in Band of Brothers and weighs in on President Obama’s comment on his latest star vehicle, Showtime’s Peabody Award-winning drama series, Homeland.
(View full post to see video)

 

Jay Roach – March 2, 2012
BEST MINI-SERIES OR MOTION PICTURE MADE FOR TELEVISION (Game Change)

The director and producer of Game Change, the HBO dramatization of the 2008 presidential campaign, talks about VP candidate Sarah Palin and whether the filmmakers “went soft” on Sen. John McCain.
(View full post to see video)

STAFF & GUEST BLOG
January 14th, 2013, by Staff

Nearly 50 million Americans live in poverty, which means that more than 16% of our fellow citizens are struggling to survive. For children, that number is 20%–and, worst of all, for African Americans, the figure is nearly 26%. With all the talk of a slow recovery from the deepest recession since the U.S. depression, there doesn’t seem to be much good news for the country’s poor.

It’s against the stark backdrop of these numbers that we broadcast three nights of a special conversation on poverty. “Vision for a New America: A Future Without Poverty” examines one of the most important, but often-forgotten issues of our time. Panelists discussed proven solutions on how government officials can contain the wildfire of American poverty.

Guests included: Mariana Chilton, director of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities and associate professor of Drexel University’s School of Public Health; Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of National Nurses United; Rep. Marcia L. Fudge (D-OH); Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House; John D. Graham, dean, Indiana University School of Public & Environmental Affairs and author of America’s Poor and the Great Recession; Jonathan Kozol, author of Fire in the Ashes: Twenty-Five Years Among the Poorest Children in America; Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University; and Cornel West, Union Theological Seminary professor and author.

Watch our discussion on ways to aggressively address the economic crisis in the U.S. by refusing to abandon those Americans most in need—the perennially poor and the new poor—the country’s former middle class.

STAFF & GUEST BLOG
December 12th, 2012, by Guest Blogger

BY DR. LINDA BRADLEY

This year, take on an oath and pledge. Annually, we all make resolutions usually related to our financial, spiritual, educational or physical health. I want you to think about your most important possession: your health. It’s the most important asset that you possess, and it trumps everything else in life. Healthy individuals make stronger communities. It’s just as simple as that.

Are you digging your grave with your fork?

Each of us can improve our lifestyle choices on a daily basis. How? By making conscious choices about what you select to put in your body. What’s in your refrigerator or handbag? Real food or junk food? Are you consuming too much alcohol? Each week, write down one new healthy resolution that you would like to accomplish. Sure it sounds like homework; but, putting your thoughts on paper and checking off your accomplishments are more often associated with success than just daydreaming about your goals.

Each of us can be the cure. You can cure or modify your risk for premature death and disability by: exercising, losing weight, controlling hypertension, stop smoking, wearing a seat belt and managing stress. It is as simple as that. Seventy percent of health care dollars are spent on diseases related to obesity, smoking and diabetes—almost all of which are controlled by individual choices.

When it comes to eating and losing weight, Michael Pollan sums it up best with seven simple and liberating words: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. Since reading his best-selling book, In Defense of Food, I have changed my eating habits one meal at a time.

How does this doctor want you to become an empowered patient?

Eat home cooked food more often. Make enough so that you can have it for lunch. Not only will you save tons of money, but you will cook with less salt, fat and sugar than in a similar meal eaten at a fast food or chain restaurant.

Don’t eat standing up. Stop eating in your car; rather eat at a table and not in front of a TV. Chew your food more slowly. Why? When you are distracted, you eat 50% more than when you are aware of what you are eating.

Don’t drink your calories. Did you know that each twelve ounce can of Coca Cola has 10-12 teaspoons of sugar? Eating an orange rather than drinking orange juice is actually healthier for you. Because fruit has loads of fiber, less calories and great phytonutrients compared to juice. Fiber makes you fill fuller longer, decreases the hunger urge and will add fewer inches to your waistline.

Eat four servings of fruit and five servings of vegetables daily. I mean fruit in its own skin. Fruit with curves. Apples, oranges, bananas, pineapples, berries or any fruit in season. If you can’t get fresh fruit, buy it frozen. Read the package label, and only purchase frozen fruits and vegetables without added sugar or salt. Frozen fruits and vegetables are picked at the height of the season and have high vitamin content. During the winter months, I always keep a piece of fruit in my car. After a long day at work and long commute home, eating a pear or apple on the way home keeps me from feeling ravenous when I walk into my house.

Dig out of the grave, forkful by forkful. Make a conscious choice of what to put in your body. These choices embody the essence of taking care of self: self-care reform. Do for yourself what government, doctors, religious community or friends can not do for you. Make the extra effort to learn more ways to become healthy, including learning to cook. Self-care reform means you choose to make an old family recipe more nutritious by trying a new spice or condiment that enhances flavor, thereby using less oil and fat. My collard greens recipe will fool the oldest great-grandmother alive. It’s healthy and fat and meat free:

Dr. Bradley’s Mean, Lean, Collard Greens

Ingredients
¼ cup vegetable stock to sauté the onions, mushrooms and garlic
2 large yellow onions coarsely chopped = about 3 cups
2 cups sliced white button mushrooms (about 1 small package = 6 oz)
12 garlic cloves sliced thin
1 tablespoon chipotle in adobe (comes in a small can, just use one chipotle and 1 tsp of the sauce). Do not use the whole can of the fiery peppers. This is spicy. Save the rest for up to 2 months in a Ziploc bag and put in a freezer.
¼ cup cider vinegar
4 tablespoons of smoked paprika, divided
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1½ cups vegetable stock (can use from a can); may need more to keep collard greens moist as they cook
4 tablespoons black strap molasses
5 pounds (about 4-5 bunches) collard greens, cleaned, off the stem and rough chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, heat the vegetable stock on medium heat. Add the onions and mushrooms, sauté for about 6-7 minutes or until the onions are wilted. Then add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the chipotle, 3 tablespoons of smoked paprika, vinegar, soy sauce, vegetable stock and molasses. Stir about 2-3 minutes.

Then stir in the greens, a third at a time, pressing the greens down as they start to wilt, and stir now and then. Cover them as they cook. Cook on medium heat. Add more vegetable stock to keep moist. Cook the greens, covered, for about 45 minutes. Add one tablespoon of smoked paprika, salt and pepper and cook another 5-10 minutes.

Enjoy—it’s even better the next day!

Self-care reform means that you choose what to put on your fork. Forkful by forkful you will see a difference in your health. Advocacy begins with you. Personally speak to the owners of your local grocer and request that more fresh, local, seasonal fruits and vegetables be stocked in the produce aisle. Boycott stores that don’t listen to your requests.

Finally, self-care reform means that you will share your new wisdom with your friends and family. Self-care reform is transformative. Taste it…you’ll like it.

Dr. Linda Bradley Dr. Linda Bradley is a renowned surgeon who serves as the vice chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Cleveland Clinic. She is also the founder of a program aimed at women of color called “Celebrate Sisterhood.”

SEEN & HEARD
October 13th, 2012, by Carla Amurao

We’re quickly approaching the 2012 presidential elections, and with that comes a lot of topics for debate. We were lucky enough to have political guests Ari Berman and Phyllis Bennis shed some insight on such issues as supposed voter fraud and foreign policy, respectively.

A majority of the population can agree that America can always work harder to be better–something economist Jeffrey Sachs can attest to. Guests T.I. and Sheila Bair also discuss persevering and bettering oneself.

We can only better ourselves with attaining more and more knowledge–we can take a page from NOVA scienceNow host David Pogue‘s book and branch out into something else completely different. (Speaking of doing something different, imagine Pretty in Pink actor Andrew McCarthy being a travel writer!) Or, we can take the knowledge we’ve learned from the ground up to create something of our own, in our own way, much like filmmaker Ava DuVernay. Or, on the other hand, we can take our knowledge and share it with the world through our passions, like pianist Lang Lang.

All in all, our goal as individuals, and in effect, a unified country, is to get better for a brighter future, as writer Joan Walsh suggests. That way, we can become more grateful for what we have…which is something actor Ethan Hawke can find in every facet of his job.

Check out the gallery featuring some of October 2012′s guests.

All images by Van Evers, Tavis Smiley Media, Inc.

SEEN & HEARD
October 12th, 2012, by Carla Amurao

Here’s a roundup of the guests that graced the couch on the Tavis Smiley set in September 2012.

Coming on the heels of the big presidential election, we had some political guests and some actors who commented on politics as well.

From actors, to TV hosts, musicians and actors-turned-teachers, we had them all. Check out the Seen & Heard gallery below, featuring guitarist Ry Cooder; singer-songwriters Dwight Yoakam and Wyclef Jean; journalist Hedrick Smith and Washington Post managing editor, Chris Cillizza; actors Jeremy Irons, Richard Gere, Jamie Lee Curtis, Penny Marshall and Elizabeth Banks; TV host Iyanla Vanzant; author Salman Rushdie; and actor-turned-teacher, Tony Danza.

All images by Van Evers, Tavis Smiley Media, Inc.

 

SEEN & HEARD
October 12th, 2012, by Carla Amurao

The guest highlights for August 2012 illustrated the different facets of one thing: humanity.

TV host Jeff Foxworthy and actress Melanie Lynskey show us that there are different ways to demonstrate faith–whether it’s faith in oneself or in a higher power.

War veteran Brian Castner shows that, even in a war zone, he can feel compassion for others.

Filmmaker Daniel Wolff and writer Ruben Martinez discuss resilience and hope.

And, closing out this installment of Seen & Heard, actor Keanu Reeves discusses the artist’s ambition, and actress Kyra Sedgwick shares her thoughts on acceptance and politics.

All images by Van Evers, Tavis Smiley Media, Inc.

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