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Tavis Smiley Shares One Great Idea in Milwaukee & Another 50 in His New Book

Sefton Ipock
Milwaukee Area Technical College
Mitch Teich (left) with broadcaster, author, publisher, advocate, and philanthropist Tavis Smiley.

Tavis Smiley is something of a renaissance man. From modest beginnings in Indiana, Smiley worked briefly in politics for Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley. Before long, he found a calling in broadcast media - first at the local level, then for a time at the cable channel Black Entertainment Television. 

For more than a decade, Smiley’s home has been public affairs talk shows on public radio, PRI's The Tavis Smiley Show, and public television, PBS' Tavis Smiley. He’s interviewed people from concert pianists to Pulitzer Prize-winning novelists, to influential political and thought leaders to famous actors.

In addition to his roles in media, Smiley is also an author who recently released his 20th book, 50 For Your Future.

During his week-long One Great Idea tour, Smiley seeks to inspire the nation with solutions to some of this country’s most difficult challenges. From examining early childhood education success in Cleveland, Ohio to artist-in-residence programs in Boston, Massachusetts, Smiley wants to challenge and engage viewers of all backgrounds.

On Tuesday, the tour stopped at Milwaukee Area Technical College, the home of Milwaukee Public Television, to spotlight the importance of two-year degrees.

"I believe that our mediums are at their best when we challenge fellow citizens to reexamine the assumptions they hold and we help them expand their inventory of introduce Americans to each other," says Smiley.

Smiley notes that despite being in an age of a multi-cultural, multi-racial and multi-ethnic America, we still are in many ways still a segregated society.

He hopes this tour will impact the public debate. "I'm always interested in looking at good ideas, and sometimes we get politically so wed to ideology that we look right past good ideas. So I'm not so much turned on by the ideology as I am interested in the good ideas."

Among the good ideas Smiley learned over the course of his life was to never write only one memoir - something his friend and "almost surrogate mother" Maya Angelou encouraged. He originally thought his latest book, 50 For Your Future would be the second iteration of his first memoir, but it turned into 50 short stories and lessons Smiley has learned and some he is still taking guidance from.

"I believe that whenever, wherever, however, and from whomever we get great advice and learn life lessons, it is our responsibility, our duty quite frankly to share those lessons," Smiley explains. "I offer this book as advice, as inspirations, as instruction, as information that might help people live better lives, make better choices and become more of their authentic self."

Ultimately, whether it is through radio, television or books, Smiley's career and choices fulfill his constant search for the truth. "I believe that our lives ought to be about seeking the truth and speaking the truth and sharing the truth and standing on that," he says.

Audrey is a producer, host and reporter for Lake Effect. She is involved with every aspect of the show — from conducting interviews, editing audio, posting web stories and mixing the show together.