The war on poverty is not over.
And for those in attendance in East Tennessee State University’s D.P. Culp University Center auditorium Tuesday night, guest speakers Tavis Smiley and Cornel West tried to do their best to engage and inspire students, faculty, staff and the public to join in the fight.
Smiley, a late-night television talk show host on PBS, co-host of the Public Radio International show “Smiley and West” as well as a best-selling author, joined West, a philosopher and educator at both Princeton University and Union Theological Seminary in New York City, on Tuesday on the duo’s Poverty Manifesto Lecture Series and discussed the call to action on battling poverty now.
Joy Fulkerson, director of Community Service and Greek Life Programs at ETSU, said Tuesday’s event was very last-minute, with all of the arrangements and contracts for Smiley and West to visit the campus finalized only last Thursday.
“They were in New Orleans yesterday and they’re going to be in Radford, (Va.) tomorrow, so it was a good opportunity for us to have them on campus tonight,” Fulkerson said. “The response has been great. I think there’s some folks that both students and community members will think that some of their ideas are radical and are very liberal, but I think their message is also comes at a point of challenge, because if we don’t really start talking about this poverty crisis then it’s the college students today that are going to be affected. I hope that they will listen up and sort of take heed.”
One of the co-sponsors for Tuesday’s event was ETSU’s Progressive Student Alliance, and the group’s faculty advisor, Dennis Prater, was excited to see Smiley and West bring their message to campus.
“I think it’s great and really exciting. What I really like about it is ... that they’re bringing their message about poverty and that it’s urgent that we do something about poverty to East Tennessee, to Southern Appalachia, which is a traditionally impoverished area,” Prater said. “I’m really excited for their message to really take root here and spread and lift everybody up.”
For John Collins, this was not his first encounter with West.
“I met with Mr. West back about, I would say, 50-60 years ago,” Collins said.
He said that he was very excited to hear both West and Smiley speak on poverty, an issue he believes should remain on the forefront of the tough issues.
“We have so many people, so many young people, that’s ... hungry today and they don’t have food and nobody’s saying much about it and we’re sending a lot of money to different countries and we’re not, you know, looking at our own people at this present time,” Collins said. “I think (West and Smiley are) doing a wonderful job of trying to get (President Barack) Obama to help, to say something about it or do something about it.”
Smiley and West were brought on stage and introduced at 7 p.m., where they spoke on public involvement with the fight on poverty and asking everyone to do what they can to push the president to take a firm stand on poverty across the nation.
“Now is the ... time for this president to give a major public policy address on the eradication of poverty in our society. If he wants to have a legacy like (Lyndon B. Johnson) and the War of Poverty, a legacy ... in which he can be proud, now is the time to make this issue a priority,” Smiley said.
“We’re asking you to help us by lovingly and respectfully pushing this president to give a major public policy address on the eradication of poverty, and, No. 2, to bring the experts together so that we can craft a national plan to be proactive about this,” Smiley said. “Something is wrong with an economic policy that has us teetering on cliffs and bumping up against ceilings.”