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announces end of State of the Black Union symposium series
(January 6, 2010) The State of the Black Union (SOBU) symposium has been
one of the most anticipated events for millions of African Americans
during the last decade, but after 10 years of conversations, founder
Tavis Smiley has announced the end of the series.
Smiley, the host of Tavis Smiley on PBS, said ending production of SOBU
will allow him to concentrate on a new series of primetime television
specials for 2010 on PBS as well as grow other divisions of his
multimedia company, including the SmileyBooks imprint, his weekly public
radio show, his non-profit youth foundation and the award-winning
traveling museum exhibition America I AM: The African American Imprint.
Smiley moderated the first SOBU in 2000 on the eve of the Democratic
Convention in Los Angeles. The series, always free and open to the
public, then crisscrossed the country often serving as a pulse check on
how African Americans were fairing economically, politically and
socially. While tens of thousands attended the forums in person;
millions more viewed the live broadcasts annually on C-SPAN. It returned
to Los Angeles on February 28, 2009, marking its 10th anniversary.
"This symposium represents one of the great joys of my life. I have
thoroughly enjoyed raising awareness and moderating the dialogue between
the panelists and our live audiences," Smiley said. "I am grateful to
the viewing audiences who have tuned in over the years."
The State of the Black Union: 10-Year Conversation Box Set Collection,
which includes all 10 symposia on 23 separate discs on DVD, is now
available. Each boxed set is numbered and personally autographed by
The DVD collection showcases some of the nation's most influential and
prolific thinkers, entertainers, politicians and social critics weighing
in on a range of issues such as wealth-building, the Black church,
family, justice, education and health.
Prominent speakers and panelists include President Barack Obama, Cornel
West, Danny Glover, Nikki Giovanni, Na'im Akbar, Michael Eric Dyson,
Lani Guinier, Jesse L. Jackson, Sr., Les Brown, Raymond A. Brown,
Randall Robinson, Al Sharpton, Iyanla Vanzant, the late Johnnie L.
Cochran, Jr., Maxine Waters, Earvin "Magic" Johnson, Harry Belafonte,
Louis Farrakhan and Tom Joyner.
"When we started SOBU there was only one Black nationally-syndicated
radio show and only one Black television network. Ten years ago, there
were just a scant few African Americans offering political commentary in
Over the years, the landscape has changed tremendously with multiple
radio shows, television networks and the explosion of commentary in the
blogosphere," Smiley said.
"While I still think there is comparatively speaking a paucity of Black
commentary in the mainstream, there are currently many more avenues
available for discourse on issues impacting African Americans. Ten years
later, Black folk no longer have to wait for SOBU in February to hear
issues that matter to them being discussed by them.
I expect to continue conducting conversations wrestling with the
contested humanity of too many Americans, but through diverse platforms
including the PBS primetime specials and by publishing up-and-coming
authors whose voices we have not yet heard."
SOBU produced three New York Times bestselling books, including the #1
New York Times bestseller, Covenant with Black America, released in
2006. The book, a collection of essays highlighting the most pressing
issues facing African Americans, was described by President Clinton as
"the most comprehensive model for citizen service."
THE COVENANT In Action, a toolkit for turning the Covenant into a
movement, followed in 2007. In 2009, the third volume in the trilogy,
Accountable: Making America As Good As Its Promise, offered a pragmatic
model for holding political leaders accountable to their promises.
Chronology of the State of the Black Union
The State of the Black Union has been held each February since 2000
during Black History Month, following the president's annual State of
the Union address to the nation in January. It has often paralleled
significant events in American history.
-- The 2001 forum took place in Washington, D.C. a few weeks after
the controversial inauguration of President George W. Bush.
-- The 2002 symposium in Philadelphia occurred five months after the
September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
-- President Bush outlined his case for invading Iraq just prior to
the 2003 SOBU in Detroit.
-- President Bush defended his case for the Iraq war in 2004 just
before the symposium in Miami.
-- The 2005 conversation in Atlanta followed Bush's re-election to a
-- In Houston, the 2006 conference focused on economic empowerment
six months following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.
-- The 2007 SOBU symposium, in partnership with Jamestown 2007,
commemorated the 400th anniversary of the first permanent English
settlement in Jamestown, Virginia.
-- The 2008 symposium in New Orleans engaged more than 1,000
volunteers to work in community service projects to help rebuild
post-Katrina New Orleans.
-- In 2009, President Obama introduced the final SOBU with his
commitment to bring issues of importance to African Americans to the