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Get your DVRs ready. Radio and talk show host/author Tavis Smiley is moderating a new conversation.

After a decade of his “State of the Black Union” events, Smiley has branched out for a discussion that will be somewhat different from the annual grouping of panels broadcast to discuss the pressing issues of black America. This time, Smiley has put together a multi-racial roster that includes Arianna Huffington of The Huffington Post, CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo, Dana Milbank of The Washington Post and Smiley’s friend and co-host Dr. Cornel West, among others, to facilitate a conversation on America’s future.


Aptly dubbed “America’s Next Chapter,” the two-hour special airs live from George Washington University on C-SPAN on Thursday, Jan. 13 from 6 to 9 p.m. EST and again on PBS from Tuesday, Jan. 18 to Thursday, Jan. 20 (If you are in the Washington D.C. area, you can attend for free by registering at

Smiley celebrates 20 years of broadcasting this year (look for an upcoming PBS anniversary special) and is releasing a new book, “Fail Up,” an account of how he rebounded from his 20 greatest failures, in May. Keep up with him at his website,

Here’s our conversation about his latest project.

BLACKAMERICAWEB.COM: Tell us a little bit about “America’s Next Chapter” and why you chose to go this route instead of the “State of the Black Union” longer panels that you’ve done in the past.

TAVIS SMILEY: I said over a year ago that after 10 years of doing “State of the Black Union,” I decided that I would pursue some other interests and opportunities, but in no way was I going to disappear from moderating conversations that I thought were important. Obviously, I’m still on PBS every night; I’m still on public radio every day. I’m on the lecture circuit; I have a book coming out in May, so I’m busier than I’ve ever been since being on Tom Joyner. In that regard, I’m as busy as ever.

What I’m trying to do all the time is find uniquely different ways to serve and to have conversations that are empowering to people. It’s a symposium that’s going to look at where we are as a nation and whether we can get back to the greatness we once had. There’s a poll that the Rasmussen Report does that nearly half of all Americans say our best days are behind us. That number won’t surprise you because the fear is palpable all around the country.

What do you think this conversation can do to allay people’s fears?

My dear friend Dr. Cornel West puts it this way. He posed the question: “What can a blues nation learn from a blues people?” I love it. His point clearly is this nation right now has the blues. This blues nation can learn from a blues people – namely black folk. There’s something that we have to offer the country, but the larger context of this conversation is that it’s multicultural, it’s multi-racial, it’s multi-ethnic, it’s multi-geological. We have black, white, red and brown. We have conservatives, we have liberals – this is one of those panels that will be different from what people are used to. This conversation will be live in prime-time and for three consecutive nights and will be rebroadcast on PBS the following week.

The timing of this conversation is very propitious. By the time we have it, the new Republican-controlled Congress will have just been seated. We’ll be days away from Obama’s “State of the Union” speech. We’ll be days away from the halfway point of his first term …..

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