Tavis Smiley’s Stand (Dallas South TV Review): An excellent look at brotherly love

Tavis Smiley doesn’t know it, but he’s been a mentor to me since I read his book Doing What’s Right back in 2000. Much of what I do today is based on seeds that were planted in his book who’s subtitle is “How to fight for what you believe-and make a difference. ”

I called my cable company threatening to leave when BET and Bob Johnson relieved Tavis of his duties. And I followed him to NPR and listened to his commentary on the Tom Joyner Morning Show.

Unbeknownst to Tavis (how could he know since he doesn’t know he’s my mentor), we’ve gotten crossways over the last couple years. I probably couldn’t put my finger on exactly why for the most part, but I just haven’t been able to latch on to his message like I used to. Still, I always try to make it out to see Mr. Smiley when he’s in town and I always try to pick up his latest book.

When he started (what I feel like was) questioning the legitimacy of Barack Obama’s candidacy, I wondered if Tavis had lost the pulse of Black Americans that he had been so in tune with for the better part of a decade.

I have followed him long enough to know that it was his post-Lewinsky interview of Bill Clinton that brought Tavis to national prominence. I wasn’t mad at his loyalty to the Clinton’s during the Democratic Primary, but I felt like Tavis was talking down to black folk (a term that I have often borrowed from him) during the campaign rather than being agreeably disagreeable.

And Tavis and the Black Blogosphere…..let’s just say we’ve had our differences.

I say all of this to say, that when I was offered a copy of Tavis Smiley’s latest production Stand:The Movie, I wasn’t as excited about it as I wish I had been.

But Stand, airing on T.V. One this Sunday at 8 PM Central, is must see television. In the movie, Mr. Smiley invited some of his closest friends, including Dr. Cornell West, Dr. Eddie Glaude, Dr. Michael Eric Dyson and others, to an undisclosed location last summer to “search for Dr. (Martin Luther) King’s perspective” on the state of Black Men in America 40 years after his assassination.

Tavis and his brothers gathered in Memphis, Tennessee to conversate, pontificate, celebrate and congratulate with one another. They even invited a couple of local teen male students to join the conversation, providing them with digital cameras that they could use to capture their experience.

Of course when you get these types of minds together, along with others that they met along the way like Bebe Winans, Dick Gregory and others, there’s going to be lots of deep thought and theoritical posturing.

Some times I felt the group was caught in “good old day syndrome” while mulling over subjects like whether the day of the charismatic black leader is over. The group seemed less than impressed with the likes of Adrian Fenty, Patrick Duvall, and Cory Booker.

One might a assume the movie would be a two hour think tank, with some of America’s brightest minds solving some of Black America’s biggest problem. But Stand ends up being something much greater than that. Stand is like a powerful mix between a buddy flick and a road trip movie.

Mr. Smiley and his friends argue, debate, hug, showboat, cry, pray, and do all the other things that brothers do when they get together. Other than Dr. Cornell West, the debate stuff seems stale and for the most part is lost on me. But the fact that black men were in one place -sometimes at a coo out and sometimes on a bus- having this dialogue was a powerful image.

The most gripping portion of the show was when the men watched CNN’s Black in America live as it was airing across the country. They watched the segment showing Dr. Dyson visiting his incarcerated brother, in jail for a crime that he says he didn’t commit yet accepting his fate. Dyson shed tears, as did his friends before they all stood up and prayed.

Even after all I said about Mr. Smiley, I hated that more of his candid opinions didn’t make the final edit. But I guess if he had been the star of the show, that would have fed into some of the biases I’ve gained over the years.

Tavis Smiley’s Stand is commendable on so many levels, including the fact that an African-American man took the initiative to tell his story in his voice, through his eyes. That is the only way it will get done.

From what I understand Mr. Smiley reached out to bloggers in L.A. to attend the screening of Stand, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to have screened it. And I’m not just saying that because it was produced by my mentor.

Tavis Smiley’s Stand airs on TV One Sunday May 24th at 8 PM Central. But just to make sure, check your local listings.

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