SEEN & HEARD
January 27th, 2012, by Staff

Each week, we will bring you sights and sounds from our studio as guests sit in the chair to have a conversation with Tavis.

Our inaugural “Seen and Heard” is a special one, as it includes an image and quote from Tavis’ 2007 conversation with soul singer Etta James, who recently passed away in Los Angeles.

Check out images of and quotes from Sean Penn, Etta James, Terrence Howard, Kathleen Turner and Seal.

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

 

STAFF & GUEST BLOG
January 23rd, 2012, by Guest Blogger

January is National Mentoring Month. In honor of the occasion, we take a look at mentoring organization, WriteGirl.

BY KARI ADWELL

Current WriteGirl mentees. Photo by Thomas Hargis.

This is my first year working as a staff member and writing mentor for WriteGirl – a creative writing and mentoring organization for teen girls, ages 13-18.

Every week, more than 75 professional women writers work one-on-one with girls on creative writing projects.

Every month, WriteGirl hosts a creative writing workshop for over 150 girls and professional women writers in all genres, including poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, songwriting, journalism, screenwriting, playwriting, persuasive writing, journal-writing, editing and more.

Every year, WriteGirl publishes an anthology of outstanding work, compiled throughout the school year, by both the mentees and their mentors.

On Sunday, January 15th,  we launched our award-winning, 10-year anniversary anthology, Intensity. In this new book, more than 140 teen girls and women writers from the L.A. area share their creative stories, poetry, lyrics, novel excerpts and perspectives.

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Menudo

“I know this girl. Her name
is Joanna, Mexican-Honduran
Beauty Queen, mother of one at fourteen
I know this girl. She made me chorizos,
she introduced me to my first pupusa,
she was the first girl I kissed.
I know her; she’s walking up right now
in a skin-tight black V-neck, skinny jeans
and Vans, eyeliner, a precise silhouette of her
top lid. I know Iris, palms sweaty,
hair crinkled with Aquanet hairspray and mousse.
I know mi hermana, my tan sister, a subdued,
superb shade of brown. I know Coralia, she
has Jose tattooed on her neck, her Baby Daddy, her love.
I know Barbie/Eeyore/Droopy/Bianca/Flaca/
Skittles, I know how R’s roll off her tongue,
I know the sound of one dollar rosaries
hitting her chest, I know the click clack
clang bang of her silver hoops, I know her.
She is my best friend; she is my childhood confidante.
She is old news, new tears.
Forgotten girl, formed by corroding,
rooftops, infantile screams,
menudo and premature motherhood.”

- J. Curtis, age 15 (excerpt from Intensity)

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We are going, boldly, into our 11th season with many awards under our belt and a 100% success rate of our senior girls going to college!

On a personal note, our girls continue to be an endless inspiration to me. Shining when they read aloud, they find a place in the world.

Current WriteGirl mentees and alumna. Photo by Thomas Hargis.

When we held our mentee interview day in November, I was so pleased to see the girls come in, sit down, take an object to write about and work quietly. They were respectful of one another’s space and, when it came time to read their work, they all listened patiently, applauding when each reader concluded.

It gives me chills to recount that experience, for we have all been young, awkward teens, competing for space, and we all know how girls can be exceedingly cruel; however, there is something about WriteGirl that inspires camaraderie and human appreciation like I have never seen before. I dare say it is like they are on sacred ground.

Kids want guidance. They need mentors. No matter how much they may look at you like you are crazy, when their friends aren’t looking they will soften and say things like, “Is this good enough? I want to make sure it’s right.” To which I respond, “I let that question hold me back from experiencing my own writing for a long, long time. I don’t want you to fall into the same trap. There is no right, and there is no good enough. There is only what is right for YOU. If it comes out of YOU, it is right, and it is always good enough.”

This was a specific incident. The girl was a talented writer with beautiful penmanship and a want in her eyes to express herself.  To be heard. All she needed was a little cajoling.

And, most times, a little cajoling is all it takes. It is amazing how quickly the girls can go from being reticent, hiding behind their journals and saying they don’t have anything to say, to having a (friendly) rap battle across the room. I have seen it take less than 20 minutes! And THAT makes mentoring fun and rewarding for us all.

Mentoring has changed my life for the better. I found WriteGirl by doing a Volunteer Match search. If you  feel you have any wisdom to impart or just time to give someone an ear, I highly suggest being a mentor. You’ll be glad you did it.

Happy Mentoring Month!

Kari Adwell is the Events Coordinator at WriteGirl. She mentors (when time allows) with the In-Schools program offered by WriteGirl at Camp Scudder in Santa Clarita, CA. She is also an essayist and aspiring screenwriter. She too loves to read aloud. [Photo by Brad Carter Photography.]

STAFF & GUEST BLOG
January 19th, 2012, by Staff

Welcome to our 9th season on PBS!

The first week of Season 9 is off to a wonderful start, with our recent three-part “Remaking America” panel discussion and two full nights of our conversation with Academy Award-winning actor and tireless human rights activist Sean Penn.

In addition to our Season 9 launch, we’ve got fresh digs, as our show is now housed in L.A.’s state-of-the-art Encompass Digital Media Studios, just minutes from downtown Los Angeles.

On-set photo. Encompass Digital Media Studios. Photo courtesy: Van Evers, Tavis Smiley Media, Inc.

Photo courtesy: Van Evers, Tavis Smiley Media, Inc.

Hope you’ve been watching this week and will continue to tune in each night throughout the season.

And remember, as always, episodes are available on our site the day after they have aired on your local PBS station.

PRIMER
January 17th, 2012, by Staff

Photo by: Seher Sikander for Rehes Creative, WikiMedia Commons

Airdate(s) | January 19-20, 2012

Hometown | Santa Monica, California

Parents | Actress Eileen Ryan, Director Leo Penn

Awards and honors | The two-time Academy Award-winning actor (Mystic River and Milk) and critically acclaimed director (Into the Wild) was named ambassador at large to Haiti by Laurent Lamothe, the Haitian Minister of Foreign and Religious Affairs, in January 2012.

Political and social activism | The veteran actor is a dogged political activist, who was critical of the Bush administration and drew criticism for meetings with Cuban and Venezuelan leaders. Penn co-founded the J/P Haitian Relief Organization after the devastating 2010 earthquake.

The mission of J/P Haitian Relief Organization:

[P]roviding emergency medical and primary care services, delivering badly needed medical equipment and medicine, rubble removal facilitating community regeneration, management of Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps, distributing food and water purification systems, improving communication systems, and developing housing and education facilities.

Penn also used his Academy Award acceptance speech for Milk – the 2008 film in which he portrayed slain San Francisco politician Harvey Milk – to speak out about gay rights:

I think that it is a good time for those who voted for the ban against gay marriage to sit and reflect and anticipate their great shame and the shame in their grandchildren’s eyes if they continue that way of support. We’ve got to have equal rights for everyone.

Selection of performances and projects

Actor
1981 Taps
1982 Fast Times at Ridgemont High
1983 Bad Boys
1984 Racing With the Moon
1985 The Falcon and the Snowman
1986 At Close Range
1988 Colors
1989 Casualties of War
1990 State of Grace
1993 Carlito’s Way
1995 Dead Man Walking (Academy Award nomination for Best Actor)
1997 The Game
1997 She’s So Lovely
1997 U-Turn
1998 Hurlyburly
1998 The Thin Red Line
1999 Sweet and Lowdown (Academy Award nomination for Best Actor)
2000 Up in the Villa
2000 Before Night Falls
2000 The Weight of Water
2001 I Am Sam (Academy Award nomination for Best Actor)
2003 Mystic River (Academy Award for Best Actor)
2003 21 Grams
2004 The Assassination of Richard Nixon
2005 The Interpreter
2006 All the King’s Men
2008 Milk (Academy Award for Best Actor)
2010 Fair Game
2011 The Tree of Life

Director
1991 The Indian Runner
1995 The Crossing Guard
2001 The Pledge
2007 Into the Wild

What is your favorite Sean Penn film or television performance? Share your thoughts below.

PRIMER
January 17th, 2012, by Staff

Welcome to Season 9 of Tavis Smiley on PBS. Each week, we will use the “Primer” to highlight the works of one or more of our upcoming guests, including their films, books, albums and television projects.

We intend for the lists to be collaborative, so please add your favorites if we do not include them, or tell us why one or more of the works on our list has captured your heart or mind.

First up, Sean Penn.

STAFF & GUEST BLOG
November 21st, 2011, by Guest Blogger

BY TOM FIELDS-MEYER

How should parents react when they discover that a child faces significant challenges? When mothers and fathers learn that a young son or daughter suffers from a developmental disorder or serious illness, they find themselves in an unanticipated moment of crisis—one for which they can hardly prepare.

My wife Shawn and I faced that very predicament when our son Ezra was a toddler and began to show signs of what turned out to be autism, the neurological disorder that afflicts one in 110 U.S. children. Not yet three at the time, the second of our three sons displayed odd behaviors: he lined up toy dinosaurs in elaborate symmetrical patterns; he cocooned himself in blankets on scorching days; he avoided eye contact, and barely conversed.

In time, I came to realize that Ezra had a different kind of mind. The rules that made sense with other children simply didn’t work with him.

That was 12 years ago. Now, I’ve told the story of the remarkable lessons I learned in a decade raising my son in a new memoir—Following Ezra: What One Father Learned About Gumby, Otters, Autism, and Love from His Extraordinary Son. Rather than chronicling a battle against a disease, I aimed to describe my decision to celebrate what makes my son unique. Instead of trying to “fix” Ezra, I learned to appreciate and applaud his distinctive qualities: his passion for animated movies; his powerful attraction to animals; and his unique and refreshing ways of interacting with other people.

People expect a book about autism to be depressing, but ours is anything but a sob story. Life with Ezra is endlessly entertaining, and in our family we love to laugh, so the book recounts many of the hilarious episodes I have experienced because I’m Ezra’s dad. (One reader favorite: the time Ezra, then eight, innocently asked an obese neighbor how he got so fat. It got worse—and then better—from there.) Early on, though, it was difficult to see the humor. This excerpt from the book’s second chapter recalls my son’s early isolation and a transformative moment in the office of a family therapist we had consulted for help just before Ezra turned three.

He does not appear to be forming any friendships in his preschool class. The children are young enough that “parallel play” is typical, but Ezra still stands out for his lack of connection. Baffled about how to plan his third birthday party, Shawn invites the entire class and hires a young actress to entertain the kids with parachute games and balloon animals. But when the woman gathers the children in our living room and pulls out her guitar to begin singing, Ezra is . . . gone. I run upstairs and discover him alone in his bedroom, jumping up and down and talking to himself. As the sound of toddlers singing “She’ll Be Coming ’Round the Mountain” wafts up the stairs, I watch my son pretending to be Tigger, whom he has watched over and over on a favorite video.

“Ezra, come on down. It’s your party!” I plead.

“Hellooo! Hellooo!” he calls, not to me, but to nobody—to himself, or perhaps to the Winnie the Pooh in his head—as he keeps bouncing, seeming not to hear me. “Hellooo!”

It is difficult to know how to respond. This is the party we had planned for him, yet suddenly it seems entirely inappropriate for him. In fact, the whole life we had planned for him is seeming more and more inappropriate.

We discuss that one afternoon back at Ruth’s office, as Shawn and I once again try sitting on the floor, making vain efforts to engage our son in play. The harder we try to engage him, the more Ezra resists, and the more isolated he becomes. He isn’t defiant, just detached—his voice distant, his gaze diffuse.

On a maroon loveseat, I hold Shawn’s hand, silently listening to my wife, exasperated, wonder tearfully how she will ever get through to Ezra.

Ruth listens and nods with understanding.

“You have to allow yourself to grieve,” she says.

I speak up: “For what?”

“You have to let yourself grieve for the child he didn’t turn out to be.”

I let that echo in my mind.

Grieve for the child he didn’t turn out to be.

I have not spent much time with therapists. I was lucky enough to grow up in relative happiness. My parents’ marriage was strong. My family of five (like Ezra, I was the second of three sons) has always been close and nurturing. The toughest moments of my life were minor rites of passage: the deaths of my grandparents, and occasional girlfriend problems. I went from college to a successful career as a writer for newspapers and national magazines. At the right time I ran into Shawn, an old childhood friend, and we fell in love and into a strong, supportive marriage. None of that has prepared me for this.

Grieve for the child he didn’t turn out to be.

That night, I can’t sleep. Not because of Ezra. Because of Ruth. As I lie awake, I keep hearing her voice, her quiet tone, her calm delivery.

Grieve for the child he didn’t turn out to be.

And I realize something: I am not grieving. In fact, I feel no instinct to grieve. When I thought about becoming a father, when Shawn and I dreamed together and planned together and decided to start raising a family, I carried no particular notion of who our children would become. I have seen plenty of my friends over the years damaged by their own parents’ expectations and disappointments—that a girl wasn’t a boy; that a younger child didn’t measure up to an older one; that a child didn’t want to be a doctor after all. Perhaps because of that, or perhaps because of some glitch in my own wiring, I didn’t carry any conscious notion of what my children would be like—whether they would be girls or boys, tall or short, conventional or a little bit odd.

I planned only to love them.

The next week, when we visit Ruth, I tell her that.

“I don’t feel that way,” I say. “I’m not going to grieve.”

I am sure she thinks that I am deluding myself. I know the truth. That one statement has done more good for me than all of the play therapy, than all of the listening, all of the advice. It has forced me to find and bring out something within myself. I feel full of love—for the boy who lines up the dinosaurs on the porch, for the child pretending to be Tigger in his bedroom, for the little one I carried and sang to in the first minutes of his life. My answer will never be to mourn. It will be to pour love on my son, to celebrate him, to understand, to support him, and to follow his lead.

Joanna Wilson Photography

 

Tom Fields-Meyer is a Los Angeles writer and journalist who blogs at www.followingezra.com. This passage is excerpted from Following Ezra: What One Father Learned About Gumby, Otters, Autism, and Love from His Extraordinary Son.

 

 

STAFF & GUEST BLOG
October 7th, 2011, by Staff

“Anger is like liquid. It’s fluid. It’s like water. You put it in a container and it takes the shape of that container,” says Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee on our show this week. “We took our anger and put it into a peaceful container…That anger, in that peaceful container, propelled us.”

Today, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded jointly to Gbowee, Yemeni women’s rights activist Tawakkul Karma and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf – the first woman to win a free election in Africa.

The Nobel committee chose these women “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.”

Both Gbowee and President Johnson Sirleaf have appeared on our show. Be sure to watch our conversations with them below and share your thoughts.

(View full post to see video)

(View full post to see video)

STAFF & GUEST BLOG
September 21st, 2011, by Staff

This companion e-book to the Tavis Smiley Reports primetime special—which examines the staggering dropout rate among young Black males—picks up where the broadcast leaves off, with expanded discussion and resources needed to harness concern into collective and effective action. The volume is available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.

STAFF & GUEST BLOG
August 13th, 2011, by Jeremy Freed

If you’ve heard of Barbara Ehrenreich, the National Magazine Award-winning American journalist, human rights activist and renowned muckraker, it’s probably related to her 2001 book, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. To expose the terrible living and working conditions of America’s legions of working poor, Ehrenreich spent months traversing the country, working as a hotel maid, waitress, nursing home aide, housecleaner and Wal-Mart salesperson, while trying (with varying degrees of success) to live on the money these minimum-wage jobs brought in.

The book was a huge hit, becoming a New York Times best seller and garnering praise from across the nation. Ehrenreich has been busy since, writing books about the polarization of American politics and the surprisingly negative effect of positive thinking on our culture, but now, ten years after Nickel and Dimed, she returns to the subject once again, discovering that things are largely much worse for America lowest wage earners.

In a recent essay on Salon, How America turned poverty into a crime, Ehrenreich turns a hard gaze on the laws and institutions that are, effectively, making it a crime to be poor during one of the worst recessions in American history. Indeed, while the people in her book struggled to feed and house themselves and their families ten years ago, it was during a time of great prosperity for the rest of America. Now, things have gotten much, much worse.

According to Ehrenriech, as many as 29% of American families could be living in poverty, and thanks to laws that treat these mostly hard-working people like criminals, it has become an even more difficult cycle to escape. Check out the piece on Salon. Ehrenreich is one of the best voices on the side of the working poor in American journalism, and she needs to be heard.

 

 

 

 

STAFF & GUEST BLOG
July 27th, 2011, by Staff

This week, production for Tavis Smiley on PBS began its annual hiatus. Tavis will use the month-long break to not only get some much-needed rest and continue his Foundation’s annual Leadership Institute in Los Angeles, but also to kick off a 15-city national Poverty Tour to raise awareness about the plight of the poor.

Did somebody say something about Tavis getting some much-needed rest?

Our Web site staff did manage to track him down for a few summer reading recommendations. Because Tavis has conversations with so many authors on his television and radio shows, we were curious to know which books he thought we should add to our summer reading lists.

Check out his recommendations below, and be sure to watch his conversation with each author. Tell us what you’re reading this summer as well!

1) The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot
This literary phenomenon and New York Times best seller is the story of a poor Black woman whose cancerous cells were used for science without her permission.

“I think that the story had been told over and over in little magazine articles and newspaper articles, and it was always the same little nugget of the story – this one woman’s cells taken without her knowledge – became this important thing in medicine,” says Skloot. “Nobody really saw much; what the story’s about is her family. That moment in history, it’s ethically complicated, but it was really common to take cells without people’s knowledge in the ’50s.”
Watch the full conversation

2) Area 51: An Uncensored History of America’s Top Secret Military Base, by Annie Jacobsen
Jacobsen’s New York Times best seller addresses what is happening at the Nevada air force base and attempts to explain what could be so secretive that U.S. presidents are denied entrance.

According to Jacobsen, “You’ve got all kinds of government presence in the desert, none of which the government will talk about what’s going on there. They still, to this day, will not officially say that Area 51 exists.”
Watch the full conversation

3) Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned, by John Farrell
Focusing on iconic American, Clarence Darrow, Farrell brings to life one of this country’s grandest defense lawyers.

“He had this amazing sense of empathy and compassion,” Farrell says. “When given the choice between taking one route, making a lot of money and joining corporate America or doing something like defending an indigent person who was really stuck, Darrow would come, time and time again, on behalf of … the damned in American life.”
Watch the full conversation

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