Tavis Smiley joins the conversation with Northeast Prep media students

Tavis Smiley joins the conversation with Northeast Prep media students
Tavis 1-page-0

A few months after the interview, Tavis visited Rochester and offered his signed support

This article first appeared in the D & C. Due to a D & C server change, the photos of the interview session are missing. Tavis Smiley joins the conversation with Northeast Prep media students (D & C) 

May 21, 2013, Last month, I had the opportunity to meet radio, TV host and author Tavis Smiley at a Stanford University roundtable discussion on education and black America. The Tavis Smiley Show can be heard on WXXI 1370 on Saturdays at 4pm.  

When Tavis kindly agreed to be interviewed by phone for this blog, I knew right away I wanted it to take place in Rajesh Barnabas’ Intro to Media class at Northeast Preparatory High School

Rajesh is a man who wears many hats. He is a television producer and instructor at Rochester Community TV-15, in addition to working part-time as a media teacher in the RCSD. He teaches graphic design, video editing, and media literacy at Northeast. Two of his students, Jonelle and Tatiana are considering careers in the media field and joined us for the interview.  Both were eager to hear what Tavis had to say about urban education.  Rajesh believes real-life experiences like this help prepare students for the media world they are entering.

The first question was based on my participation in a RCSD professional development program, Teaching as Historians. This year’s program is entitled “The Long and Wide Civil Rights Movement.” Through a lecture series and small group discussions, social studies teachers create strategies to make the civil rights movement and its legacies meaningful for the current generation, for example, a lesson plan on the 1964 Rochester riots.

I asked Tavis what it takes to engage students with history, particularly African-American history. Tavis says teachers need to find a way in: “For many young people Barack Obama is the first piece of black history they know. If you want to talk about American history, Barack Obama is your way in.” He adds if you want to teach about the sacrifices and hardships of Jackie Robinson, start with the present: “Make Lebron James, Kobe Bryant and Derek Rose your way in.”

Then I offered the grim statistic that by one recent estimate at 8% Rochester has the lowest graduation rate for black males in the nation. (I explained that number was misleading and probably inaccurate, but regardless, the rate is low.) I ask what should be done.

Tavis hits one of his fundamental themes, stating “if a black boy doesn’t develop a love of reading by the third grade, he’s in trouble.” You will hear him discuss how instilling that love must be the number one priority of teachers—a priority emphasized in Superintendent Vargas’ recent budget.

Then I asked about the re-segregation of American schools over the last decades, noting that in the RCSD some schools have so few white students they are barely counted as a statistical category.

Tavis says the persistence of de jure segregated schools is problem Rochester must address. In our ever increasingly multicultural world, in order to succeed students must be meaningfully exposed to as much diversity as possible.

Finally, Tatiana asked her question. Hear the interview to find Tavis’ answer.


See the “News” at Northeast: Booker T. Washington’s visit with George Eastman

About The Author


Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


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