Tavis Smiley, Cornel West discuss poverty in North Philly

Posted: September 14, 2012

Tavis Smiley and Cornel West spent three hours talking with Philadelphians about education, "decarceration," jobs and housing at a Baptist Church in North Philadelphia Friday.

"The poverty numbers in this country are abysmal," Smiley, the PBS late-night television host, told the crowd filling the pews at Tenth Memorial Baptist Church.

Smiley said that unless properly addressed, the high rate of poverty "will threaten our democracy and become a national security issue."

Smiley said he and West, who teaches philosophy at Union Seminary in New York, embarked on the "Poverty Tour 2.0: A Call to Conscience" this week because they believe neither President Obama or Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney have addressed the issue enough.

When a man in the audience questioned if they were too critical of Obama, Smiley replied:.

"We love Barack Obama. . .. But sometimes you've got to fight with your friends."

Several well-known Philadelphia activists were part of the three-hour "Poverty Tour" which will later be broadcast on WURD Radio. It will also be streamed on the Huffington Post website.

Among them was Cheri Honkala, housing activist and Green Party candidate for vice president. Honkala talked of people trying to save their homes from foreclosure.

Also speaking on the "Tour," was Sarah Morris, of Decarcerate PA who said that Pennsylvania is spending $685 million to build three new prisons and expand existing prisons rather than investing money into schools, community centers and jobs.

Theresa Shoatz, who also works with Decarcerate PA, said communities need to listen to young people and care about them so that they don't turn to crime.

Calvin Clinton Sr., president of the African-American Workers Union, in Pittsburgh, told the broadcasters: "I got up at 3 o'clock in the morning to be here."

He said young men are tired of "playacting" in pre-apprentice programs for the building trades, but never getting real jobs.

Contact Valerie Russ at russv@phillynews.com or 215-854-5987. Follow her on Twitter @ValerieRussDN.

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