How to Make Black America Better: Leading African Americans Speak Out


Issuing a powerful call for constructive social action, the popular radio and television commentator Tavis Smiley has assembled the voices of leading African American artists, intellectuals, and politicians from Chuck D to Cornel West to Maxine Waters. How to Make Black America Better takes a pragmatic, solutions-oriented approach that includes Smiley’s own ten challenges to the African American community.

Smiley and his contributors stress the family tie, the power of community...

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How to Make Black America Better: Leading African Americans Speak Out

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Issuing a powerful call for constructive social action, the popular radio and television commentator Tavis Smiley has assembled the voices of leading African American artists, intellectuals, and politicians from Chuck D to Cornel West to Maxine Waters. How to Make Black America Better takes a pragmatic, solutions-oriented approach that includes Smiley’s own ten challenges to the African American community.

Smiley and his contributors stress the family tie, the power of community networks, the promise of education, and the leverage of black economic and political strength in shaping a new vision of America. Encouraging African Americans to realize the potential of their own leadership and to work collectively from the bottom up, the selections offer new ideas for addressing vital issues facing black communities. Featuring original essays by some of our most important thinkers, How to Make Black America Better is an essential book for anyone concerned with the status of African Americans today.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A must read.”–Black Issues Book Review

“Carries on the tradition of Frederick Douglass…and W.E.B. DuBois.”–St. Petersburg Times

“Full of spirited, erudite discussion by big names in the black community.”–Metro Times (Detroit)

“Smiley and Co. offer deft advice that encourages us to take positive action to make things right.” --Essence

“Smiley’s book carries on the tradition of Frederick Douglass’ An Address to the Colored People of the United States and W.E.B. DuBois’ Declaration of the Principles of the Niagara Movement.” —St. Petersburg Times

“Full of spirited, erudite discussion by big names in the black community.” —Detroit’s Metro Times

Patrick Henry Bass
The indefatigable Tavis Smiley, host of BET Tonight and a commentator on the top-rated The Tom Joyner Morning Show, gathers some of the nation's most provocative heroes and sheroes to discuss obstacles and opportunities within our communities in How to Make Black America Better. Smiley offer deft advice that encourages us to take positive action to make things right.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Exhorting black Americans to respect themselves and support their community, BET talk show host Smiley opens with 10 "challenges," focusing on education, health and money. These themes are underscored in the second section of the book, which features a collection of short entries from 28 black movers and shakers, from Maxine Waters to Shaquille O'Neal. While the litany of concerns and lists of remedies may seem repetitious, the net effect is a consensus on the needs of black America: more emphasis on educational excellence, more patronage of black enterprises, more voter registration and political involvement, and more pride in black history and culture. Reform of the prison system is urged by many, as well as a reckoning within the black church with homophobia and sexism. Spokespeople for very different perspectives sometimes offer strikingly similar thoughts: both critic Stanley Crouch and musician Sinbad wonder when it became hip to be dumb. The book ends with transcripts of two discussions with leading black thinkers held at the Democratic convention of 2000. Again, there's much consensus, thanks either to the absence of black Republicans or to a willingness to think inclusively. When educator Jawanza Kunjufu proposes a Ujamaa (cooperative economics) plan for black America, the moderator, attorney Raymond Brown, avoids a response, rather than criticize. Even if they give way to monologues, these two panel talks are longer on substance and shorter on rhetoric than the sometimes tedious earlier sections of the book. (Jan. 9) Forecast: While only the committed will buy and read this cover to cover, there are enough quotable bits to generate interest. Given Smiley's black media connections and the stellar list of contributors, visibility will be high and sales respectable. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Smiley, a political commentator and talk-show host on the BET television network, has gathered 28 brief essays from prominent African-American writers, academics, politicians, and celebrities, who pick apart issues such as affirmative action, crime, political power, economic independence, and race relations. These are sandwiched between Smiley's "Ten Challenges to Black America" and excerpts from a panel discussion, held in Los Angeles before the 2000 Democratic National Convention, with Magic Johnson, Johnetta Cole, Cornel West, Maxine Waters, Jesse Jackson, and other speakers. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385720878
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/2/2002
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 822,808
  • Product dimensions: 5.21 (w) x 7.97 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Tavis Smiley
Tavis Smiley is the author of Doing What’s Right, Hard Left, and On Air. He is a regular political commentator on “The Tom Joyner Morning Show” and won a 1999 NAACP Image Award for his own television talk show BET Tonight with Tavis Smiley. He lives in Los Angeles.
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Read an Excerpt

Challenge #1

Think Black First, 100 Percent of the Time

Whenever we engage in business deals, whenever we have work for hire or contracts to be shared, or even if we're doing something as mundane as shopping, we should tell ourselves:

"I must find someone Black for this job. I must find some- place Black to spend this money." After all, we cannot blame the white man for our problems if we don't try to solve them ourselves. Our mission should be, first and foremost, to uplift the race.

How many times, in the past year alone, can you recall hearing another Black person rail about how we give our dollars to every community but our own?

Thinking Black requires more than altering our behavior as consumers or deciding to settle down in Black neighborhoods. It requires us to really part with some ingrained economic habits. We have fine examples in pop culture. Rather than watch top fashion designers, such as Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger, corner the market by appropriating hip-hop styles, Sean "Puffy" Combs and Russell Simmons countered with clothing lines of their own: Sean John and Phat Farm. The same holds true for the line of FUBU gear. FUBU's name stands for "for us, by us." And young Black Americans have responded by making FUBU one of the country's largest-selling design labels. Walter Latham, noticing a paucity of venues for Black comedy, brought together four Black comedians, dubbed them "The Kings of Comedy," and put them out on a national tour that was wildly successful. When Latham was ready to do a movie about the tour, he went with a Black director, Spike Lee.

Thinking Black first is an easy commitment to make. But don't be fooled; it is not the easiest commitment to keep. Thinking Black 100 percent of the time, however, doesn't mean we're required to act on our intentions all the time. In fact, getting our intentions translated into action can be a real challenge: At times, a Black alternative may not be available. And many of us have horror stories of being left in a lurch by a fellow Black person who simply failed to deliver. Just prior to the start of the 2000 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, for example, I sought out Black videographers to tape the symposium on advocacy I hosted (excerpts of which appear in this book). I hired three who came with good recommendations. To my dismay, they produced footage that was of poor quality and not at all worth the cost. We all have to realize that thinking Black is a two-way street. Our businesses can no longer limp along in the new millennium on the excuse that Black customers will support them. When we, as Black consumers, spend our money, we deserve quality, because by virtue of being Black we had to work harder to get our money. In my experience, this type of problem has been the exception rather than the rule. Just one experience like that can have a chilling effect, however, on the Black consumer; it can make us reluctant to choose Black the next time and leave us braced for substandard treatment when we do. I recognize that there are times when I can't do business with a Black person. But I always think Black first and always try to keep my business in the community.

For some areas in our lives, thinking Black is automatic. When we want soul food, a good barber or beauty shop, or place to worship, we know where to go. Plenty of Black people take our cars to a Black mechanic, regardless of whether he has his own shop or is replacing parts beneath a shade tree in his Backyard. But more often than not, we don't take thinking Black to the next level. We don't put diligence into supporting Black stockbrokers, lawyers, agents, doctors, dentists, Web sites. We have ourselves convinced that in those arenas, the white man's ice is colder. We complain all the time about the difficulties of being Black, of being dissed, of being misunderstood in our day-to-day dealings. Yet we have to be challenged all the time to give such business to a fellow Black person. There are other areas where we just flat-out give our business away without even asking whether we could have found a Black person to support it, such as furniture design. C'mon, people! All of us! I shouldn't even have to say this in this book. Start by at least considering the Black possibilities. It offers one of the few sure ways for Black America to climb on out of the abyss. If we can't help ourselves and look out for each other, how can we expect anyone else to?

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Table of Contents

Pt. I Ten Challenges to Black America 1
Pt. II What Leading African Americans Have to Say About How to Make Black America Better 41
1 Each Other's Keeper 43
2 History, Heritage, and Hope 55
3 How We, as African Americans, Can Improve Our Community and Our Country in the Twenty-First Century 63
4 Making Black America Better 67
5 Controlling Our Destinies 71
6 Hard Truths 73
7 The Freedom Symphony's Fourth Movement 79
8 Rising Just a Bit Higher 85
9 Cherished 87
10 Updating Our Battles 93
11 Getting Along 99
12 Full Political Participation 101
13 Rebuilding Black America 103
14 Leveraging Our Power 107
15 Behaving Better 113
16 A Community of Accomplishment 115
17 The Digital Age 119
18 What We Can Do 121
19 Try, Try, Try, Teach All Children Well 125
20 Change the Children 129
21 Making Black America Better Through Self-Knowledge 133
22 The Challenge of Race and Education 139
23 Historically Black Colleges and Universities 143
24 Just for Today... 151
25 Our Golden Age 153
26 The New Millennium 155
27 Jesus 157
28 Know - Who You Were; Who You Are; Who You Choose to Be 159
Pt. III Advocacy in the Next Millennium: A Symposium 161
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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 27, 2001

    Tavis Knows of What he Speaks

    I bought and read Tavis Smiley's book How to Make Black America Better: Leading African Americans Speak Out, good book Tavis, keep speaking out. It's full of good sound advice for us, as blacks, or any one else that reads the book to think about. The book is nothing but good 'ole advice' like your mother or an older person, from observations, would give to you ......... I don't think Tavis is old, just wise for his years. I have been listening and observing Tavis Smiley for several years, knowing his background, he knows of what he speaks. To those of you that do not know,Tavis Smiley had a life-changing experience when a former U S Senator took time to speak with him personally, instilling confidence and underscoring his potential. That encounter, I understand was the catalyst for a life Tavis Smiley has dedicated to bettering the lives of others through his work as an author and political commentator. Through the Tavis Smiley Foundation, I understand he hosts a series of one-day conferences across the country entitled the Youth to Leaders Program, designed to empower, encourgage and enlighten youth by providing them with critical leadership skills. How to Make Black America Better: Leading African Americans Speak Out, Mr. Smiley knows of what he has written.

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