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Can Tavis Come Back?


One of my favorite J. Anthony Brown impersonations is President Lyndon Johnson addressing the American people to tell them that he’s decided not to run for a second-term. The broken down, beaten down Chief’s words began with “tonight, I come to you with a heavy heart….”

I like J’s impersonation, not just because it’s good, but also because it’s so funny to think that J., as he tells it, used to be roused from a deep sleep by his parents so that he could mimic LBJ for their friends. It tells a lot about what a major impact this fallen man, and his deep words of sincerity had, not just on the nation, but on poor, ordinary, black folks who felt his pain.

Years and years later, I wonder how bad he must have felt to watch so many things around him go wrong. But more importantly, I wonder how it felt to have the courage and humility to go on national television and admit fault to the people who elected you their leader.

I thought a whole lot about Tavis Smiley this weekend.

Reverend Al, Roland Martin and I moderated – and I’m just going to say it – Tavis’s event in Harlem. It was called “Measuring the Movement,” and it promised not to feature a lot of talking heads weighing in on the problems facing black America but people who were prepared to offer solutions.

But in past years, the event created, branded and hosted by Tavis Smiley, “The State of Black America,” was the forum that brought black leaders, activists, educators, journalists and more to pretty much do the same thing. Now, without Tavis, we did his thing and for me, him not being part of it was like the elephant in the room that everybody acts like they don’t see.

If we say we’re about brotherhood, healing, solidarity and all that stuff, than what better way to put this beef separating Tavis from most of Black America to rest than to have him be part of what he started.

He could have and should have been there because it would have been the right thing to do. Would he have come if he were invited? Probably not, but we don’t know.

So I have a bit of a heavy heart, but it’s mostly because I believe Tavis does, too. And whatever it is that keeps him from saying to Black America, “I’m sorry, I messed up,” is some powerful stuff. Every one of us has come down on the wrong side of right … or the wrong side of what everyone else wrongly thinks is right. It doesn’t really matter. It’s called being human. But at some point, any wise person can figure out when they’ve been hanging out there alone for too long. I’m not suggesting that he sell out, go against his beliefs or change his allegiance to anyone.

I’m just saying that men bigger and smaller than Tavis have figured out when it’s time to bring it on in, and as hard as it is to do, it’s got to be better than where he is now.

He’s like a cordless phone that’s too far way from its base. He can’t and won’t be able to get to the people who want to hear him anymore and the longer he’s away the less relevant he will become. Sometimes you can stray far away from home and when you return your family is there with open arms offering you back your old room. But in some cases, if you wait too long to come back, so much has changed that your family barely recognizes you and you don’t recognize them either. The place where you were in their hearts has shifted and other family members have moved into your spot. It happens.

If Tavis is to make a comeback he needs to do it now while the door to Black America is still open, even if it’s just little bit because every day that door closes more and more and eventually will shut … even mine.