Rev. Al Sharpton and Tavis Smiley
Disagree without becoming disagreeable!
Rev. Al Sharpton, Tavis Smiley air out grievances in civil fashion
By Evan Barnes
Sentinel Sports Editor
Tavis Smiley and Rev. Al Sharpton are two of America's most visible Black leaders but last week, the two engaged in a sharp disagreement over comments Smiley made on his radio show.
It stemmed from comments Smiley made on Tom Joyner's radio program on February 23 when he chastised several leaders for saying that President Barack Obama, in Smiley's words, "doesn't need a Black agenda" or "need not focus specifically on the unique challenges Black America is facing."
Included in that group were Sharpton. Dr. Charles Ogletree and NAACP President Ben Jealous. In response, Sharpton addressed the situation on his radio show with Dr. Ogletree while inviting Smiley to appear.
What followed next was over 20 minutes of disagreement and clarification by both men on what at times turned heated but not disrespectful.
"When Black leaders start saying to Black people and the black media that we don't need this president to focus on an African American agenda, I said we need to come together to have a conversation about what that means. There's a disconnect between those quotes and Black people." Smiley said.
Sharpton responded that neither he nor any of those Smiley referenced has said those comments nor were they quoted as saying them by the New York Times. He clarified by saying that his statement, as quoted by the Times, was that "President Obama is smart not to 'ballyhoo' a Black agenda."
Believing that Smiley took his quote out of context, he (Sharpton) clarified by saying that the president should pay attention to it, but not make it his priority.
"The president should not be out there doing what we should be doing," Sharpton said at one point.
Much of the discussion focused on Sharpton being offended at Smiley's remarks but Smiley was quick to clarify that ultimately there needs to be a conversation about setting the Black agenda.
Smiley is moderating a panel to address this particular issue on March 20 at Chicago State University. Sharpton was an invited guest to the panel along with Dr. Cornel West, Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, Rep. Barbara Lee and others
"We Count! The Black Agenda is the American Agenda" is Smiley's way of saying that this should be an issue addressed early in the Obama administration, especially in light of what has been said about Sharpton's comments.
"There is this story that's out there now about whether or not Black leaders are giving the President a pass on a Black agenda and all I've suggested is that we will come to Chicago on March 20 for a live TV conversation...to wrestle with this question once and for all," Smiley said.
Sharpton, who said he wouldn't attend due to a scheduling conflict, then suggested that the panel should be moderated by an impartial host given Smiley's frequent criticisms of Obama.
He added that the panel should include younger voices and focus not just on Obama's action but the actions of Black leaders in Washington, Chicago and elsewhere to help dictate it.
But in their debate, both men expressed not just mutual respect but genuine love for each other. It was a demonstration of how to disagree without resorting to name calling or launching verbal attacks on each other.
Several times both men expressed their mutual respect and friendship, letting the audience know that this was a disagreement that would be handled civilly. They had hoped it was something to be handled privately but they resolved it publicly.
Attempts to reach both Smiley and Sharpton for comment were unsuccessful at press time.