WEST PALM BEACH – Voters should hold elected officials, including the “Leader of the Free World,” accountable for making sure there is economic development and jobs to help stem perpetual poverty, national radio and television host Tavis Smiley said Saturday.
Smiley and Cornel West, Princeton University professor and author, brought “The Poverty Tour 2.0” to the “Tenth Annual ‘The Hip Hop 2 Edition’ Youth Outreach Day,” Sept. 15 at Roosevelt Community Middle School in West Palm Beach.
The event sponsored by the Zeta Tau Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., and attended by hundreds of youth, was broadcast live to Smiley’s radio audience.
Smiley is host of the television talk show Tavis Smiley on PBS, as well as The Tavis Smiley Show radio program, and is co-host of Smiley and West, distributed by Public Radio International (PRI).
West is the author of Race Matters, Democracy Matters and his memoir Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud.
Although their stated hope is to spur the major political parties to address what the activists say is a pivotal issue being overlooked, Smiley and West have drawn heavy criticism for what many consider petulant sniping at
President Barack Obama, who bested Smiley’s preferred candidate, Hillary Clinton, to earn the 2008 Democratic Party nomination.
On Oct. 22, President Barack Obama, the Democratic incumbent, is scheduled for a inal debate with Republican opponent Mitt Romney at Lynn University in Boca Raton.
Smiley told the crowd at Saturday’s event that during the three presidential debates held in 2008, the issue of poverty in America was not mentioned once.
He said in order to solve the problem of poor people barely surviving in communities nationwide, voters need to speak up.
“Make demands. Make your voice heard. Being unemployed or underemployed is (unacceptable),” Smiley said. “Small businesses drive the country. Obama has not done as good of a job as he should have with small businesses.”
KUDOS FOR KING
Voters need to hold elected officials, including Obama, accountable, he said. People are not looking for a “handout” but want to work, and corporate greed plays a part in hindering this process, Smiley added.
“Dr. King to my mind is the greatest American this country has ever produced,” he said. “That march on Washington wasn’t just about protesting about civil rights. It was about jobs, freedom and peace.”
Martin Luther King Jr. wanted people to have access to good jobs, not minimum wage but living-wage jobs, Smiley said.
According to a recent Census Bureau report, the poverty rate of Americans in 2011 was an estimated 15 percent, or 46.2 million people living at that level, almost unchanged from 2010.
Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, said he thinks Florida’s problems with the poor will continue because the state is not investing in people.
“Unfortunately in the state of Florida, there’s really no leadership whatsoever. The mere mention of the poor generally isn’t something you would hear in Tallahassee,” he said.
“This past year we’ve eliminated the Homeless Coalition line item, almost $3 million. We’ve eliminated an early childhood grant. We’ve reduced contributions to local health departments.”
During a question-and-answer period, West told a youth in the
audience who asked why there are so many poor people in Palm Beach County that even if efforts seem futile in helping this population, the work must continue.
“When you fight, you don’t get victories across the board. We have to keep pushing forward in the fight against poverty,” he said.
“The big companies want big profits,” he said. “(Unfortunately), we live in a system that puts profits over people.”
Smiley said both Democrats and Republicans can agree that there is a link between education and poverty.
Event chairwoman Monica McCoy agreed, stressing that education is key if young people want to have a bright future.
She said the reason the youth symposium was established ten years ago was because there was a desire for youth to be successful and not have to live in poverty.
“If we don’t service our kids, then we leave no legacy.
“If we don’t instill in them the importance of education, the importance of taking care of your finances, then they are going to live in poverty,” McCoy said.