July 1st, 2010, by ROBERT PHILLIPS

What makes a community healthy?

That was the question posed to teenagers by Youth UpRising in Oakland, CA. The mostly African-American youth responded that it is a place where bullets don’t fly, where their friends are not buried before they’re old enough to vote, where there are fewer liquor stores than there are grocery stores.

Their answers spoke directly to the findings in new research released this week from The California Endowment that found African-American and Latino boys and young men are more likely to experience poor health outcomes as their white counterparts.

For instance, Latino boys and young men are more than four times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than their white peers. Young African-American men are 16 times more likely to die from homicides than young white men.

While these findings aren’t new, what is new is the evidence that points to a dramatic link between poor health and the neighborhoods where these boys live, play and go to school.

Why does place matter?

If you grow up in a neighborhood where you’re not safe, where your school is failing you, and where the nearest park or grocery store is miles away, then you are far more likely to live a shorter life, to earn less money, to be a party or victim of violence. In short, you are far less likely to be healthy.

This is an all-too-common reality for far too many of California’s boys and young men of color.

Yet, when young men suffer from the trauma of growing up in their neighborhoods, their symptoms are interpreted as a sign that they are delinquents or sociopaths, instead of what they truly are: signs of poor physical and emotional health.

Unfortunately, the very institutions that are supposed to help young men succeed in life and stay on track fail them by taking punitive approaches that end up doing more harm than good.

A growing body of research has identified alternative approaches that make it clear that the unequal chances that boys and men of color face are not immutable. 

Place and policy matter. A lot. Particularly policies that encourage community-based solutions that involves the cooperation of all of the institutions that touch and influence these boys’ lives.

The California Endowment is working to do its part with a 10-year strategic agenda — Building Healthy Communities — aimed at improving health outcomes for all Californians, including boys and young men of color, by creating neighborhoods that support health. True to the report findings, a big part of our strategy involves focusing locally on California communities, from Oakland to Fresno to Los Angeles.

If we want strong and thriving communities, we have to make sure that all of the community is healthy. This means that we have to be willing to include boys and young men in our efforts to clean the air we breathe, improve the quality of the food where we shop, and make getting to school or work safer and cheaper.

When we change the place, we change the boy — and the man he’ll grow up to be.

Robert Phillips is the Director of Health and Human Services for The California Endowment.

June 21st, 2010, by
Oil burns near the site of the spill in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana.

The five-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s arrival on the Gulf Coast is just months away, and the region is grappling with one of the largest environmental disasters in American history — the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Tavis recently spoke to a former oil company executive, who analyzed BP’s handling of the crisis, a member of Congress, who discussed how the BP oil spill will affect financial regulation, and newly-elected New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

Tavis’ conversation with Landrieu came just days after the April 20 explosion and fire on the drilling rig, before Landrieu officially took office.

Be sure to watch their interviews below.

And for more on what life is like in The Big Easy today, be sure to tune into Tavis Smiley ReportsNew Orleans: Been in the Storm Too Long,” which airs Wednesday, July 21, at 8/7c.

Former Shell Oil President John Hofmeister
“This is a tragedy. This is an environmental disaster. But to shut down the entire industry as if they are all guilty of the same human factor misjudgment that may have led to this particular accident I think is premature and ill-advised. So we have to have both more energy to keep our economy going and we need to have safety and reliability.”
Watch interview


Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA)
“Democrats have to understand that that MMS, that office, Mineral Management Service, truly needs to be divided and I know they’re about to do it, but how could they ever have permitted over the years past to let oil companies fill out the inspection forms? How could they permit them to have $80 billion in tax loopholes?”
Watch interview


New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu
“It continues to highlight to the nation how important our economic security and national security is based on the drilling that we do here, which goes to the issue of the coast…It’s very important that if we’re going to drill, we do so safely and that we protect…the places where the people in the southern part of the country live.
Watch interview


June 17th, 2010, by PETER J. HOTEZ

Most Americans are surprised to learn that the most common causes of illnesses among poor people living in the Western Hemisphere are caused by a group of parasitic infections known collectively as the neglected tropical diseases or “NTDs.”
Worldwide, approximately one billion people live on either no money or next to no money — below the World Bank poverty figure of US$1.25 per day. Most of these people are the families of subsistence farmers and urban slum dwellers. Approximately 100 million of the “bottom billion” live in the Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) region; most of them are likely either African Americans or Native Americans (indigenous populations).

Recent studies published in the Public Library of Science have shown that most of the bottom 100 million living in the LAC region are afflicted with one or more NTDs. For instance, almost all are infected with parasitic whipworms — a condition known as trichuriasis — which is associated with colitis and other forms of inflammatory bowel disease. Approximately 50 million people living in poverty have hookworms, which cause intestinal blood loss; 2-7 million people have schistosomiasis — a parasitic worm infection associated with flatworms in the blood vessels, while almost one million people have lymphatic filariasis, also known as elephantiasis, a disfiguring condition of the limbs and genitals. The health consequences of these huge numbers of poor people infected with NTDs is significant.
Our studies indicate that even though the NTDs are not well known by the lay community or even by many health care providers, their chronic disabling health impact actually exceeds much better known conditions such as HIV/AIDS. Moreover, the NTDs have been shown to actually cause poverty because of their ability to impair child development and intellect (hookworm reduces future wage earning by 40% or more), worker productivity, and pregnancy outcome. Indeed, the NTDs represent a stealth reason why the bottom 100 million in LAC cannot escape poverty.
Where did the NTDs come from? Based on recorded history, the NTDs were introduced into the LAC region, especially in Brazil and the sugar plantations of the Caribbean, through the Atlantic slave trade. Through 400 years of the Middle Passage, the NTDs previously and currently endemic to West Africa established in the LAC region. The medical historian Todd Savitt, as well as my colleagues at the CDC and the Pan American Health Organization, have pointed out that the NTDs also represent a historic legacy of slavery.
The good news is that today we can forever wipe out some of these legacies of slavery through low-cost treatments, which can be provided on an annual basis. In many cases, the treatments delivered through mass drug administration can be provided for only 50 cents a person per year. For that purpose we have established the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases to provide large scale support for NTDs treatments.
In the LAC region, these treatments are delivered through a hemisphere-wide initiative supported jointly with the Inter-American Development Bank and the Pan American Health Organization. In addition, we have established mechanisms for treating the poorest people in sub-Saharan Africa where the greatest number of people with NTDs live.
What about the United States? No surprise to anyone, the U.S. still has major pockets of poverty in areas such as the Mississippi Delta and our inner cities. Today, millions of African Americans who live in these areas also suffer from parasitic infections — we call them neglected infections of poverty or NIoPs — although they differ from the ones in the LAC region. For instance, an estimated 3 million African Americans, mostly children, suffer from toxocariasis — a parasitic worm infection associated with asthma and developmental delays — while almost a million African American women have trichomoniasis in their genital tract. Many Hispanic Americans living in poverty also suffer from Chagas disease associated with heart defects and cysticercosis — a brain parasitic infection associated with seizures.

Dr. Peter Hotez is president of the Sabin Vaccine Institute and Distinguished Research Professor at The George Washington University. He is also the author of “Forgotten People, Forgotten Diseases.”

June 10th, 2010, by JENNIFER LONDON

Along a dusty highway, 18 miles or so outside of Caracas, Venezuela, you’ll see the gates of La Villa del Cine. It’s not a prison. It’s not a strip mall. It’s a movie studio that looks, well, like a prison or a strip mall. But La Villa isn’t just any movie studio, it’s the movie studio in Venezuela; created, funded and run by President Hugo Chavez’s government. The official slogan of the state-run studio: Lights! Cameras! Revolution! Look out Hollywood — this is Hugowood!

In a country where nearly everything is controlled by the government, including the media, Hugowood appears to be Chavez’s last endeavor to control the minds of the masses, this time, through the magic of movies. The government controls all aspects of La Villa, from script approval to the movie’s promotion and premiere.

And while the studio doesn’t look like much from the outside — two large, boxy buildings sit low on the horizon blending in with the gray, sparse landscape — Hugowood is a source of pride for Chavez’s government and they were more than happy to show it off.

My tour guide was a perky little woman, from the P.R. department, who didn’t speak any English. Still she knew the names of a few Hollywood A-listers and quickly rattled off Danny Glover and Kevin Spacey — apparently name dropping is just as important at Hugowood as it is in Hollywood.

First stop on the tour was one of the two sound stages. My name-dropping tour guide tells me, through my producer (who is expertly also playing role of interpreter), that almost all of the movies from La Villa have been filmed here. But nothing was happening — both sound stages were empty, the back-lot was deserted and the only cameras rolling were ours. Same story in the carpenter’s shop, the upholstery shop and the costume department.  

In fact, I saw more mangy dogs roaming around than movie directors. Not to worry, my tour guide tells me, nothing is being filmed right now, so you’re not missing anything. But it sure feels like I am. Where are all of the Lights? Cameras? Revolution?

Oil money and booming economy helped bankroll Hugowood in 2006, but times are very different now, and the studio isn’t immune. Last year, Hugowood only released two films compared to 14 in 2006.

Chavez has said Hugowood is his answer to what he calls the dictatorship of Hollywood.
But Venezuelan filmmaker, Jonathan Jakubowicz, likens Hugowood to a major box office bomb.

“They created all this infrastructure for propaganda movies that has been a complete disaster,” he told me during an interview at his loft in Los Angeles, where he now lives full-time. ” I mean, first of all, you see movies that cost $4 million, which for us is a fortune and are being watched by 7,000 people. Nobody wants to be told the government is great when you go to a movie theater.”

In 2005, Jakubowicz directed and produced the independent thriller Secuestro Express. The movie tells the story of an express kidnapping in Caracas, shining an unflattering spotlight on crimes and corruption on the streets of the capitol. It was distributed nationwide in Venezuela by Miramax and, in a matter of weeks, the film generated a record 2.4 million dollars at the box office — making it the country’s highest grossing movie of all time, beating the Venezuelan releases of Passion of the Christ and Titanic. The film not only struck a nerve with audiences, it got the attention of Chavez’s government — and not in a good way.

“The vice president of Venezuela started talking about the movie, saying it’s a miserable film with no artistic value. Everybody started attacking the movie, attacking me,” Jakubowicz told me. “Then a lawyer sued me and was asking for 6 to 10 years of jail for portraying the authorities under a negative light and promoting the use of drugs. And then Chavez, in his state of the union address, said that he didn’t understand why I was still roaming the streets in freedom. That was at 9 a.m. And at 12 a.m. I was flying out of the country.”

Jakubowicz tells me that Hugowood was created in response to the runaway success of his film.

“When we released our movie, there were no government movies. They started making movies because of my movie. It was sort of a response because they were like ‘wow, so a movie can be this successful, maybe we should get into movies,’ he said. “So they never realized that movies could be part of their propaganda machine. Here goes this little guy, makes a small little Venezuelan movie and it beats Titanic? You know their dream is to beat Hollywood.”

Is Hugowood a legitimate endeavor to further the arts in Venezuela and put the country on the movie-making map, or is it the ultimate propaganda machine?

Jennifer London is an award-winning broadcast journalist who is currently working as a correspondent for World Report on HDNet. Her report on Venezuela’s ‘Hugowood’ will air on World Report, Tuesday, June 15. 

June 1st, 2010, by

A former Arizona state senator calls it “the second coming of the civil rights movement.” Arizona’s Pima County Sheriff calls it a “travesty.” And New Mexico’s governor calls it an “unconstitutional human rights-violating law.” They are referring to Arizona’s SB 1070 — a controversial new law that makes the failure to carry immigration documents illegal and gives police the authority to question and detain individuals suspected of being in the United States illegally.

Here’s a round-up of their recent conversations with Tavis.

Former Arizona State Senator Alfredo Gutierrez
“Some of us went directly to support President Obama because frankly we thought that the son of an immigrant, who spoke to us in such clear language, would keep his promise, would understand the courage that it would take for an issue of civil rights to be resolved in America. It only comes about when men of courage, when women of courage forge that consensus, and that’s what’s lacking in this White House. What’s lacking in this administration and this presidency is the courage to forge a consensus.”
Watch interview

Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik
“If I woke up the day after this bill was passed and I was Hispanic, I would feel like somebody kicked me right square in the teeth. I would feel like I was now a second-class citizen and that I was going to be stopped any time I left my house. That is a realistic possibility. It just turned them into second-class citizens and it doesn’t make any sense, because it doesn’t accomplish anything.”
Watch interview

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson
“This is not just a law that affects Hispanics. It affects Haitians, it affects Central Americans, it affects Europeans. We need to have more family reunification with Irish, with English, with many that want to come here, but our immigration system is broken. They don’t have enough resources. It’s too bureaucratic, so a complete overhaul is what’s needed.”
Watch interview

June 1st, 2010, by RICK SANTOS

An hour before the magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck 10 miles west of Port-au-Prince on Tuesday, January 12, I had just finished a meeting at the Hotel Montana on neglected tropical diseases.

I was with two IMA World Health staffers — Sarla Chand and Ann Varghese — and we were waiting to meet three of our colleagues from another organization.

Our colleagues arrived moments before the earthquake hit, and just as the six of us were walking through the lobby we heard a huge noise. The entire building collapsed on us.

We called out to each other and realized there were five of us in an area that was about five feet wide, eight feet long and three feet high, and two of us were seriously injured. Sarla was alive and in another space close to us.

It was completely dark. That first night, it was clear that no one was going to get to us, and we also knew that Port-au-Prince was most likely in very bad shape.

We were in shock. We had no food, no water and only the light from our cell phones. We comforted one another by talking, joking and saying prayers. I constantly thought about my wife and my kids.

During one of my darkest moments, I put my passport in my shirt pocket for easy identification. In case someone found me dead, they would know who I was and who to contact.

By Thursday night, we had been under the rubble for 50 hours. It was close to 7 p.m. when the first sign of help arrived. Sarla said, “I hear voices,” and I could hear people shouting “What is your name?”


May 11th, 2010, by

Despite an ongoing and fruitful debate about the significance of American poetry in “the nation’s civic, democratic, political, and public
,” the literary art form remains an important part our show at least.

During a recent appearance, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker read a poem for Tavis — “The World Has Changed.”

So we thought we’d honor all of you poetry lovers out there by rounding up a few readings from the show.

Pulitzer Prize-winning Author Alice Walker
Excerpt from “The World Has Changed”: Wake up and smell the possibility. The world has changed. It did not change without your prayers, without your faith, without your determination to believe in liberation and kindness, without your dancing through the years that had no beat. The world has changed. It did not change without your numbers, your fierce love of self and cosmos. It did not change without your strength.
Watch interview

Poet, Playwright and Activist Sonia Sanchez
Excerpt from “10 haiku (for Max Roach)”: One. Nothing ends. Every blade of grass remembering your sound, your sound exploding in the universe. Return to Earth in prayer. As you drummed, your hands kept reaching for God. The morning sky so lovely, imitates your laughter.
Watch interview


Award-winning actor John Lithgow
Excerpt from “No Doctors Today, Thank You,” by Ogden Nash: They tell me that euphoria is the feeling of feeling wonderful. Well, today, I feel euphorian. Today I have the agility of a Greek god and the appetite of a Victorian. Yes, today I may even go forth without my galoshes. Today, I am a swashbuckler – would anybody like me to buckle any swashes?
Watch interview

Also, be sure to watch Wednesday’s show, when Tavis talks to best-selling author Isabel Allende.

May 10th, 2010, by

She was admired for her talent and activism and considered one of the most beautiful women in the world.

Praise for Lena Horne extends to the strength of her convictions, as she changed the image of African American women in Hollywood by refusing to be cast in stereotypical roles as a maid.

The 92-year-old singer, actress and activist died Sunday (Mother’s Day) at New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

Be sure to share your favorite Lena Horne songs, films, facts and anecdotes, and check out the tribute Tavis pays to Horne on tonight’s show.

May 6th, 2010, by SHEILA WILEY

Regardless of what happens in the economy, healthcare continues to be one of the most important, most popular, and fastest-growing industries.

Healthcare is one of the country’s largest industries, providing  14.3 million jobs in 2008 alone. And the industry is expected to generate 3.2 million new jobs between 2008 and 2018 — more than any other industry.

In addition, 10 of the 20 fastest-growing occupations are healthcare-related, and most positions require less than four years of college education.

Despite that, there is still a shortage of qualified workers to fill many of the available healthcare openings, and that gap is expected to worsen with time.

Even if you don’t want to be a nurse or doctor, if you’ve ever thought about getting into the healthcare field, now is the time to do so.

The healthcare industry needs all types of workers — x-ray technicians, gift shop employees, food service workers, cleaning staff, accountants and public relations professionals.

And May is a great time to learn about the industry because several healthcare professions and organizations have dedicated awareness weeks:

(May 2 – 8) North American Occupational Safety & Health Week;
(May 3 – 9) National Mental Health Counseling Week;
(May 6 – 12) National Nurses Week;
(May 9 – 15) National Nursing Home Week;
(May 9 – 15) National Hospital Week;
(May 16 – 22) National EMS Week;
(May 17 – 23) National Medical Transcriptionist Week.

Chances are, the type of job you want to pursue has a place in the healthcare field. Good luck!

Sheila Wiley is Community Relations Director for

April 27th, 2010, by
Immigrant rights activists express opposition to Arizona's law during an April 27 protest in New York.

Apparently, you can boycott an entire state if it passes a law that really makes you angry.

The target? Arizona.

The controversy? A new Arizona law that makes the failure to carry immigration documents illegal and gives police authority to question and detain individuals suspected of being in the United States illegally.

Critics have been outspoken. Protests have begun. The federal government says it may challenge the state law, which is the nation’s toughest against illegal immigration. And the backlash continues to grow.

But the backlash also now includes calls for a boycott of the Grand Canyon State.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, for instance, has banned official city travel to Arizona. Immigrant rights groups have asked baseball fans to skip Arizona Diamondbacks games. The California Senate is considering a boycott of businesses from Arizona and a Los Angeles City Council member introduced a resolution that will call for the city to “end any and all contracts with Arizona-based companies and to stop doing business with the state.”

There’s even a Boycott Arizona 2010 Facebook page.

What do you think? Do you agree with the law? Do you agree with calls for a boycott? Would you boycott the state?

Previous Posts in ‘Immigration’
VIDEO | Investigative journalist, Gabriel Thompson
BLOG  | Fast for Our Future
BLOG  | Let Us March in Unity

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