The Poverty Tour

With nearly 50 million Americans now living in poverty, “The Poverty Tour: A Call to Conscience” was the focus of five special episodes in October 2011. Each episode was devoted to video highlights from Tavis’ August 2011 18-city, 11-state poverty bus tour with his co-host on PRI’s Smiley & West radio show, Princeton professor Dr. Cornel West. Following each night’s highlights from the tour, Tavis also spoke with a leading anti-poverty advocate, including Princeton professor Dr. Cornel West, Feeding America CEO Vicki B. Escarra, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, economist Jeffrey Sachs and ethics and religion commentator Jim Wallis.

Watch Part 1 – “Suffering to Speak” – as well as Parts 2-5 below. Also be sure to check out related content and join the discussion.


Featured Content

“I Had Everything”
Part 2 of the series puts the spotlight on the new poor. Tavis also talks with Vicki B. Escarra, CEO of Feeding America.



“No Room at the Inn”
Part 3 focuses on the housing crisis. The conversation continues with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.



“Nothing Moves Without Us”
Part 4 examines jobs and the unemployment crisis. Tavis also talks with the director of Columbia’s Earth Institute and co-founder of Millennium Promise Alliance Jeffrey Sachs.


“The Fight of the Poor”
The final installment of the series looks at the movement to end poverty across the country. Tavis also talks with Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners magazine.

Inside This Feature

  • Truly Living Well Farm
    "What I witnessed firsthand during The Poverty Tour was both inspiring and heartbreaking," Tavis said after returning from the road. View images from the 18-city, 11-state bus tour and share your thoughts.
  • eauclaire_farmersmarket
    View a map of the 18 cities that The Poverty Tour visited and share your thoughts.
  • tentcity
    Watch Tavis and Dr. Cornel West visit Camp Take Notice, a tent city for some 40-50 homeless persons located just outside Ann Arbor, MI.
  • r1NcME
    When we talk about the poverty rate or families living in poverty, what definition are we using for “poverty?” That depends on which government agency is providing the measure.
  • US_PovertyRate_2000-2010
    In 2010, 46.2 million people are living in poverty, the largest number in the 52 years for which the poverty rate has been published. Check out this interactive chart, which offers a look at the growth of the poverty rate in the past 10 years.
  • truthaboutpoverty
    The poor, according to former labor secretary Robert Reich, "are regarded as people who are somehow different, either because they’re assumed to be Latin Americans or African Americans, or they are just assumed to be somewhat different." Watch the full conversation, where Reich explains why economically, America is almost two separate countries.
    According to Economist David Beckmann, the United States has persistent poverty because the political will to end poverty does not exist. Watch the conversation with Beckmann to learn what everyday Americans can do to tackle poverty in the U.S., and join the discussion.
  • Donation Box
    As of 2009, almost 15 million children are living below the poverty line in the United States. Watch this sobering conversation with the President and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation and join the discussion.
  • charity
    "The call for economic fairness may not be 'rotten economics' at all," says religion and ethics commentator Jim Wallis in this guest blog post, "but, in fact, rather good economics, as well as good morality."
  • Monica Maxwell

    I”m so glad that you are in LA.I will be attending the tour and hope that i can meet both of you.Dr. West has been so real from the first time i heard him speak.I read “Hope on a tightrope and it was the best book .I wish you well and much success.SEE YA AT THE TEMPLE los angeles. STAY LIFTED

  • Edria Fleming

    I think you should explore the state of Texas itself. From El Paso, Dallas (DFW), Houston, Austin, and Rio Grando Valley poverty In each area poverty looks different. There are so many variants of the poor. The working poor is more prevalent and are less likely to ever get any assistance such as food stamps all the while there are people who getting assistance and abuse it. It’s like a system set up for people to be poor.

  • wendell

    The fight for right must, “Persist”!

  • Deb

    Our Politicians are bought and we are becoming third world. This is God-less greed because they are working for the corporations instead of “we the people”! It’s sad.

  • m. hill

    ‘The BIG American Shame,’ I am so thrilled that someone finally is putting this out in the open for the entire world to see, including the people living right here in the USA. Millions of dollars are given to other countries suffering from poverty even since the recession which is a nicer word for depression but where is the help for the poverty that exist right here in the United States of America? Many people in this country have been unemployed for one, two, three years or more and have been forced to go underground, living with family, friends, and shelter’s or in the wilderness. No one wants to have this discussion or show this shame in the media; I think it is about time… As usual thank you very much PBS for showing this documentary and to Travis Smiley and Dr. Cornel West for spending your monies and time organizing The Poverty Tour. I hope you went into the dilapidated schools in the inner city to the deep-south and show how the American children are being uneducated and how people are living in the poverty stricken communities here in America.

  • Karen

    I am homeless. I have been since February 14th of this year. I have moved twice in the last 8 months and today was told that I must find another place to go. I have 4 children under the age of 11. One of my children is disabled. One was physically abused by his father and hospitalized and has had challenges with anger since then. Shelters are sometimes the worst possible environment for children and I have not desire to take mine there. Being that my situation didn’t seem to be getting any better, I decided to contact shelters in hopes of a place to sleep and help getting on my feet only to be told that there was no room or that I could get a mat for myself and my children and sleep on the floor and wait until a room large enough became available. I don’t want a hand out from the government, I want some assistance from my ex, their father, in helping to provide for our children!!

  • Laurie Stallings

    Thank you!! Thank you!!! Thank you!!! — for being the voice of the voiceless. Laurie Stallings

  • Willie JR Fleming

    We thank you from the Chicago Anti Eviction Campaign and a special thanks from myself. The Poverty Tour that Dr. Cornel West and Tavis Smiley has accomplished took courage,commitment,and a conscience to give a voice and visual to the world! By showing the multi-racial impact of poverty this tour has really help increase participation and unite our struggles across lines of race,class and beliefs. We are all in this together to better America and give the world a Human Rights model worthy of following! It was an honor to assist you all and we thank you for enlightening,encouraging and empowering those less fortunate. May the Creator bless all the hearts of those involved and watching, and help us all as one better this Earth that we will leave the next generations to Inherit. “Amandla Awethu” All Power to the People!
    Willie J.R. Fleming
    Chicago Anti Eviction Campaign
    National Economic Social Rights Initiative/Campaign To Restore Housing Rights
    Take Back The Land
    US Human Rights Network/Land ,Housing and Action Group

  • carol durante

    It is a shame and our government is partly responsible for this mess, because instead of giving the stimulus money to the people, they gave it to the corporations and the corporations didn’t change a thing about the way they do business and this is the end result. Such a dirty shame!!!

  • Daniel Espinosa

    I saw the episode where one woman’s house was going to be auctioned-off for $6000.00. If I had six thousand dollars I would buy it and sell it back to her for one dollar more, and carry the paper myself. And if I had thousands of six thousand dollars I would do that for thousands more. Where are our mega-churches? Help us, pastors of wealthy churches; let’s remember the 1930′s, when this is what neighbors did this for each other.

  • carol durante

    A dirty shame!!!

  • Angela D

    Thank you so much for featuring my story tonight. In May, 2011, I graduated with a Master of Science in Geography focusing in Environmental Geography. I have struggled with finding full-time work even thought I have sent out numerous applications and have yet to receive an interview for a full time position although I always have the credentials, references, and experience required for the position. I want to be an environmental policy adviser one day.

  • Marty

    First off, thanks for all that have worked on these campaigns. In a world market economy the US population will compete and have an opportunity to excel or fail. The US distribution of wealth will look like a dumbbell. The middle class was partially gutted with the manufacturing base shift to China. Talented US individuals will always find a marketable skill. (Engineers etc…)
    Too many look to the government to solve societies problems. It may be a partial solution that sometimes ends up in a disaster. Our explosive expanse of anti-poverty spending can provide a Band-Aid; but also serve as an enabler to a much deeper wound. Our public education system is a failure relative to other societies.
    Private enterprise greases the wheels for all things government. Without funding, there is no government. Feeding the government monster more cash from taxing private enterprise may kill the host; or force it to relocate in a less hostile environment.
    Perhaps it is fortunate that we are hitting spot where we can no longer blindly look to the government to solve all our problems; and increasing band together as a band of citizens. The major hurdle will be an overcoming of the PC ego-centric pride and entitlement rampant throughout society. This goes to those in the board rooms to those demanding service at the HUD offices. Judge man on the content of his character rather than the size of his wallet, color of skin or professional titles.
    Martin G.
    US Citizen

  • Joseph Desonia

    Our congress needs to eliminate the corruption caused by excessive lobbying!!!!!!! Regulate wall street, much to the dismay of special interests. Tax the super rich, at 90%, as was the rate through the 50′s, and 60′s. There must also be a way to end all the propaganda, on news broadcasting. The public needs to be aware of the facts. If news is misleading the public, they should be held accountable.

  • Hollis Boardman

    As a retired pastor, I have to say that many in the church still turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to the poverty in their community and even in their membership. The poor are silenced in the church. In the congregation I attend, the associate pastor deals with them “discretely.” Frankly, I think that is a BIG mistake. This is not a time for discretion. Being poor is nothing to be ashamed of. The rich (especially rich pastors) are the ones who should be listening and silent. Repent and believe the Gospel.

  • bruce stock

    Where can I obtain a dvd of the Poverty Tour?


  • Tamika Thompson

    Thank you for your inquiry, Bruce. There is no DVD of the recent “Poverty Tour” shows, however, all five episodes are available on our Web site –

    ~TAVIS SMILEY staff

  • deliah davis

    This is my year to speak up! I shall not be quiet in 2012!! God allowed me to be homeless so I can speak for the less fortunate. This is a dirty shame and we all have to save each other, because no one else will!!!

  • lisa

    As hard as I try, I do not understand how our USA government can hold their heads up high with the state things are in now, January 2012. Elections are coming up and all they do is old school politics…what a joke! We are supposed to be the great nation (One Nation Under God). If the people are starving, we become a starving nation…a weak nation! God HELP US!

  • Joan Bravo

    I just watched the first segment of “The Poverty Tour”. What an amazingly powerful and inspiring program. The wise words of Dr. Cornell West, and those of Mr. Smiley, have helped stoke a fire within me. The comment about our obsession with the lives of the “rich and famous” at the cost of our concern for the poor (I am sadly paraphrasing, here) really hit me hard and deep. God bless you all for this work. Please know that your hard work is truly having an impact on the lives of many people.

  • elaine baugh

    When will situation really change!! Last general election I voted for change…. but no changes Yet!!! One person cannot bring change, because the entire system needs to be changed, a total dismantling, a systematic change, wall street movement and more is needed….when will they listen to the cry of the masses…when….politicians.. do nothing, when they gain office….they psychologically play games with us..hoping we will take the bait…but the people are tired of the baits now… we ant the real food…the systematic change!!!!!!

  • kdiannestephens

    On MLK day can I ask Congress to STOP segregating and blocking any possible progress our President attempts and begin working together for lifting our country out of fiancncial ruin and poverty for the 99%

  • Lyn

    Thank you again for this series and for your continued speaking of poverty in America with your 2nd series “Remaking America”. Poverty seems to be the elephant in the room that no one wants to speak about and everyone wants to deny. Sadly, it seems as if it has only come about more in discussion since the middle class has been affected. My wish is for Congress to begin working with President Obama rather than continually fighting against him so he may get more things accomplished. We need a serious revamp of how things work in this country, because what is in place does not seem to be doing the job.

  • Mike Aldrich

    Why don’t you point out that our government gave, and still is giving, tax preference to corporations that ship jobs overseas.The loss of these jobs started the downward spiral of the economy. Then many corporations moved their headquarters overseas where the tax rate is 15% compared to 35% in the US.Billions of dollars of profit for these companies remains out of the country. Do you see a trend of what our government is doing?

  • -A

    Finally, a voice for the poor in America. I am so happy that Tavis Smiley and Cornell West have taken up this cause. Not many others’ have taken up this cause because there is no money in it for them but what they fail to realize is that what you give, you will get back 10 fold. I just hope that Tavis Smiley and Cornel West don’t give up on the cause. We need them and we need solutions!

  • Deborah Gardner

    I Hear, I Pray, I Hope, But I have my doubts about any real movement against poverty actually happening. Because of peoples idea that a single mom is suppose to do it all, by herself, also, that the poor, are poor by choice, through laziness. Communities and churches never help, they hurt the very one’s in need. My husband abandoned me and his infant son in 4/96, and our lives has slowly deteriorated thereafter. I fell out of the work force 12 years ago due to health problems and I didn’t qualify for medicaid because I make too much money of $7140.00 year from child support. So for the past 12 years we have survived on (seven thousand) a year. How? we do WITHOUT, keep utilities low and other spending and I do get $285mo in food assistance. Our power has been turned off twice now. once for 3 months and again 7 months. We cooked outside and lived like campers. My 1992 wagon transmission went bad in 7/2011. We haven’t seen a Christmas since 2004. Even then before it had been slim. This is a short summary of 17.5 years. ABANDONED

  • Daniel Bruce, LCSW

    You resonate social consciousness and truth. I am energized by you and Dr. West. I am up and doing with a heart for any fate, as are many, and looking to join in when and where – Occupy, Move-On, Common Cause, ACLU. We just keep on because it is the right thing to do. Thank you and God bless!

  • Keith McHenry

    My friend said she heard about Food not Bombs on your program. Thanks so much!



  • maryjane

    lets end obesity

Last modified: October 17, 2011 at 3:51 pm