LOS ANGELES ( – Journalist and author Tavis Smiley launched the State of the Black Union gathering here 10-years-ago and it came full circle when thousands of Black scholars, leaders and youth recently attended the symposium at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

“I thought it was amazing. It was the 10th anniversary and so most of the panelists were persons who were with us in the very first year. We’ve been honored over the years to have been joined by any number of luminaries including of course the Brother Minister Louis Farrakhan, who joined us on two or three occasions. … I don’t think people were disappointed by the conversation,” Mr. Smiley said.

This year’s theme was “Making America As Good As Its Promise” and weighed what a decade of dialogue has meant to and for the Black community.


The dialogue has produced the Covenant With Black America, a book launched in 2006, and strategies to solve problems raised in conversations during the gatherings. The gathering, which includes some of Black America’s best and brightest in various social, political, religious, business and other fields, has been a vehicle that highlights many of the community’s challenges and solutions to its problems.

Mr. Smiley recalled that the nationally televised event grew out of a one-time conversation on how Blacks would ensure that year 2000 presidential candidates Al Gore and George W. Bush addressed critical issues facing the community.

He is not altogether sure where the State of the Black Union’s mission is headed for the next two years, but he is pleased people still look forward to the conversation.

“On the one hand it’s something to celebrate … on the other hand, it really is sort of tragic when you think about it that there’s really only one day a year, even after 10 years of doing this, and as celebrated as the symposium is, there’s still only one day when you can turn on the television all day and see the best and brightest minds in Black America exposed,” he said.

During the conversation, speakers have wrestled with issues such as health, the criminal justice system, education, economics and Hurricane Katrina. Since its inception, the gathering has been held in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Detroit, Miami, Atlanta, Houston, Jamestown, Va., and New Orleans.

A day before the free symposium, the State of the Black Union convened a youth forum at the University of Southern California to empower young scholars and leaders, and keep them involved in the political process that helped elect President Obama.

On Feb. 28, panelists also laid out problems and solutions for more accountability, not just from the new president, but from the Black community itself, Mr. Smiley told The Final Call.

In a videotaped message, President Obama told participants, “You have an incredible opportunity to highlight not only the challenges facing the African American community, but also the ways in which ordinary men and women are working to meet them. You’ve tapped into a yearning in the community to address our toughest problems instead of leaving them for another day or year or generation.”

Mr. Smiley told The Final Call the criticism he received regarding President Obama during the elections has definitely impacted his work. “It emboldened me moreso to continue to try to serve Black people. Sometimes if you try to love and serve your people, they don’t always get that, they don’t always understand that, they don’t always embrace that, they don’t always appreciate that–and if anybody understands that it’s the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan,” he said.