Smiley Lashes Out at Poverty Tour Critics

WI Web Staff Report | 8/13/2011, 10:44 a.m.
TV personality Tavis Smiley and Princeton professor Cornel West have taken a licking as they...
Smiley and West were labeled Obama haters while on their 18-city Poverty Tour./Courtesy Photo

TV personality Tavis Smiley and Princeton professor Cornel West have taken a licking as they near the end of their 18-city Poverty Tour, which included stops in D.C. and Chicago. The bus trips have been aimed at bringing President Barack Obama's attention to the plight of America's poor people, according to Smiley and West, but particularly blacks whose jobless rate exceeds 15 percent.

There have been mixed emotions over the tour. While some residents in Obama's Chicago hometown (where the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports black unemployment having rose from 13.1 percent in 2008 to 20.3 percent) said the president had been doing all he could to bring the economy back on track, others conveyed that he could still do more to get black people back to work.

"They are not really giving him a chance," Kyshandra Jackson, 26, reportedly said of Obama during the Chicago stop over. Jackson, who had just returned to work after a year of trying to find a job, added that, "things are going to get done, but it is also going to take some time. He is doing more than everybody else tried to do."

To the contrary, Lamont Robinson, a 29-year-old insurance agent, voiced frustration saying Obama was disconnected with Chicago. "Say the word 'poor,' Mr. President. We want to hear you say it!" Robinson shouted during the meeting.

Meanwhile, Smiley and West have been branded as self-serving Obama haters. And, comedian Steve Harvey recently referred to the pair as "Uncle Toms."

But Smiley said the tour has gone exactly the way he and West planned.

"I am very clear on who I am and who I am not, what I can do and what I can not," he said in a separate AP report. "I have a platform that I can use to bring awareness, to draw attention and create a conversation."

He went on to add that, "and its not just about raising awareness, it's about starting a dialogue about poverty and the poor in this country. I don't get intimidated by haters. . . The question that I would pose to the critics is not why are we doing what we are doing or saying, it's 'if you care about poor people why aren't you doing anything?'"