TV-radio host honors MLK at North Central College event
By David Sharos For The Sun January 19, 2012 9:24PM
Tavis Smiley speaks at North Central College in Naperville to honor the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in January. | Sun-Times Media file photo
Updated: February 21, 2012 8:38AM
Martin Luther King Jr., whose birthday was celebrated this past Monday, was also the focus of an event Thursday night at North Central College, which featured radio and television host Tavis Smiley.
Held at Pfeiffer Hall on the campus, more than 450 people from Naperville and the surrounding area gathered to hear Smiley deliver his presentation entitled “America I AM: The African American Imprint,” a 65-minute multimedia event that attempted to portray American culture as seen through nearly 500 years of African-American history.
The presentation was then followed by a 15-minute question and answer session.
The event was part of a weeklong series of activities to honor King at North Central College. It began Monday with an annual prayer breakfast. Other offerings throughout the week included films, a poetry slam and a gospel extravaganza which will conclude Martin Luther King Week events this Saturday.
King had a personal connection with North Central College, including a speech he made in 1960 in the same venue, Pfeiffer Hall. During the same decade, North Central students traveled to Alabama to participate in civil rights demonstrations. Linda Fowlkes of Wheaton, who came with three other companions, admitted she didn’t know there was a King-North Central connection.
“I’ve always enjoyed listening to how Mr. Smiley addresses the issues and concerns,” she said. “I think it’s unique that he’s appearing here, given that DuPage County is not a place where a lot of the African-American community lives. I always think the things he talks about are stimulating.”
Smiley’s often outspoken views appealed to many audience members, like Joseph Maffey of Berwyn, who called the key speaker “a true independent.”
“I always listen to him on the radio even though I don’t always agree with everything he says,” Maffey said. “He’s a rare commentator in that he says what he feels and you don’t just hear the ‘partisan’ line. We’re both graduates of Indiana University so I guess that’s something we have in common.”
Donna Gibson, 62, of Naperville said she felt having Smiley appear was “a great thing to feature during Martin Luther King Week” and that she felt his words “are empowering for the African-American community.”
“He always talks about empowering African-Americans through knowledge, and I’ve enjoyed following him now for the past 10 years,” Gibson said. “I feel that the election of President Obama was something I’d never see in my lifetime. Having a black president has certainly raised awareness and pride, and I think the other ethnicities that did not have prejudice helped elect him. I have a couple of children who are now in their 30s and I think the world they live in is a better one than the one I grew up in during the ‘50s and ‘60s.”
Many who braved Thursday night’s bitter cold said that Smiley’s appearance was also timely, given that 2012 is an election year and that there are a number of political issues that need to be addressed.
“I like his platform, especially in regards to the need for politicians to address the issue of poverty,” said Gerald Smith of Wheaton. “I’ve listened to him for quite a while on the radio, but it’s a thrill now to finally see him.”
Linda Baird of Naperville, who sat in the balcony at Pfeiffer Hall, also spoke of Smiley’s “Poverty Tour,” where 11 states were toured in order to raise awareness about hunger in the United States. Baird said that she also doesn’t agree with the radio personality’s viewpoint all the time “but whatever he says, it’s always poignant and stimulating.”
Thursday night’s event was also about engaging North Central students like Dante Hackler, 20.
“I think having a speaker of this caliber offers an excellent perspective on what life ‘on the other side’ is about,” Hackler said. “There’s been a definite difference here around campus this week. I’m a member of the Black Student Association here and there are about 30 of us in the group. We’ve been offered incentives to attend a lot of the campus activities and a lot of things have been talked about in classes. There’s a noticeable difference on campus.”