Tavis Smiley is a well known talk show host and media personality. He was born on September 13, 1964 in Gulfport, Mississippi to a single teenaged mother named Joyce Marie Roberts. Joyce married a US Air Force Officer named Emory Garnell Smiley, and Tavis was named after his stepfather. He did not know about his biological father until he was much older, and in fact, never publicly revealed his real father’s name. Because of his stepfather’s transfer, the family moved to Indiana, where they lived in a three bedroom mobile home. Tavis had three other siblings, and when his mother’s sister died, four of her five children came to live with his family as well. As a result, Tavis, his parents, siblings and grandmother all lived together in their trailer home.
He belonged to a very religious family, and as a child, was hardly allowed to watch movies or any television shows that his parents didn’t approve of. Tavis was interested in politics from a very young age, which was sparked when he attended a fundraiser for U.S. Senator Birch Bayh at the age of 13. As a high school student, he was an active member of the student council and debate team. After high school, he enrolled at Indiana University Bloomington, with only a few possessions and $50 in his pocket. He completed the financial aid paperwork after his admission, where he worked, attended classes and lived off campus with the basketball team. He was also a member of the student senate and a director of minority affairs, along with being a member of the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity. He was politically active, and organized student protests over the death of a black student by a white police officer.
He interned at the office of Los Angeles’ mayor Tom Bradley, and also considered attending Harvard Law School but didn’t take admission. He started his radio career at a local radio station named KGFJ, where he did a one minute segment called “The Smiley Report”. He also co-hosted a talk show in Los Angeles, where he aired his views on racism, economic opportunities for disadvantaged black youth and political issues. He spent six months working at a television network in Montreal. Tavis was a commentator on a nationally broadcast radio show called the “Tom Joyner Morning Show”, and the two became good friends. They began hosting town meetings called “The State of the Black Union” where they discussed topics of interest to the African American community. He began to make a name for himself in well known media circles such as ABC, MSN and CNN.
Tavis Smiley hosted and produced an exclusive radio show called BET Tonight on the Black Entertainment Television network where he interviewed celebrities and discussed a wide range of topics such as racial issues, politics, education and economy. However, his contract with BET was cancelled after he sold some of his material to ABC, without offering exclusive rights to BET first. Tavis then moved on to National Public Radio where he served as host of “The Tavis Smiley Show”, and later to its rival network, Public Radio International. He has served as the moderator of two live presidential candidate debates, and has also partnered with “BlogTalkRadio”, which is the world’s largest social broadcasting network.
Tavis has earned numerous awards and honors for his work, including the NAACP Image Award for best news or information series each year from 1997 to 1999. He has also received the Mickey Leland Humanitarian Award from the National Association of Minorities in Communications. He has organized numerous humanitarian efforts such as establishing the Tavis Smiley Foundation that helps youth to develop leadership skills through training and workshops. He received the Du Bois Medal from Harvard University in 2008 along with numerous honorary doctorates and degrees.