So Much To Say In So Little Time: The Tavis Smiley All-American Presidential Forum


Not too long ago, eight United States democratic presidential candidates gathered from across the country in Howard University’s Crampton Auditorium to discuss key issues faced by Black America. Aired publicly on PBS and moderated by Tavis Smiley, the All-American Presidential Forum covered a wide range of issues from education to healthcare to Katrina relief inspired by the #1 New York Times Best-seller, Covenant With Black America. Starting off lightly with a few jokes and appearances by influential minorities, the forum quickly assumed a serious tone when Smiley, the editor of Covenant With Black America, began the debate by saying “You can’t lead people if you don’t love and you can’t save people if you don’t serve,” before presenting questions from a panel of African-American journalists.

While many candidates took his words to heart, it appeared that others took it with a grain of salt by simply ignoring the question and moving on to another topic. It was in this forum that America discovered who was really up to the task of leading such a diverse country, and it was easy to develop an opinion from the responses to the first question asked by Crecilla Cohen Scott, the Tom Joyner Morning Show contest winner from Bowie, Maryland. “In 1903, the noted intellectual, W.E.B. DuBois said, ‘The problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line.’ Is race still the most intractable issue in America and especially, I might add, in light of today's U.S. Supreme Court decision which struck down the use of race as a factor in K through 12?”

“It is abundantly clear, especially today, that race and racism are defining challenges not only in the United States, but around the world. We have made progress,” Senator Hilary Clinton (D.NY) said in response. Former Senator, Mike Gravel (D.AK) however, had a different approach to America’s race issue; one that many would argue was completely unrelated. “Let me add that racism was here with us at the beginning of this country. It was here in the last century and it's going to be with us in the twenty-first century. One of the areas that touches me the most and enrages me the most is our war on drugs that this country has been putting forth for the last generation,” Gravel referenced drugs and how they are harming our inner-cities and the American public as a whole. All of the candidates seemed to note that racism was a problem in the country, but no one offered a solution.

When the issue of education came up, many of the candidates agreed that children should start school by the time they are 4 years old. But, that’s not all the candidates had to say about education. “The key to a good education is to pay our teachers and have accountability,” stated Governor Bill Richardson (D.NM). Senator Barack Obama (D.IL) saw things from a different perspective. “We’re going to have to put more money into after-school activities,” the Illinois Senator commented. “We need someone in the White House that’s going to recognize these children as their own.” Gravel blamed America’s education issues on the war in Iraq, stating that “21 million Americans could have a four-year college scholarship for the money we’ve been squandering in Iraq.” By the end of the forum, the talking time was reduced from one minute to 15 seconds. The candidates had so much to say about the issues in a limited amount of time. Was it enough to end the Republican presidencies? Can the Republican candidates compete when the Democrats had so much to say in so little time? The best way to find out is to catch the Republican forum on September 27, 2007, held at Morgan State University.