(L to R: Tavis Smiley, honoree Terri Vaughn, host Cedric The Entertainer, actor Malinda Williams, honoree Hill Harper)
Several years ago, radio and talk show host Tavis Smiley received a request from a single mother who wanted her son to shadow him for a day. The mother was seeking a positive role model for her son, Will. Fast forward to today, Will graduated from Michigan State, majoring in engineering. Will, just like his mentor Smiley, now works with young people.
When listeners of the nationally-syndicated Tom Joyner Morning Show heard about Will's shadowing experience, thousands called to request their child, niece or nephew spend the day with Tavis as well. It was this experience that led Smiley to create the Tavis Smiley Foundation in 1999, whose mission is to enlighten, encourage and empower underrepresented and socioeconomic disadvantaged youth through education, and by developing leadership skills that will promote and enhance the quality of life for themselves, their communities and the world. To date, more than 5,000 African American youth ages 13 to 18 have participated in the foundation's programs and more than $200,000 in college scholarships have been awarded.
On Saturday, October 6th at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood, the 2007 Salute to Youth Leadership Benefit was hosted by the Tavis Smiley Foundation that recognized outstanding youth and community leaders.
Ghana's former President Jerry Rawlinds, his wife Lady Nana and Tavis Smiley
Youth Advocate award honoree Terri J. Vaughn
I attended the event along with BlackGivesBack (BGB)'s west coast contributor. Cedric the Entertainer served as the host of the evening. He shared that he and his wife have started their own foundation and stressed the importance of nurturing today's youth.
I asked Tavis to share a success story of a youth who had participated in his foundation's programs. What impressed me was that he was able to cite not one, but several success stories of his youth, their names, what college they attended, what they majored in and what they are currently doing now. One youth is now an aide to Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and another graduated from Stanford, now working with the Bush administration under Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Tavis said that the youth email him on a regular basis and show up at his speaking events around the country. One of the youth affectionately called him "Uncle T".
Youth In Action honoree Natalia BaileyThe benefit recognized actors Hill Harper (CSI: NY) and Terri J. Vaughn (Steve Harvey Show and All of Us) with the Youth Advocate Award for their work with young leaders through their respective foundations. Harper's MANifest Your Destiny Foundation focuses on uplifting and encouraging young men.
Vaughn founded the Take Wings Foundation in her hometown of San Francisco to provide programs for young girls.
A live auction by Cedric the Entertainer (he was absolutely hilarious) and a professional auctioneer feted the following: A Eugenia Kim hat Cedric wore in his upcoming movie A Better Man for $500 ~ A walk on role on the television show The Game for $1250 ~ An autographed Muhammad Ali framed collage for $3500 ~ A mink shawl donated by Tina Knowles and the House of Dereon for $1250 ~ Two tickets and a walk on role on the hit show Girlfriends for $2500 ( I truly wanted that one). A lavish buffet was provided by Wolfgang Puck Catering and live entertainment was provided by jazz pianist Eric Lewis.
Proceeds from the event will support the foundation's 2008 Leadership Institute, a four-day youth conference that includes workshops on advocacy, youth organizing, and college and career planning. More than 200 youth representing 22 states attended the 2007 conference held in August at Texas Southern University. Plans are underway for the 2008 Institute. For more information, visit Youth to Leaders.
Photos: P. Arriaza and Wireimage