Media personality and activist Tavis Smiley has been an outspoken and persistent advocate of ending poverty in America, culminating in the radio host and his foundation recently initiating “ENDING POVERTY: America’s Silent Spaces,” a $3 million, four-year nationwide initiative to examine the causes of, and identify solutions for, poverty in the United States.
The initiative seeks momentum from two book-end historical commemorations, the 50th anniversaries of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty” in 2014 and of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Poor People’s Campaign,” in 2018, to refocus the nation’s attention on the millions who struggle to survive below the poverty line.
“The fight to end poverty is not a new one,” Smiley said in a statement. “Our actions must be viewed as part of an ongoing historical effort to exorcise this persistent cancer. When Dr. King spearheaded the Poor People’s Campaign, he talked about issues that could have been pulled from today’s headlines. Full employment, fair wages, housing and basic human needs will always be relevant and they must be available to all.”
Smiley added, “Like President Franklin D. Roosevelt before him, King called for an economic bill of rights to address economic inequality, even proposing a $30-billion dollar anti-poverty package to create a more equitable environment. We must create our own specific agenda to dismantle poverty, and we must work together to achieve it.”
“ENDING POVERTY” will take a grassroots approach, engaging and mobilizing individuals, communities, and organizations to come up with innovative solutions to eradicate poverty, even as it seeks to increase media coverage of the issue.
First up will be a Twitter chat in the coming weeks about the factors that influence poverty. Moderated by Smiley, the chat will include a panel comprising some of the country’s top minds in the areas of poverty, education and philanthropy, including Robert K. Ross, president of The California Endowment; Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers; U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus; and Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund.
As the initiative goes into full swing, the Foundation will host town hall meetings in 25 cities across the country over the four years. Footage from each town hall meeting will be captured for a feature-length documentary about endemic poverty in America to be released in 2018, in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the “Poor People’s Campaign.”
The “ENDING POVERTY” initiative comes in the wake of Census Bureau reports reports showing negative trends on poverty and incomes. Approximately 46.5 million people lived below the poverty line in 2012, representing 15 percent of the population—a 2.5 percent increase from 2007, the Bureau reported.
And, as usual, Blacks and Hispanics suffered disproportionately from falling incomes and increasing poverty, even as the richest Americans claimed an outsized portion of national income. Last year, the top 1 percent earned nearly 20 percent of all household income, while the top 10 percent earned more than 48 percent of all household income, according to Bureau data.
“It was President Lyndon B. Johnson who emphasized in his 1964 State of the Union Address that, ‘the war against poverty will not be won here in Washington; it must be won in the field, in every private home, in every public office, from the courthouse to the White House,’” Smiley said in the statement. “It was also during that speech that President Johnson famously announced, ‘This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America.’ 50 years later it’s clear that the war has not been won and unfortunately the battle is being lost.”
For additional information about “ENDING POVERTY: America’s Silent Spaces,” visit www.tavistalks.com/endingpoverty.
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