Television and radio host Tavis Smiley debuted a multimedia presentation at North Central College Thursday.
It was the digital expression of his "America I AM: The African American Imprint" traveling exhibit that traces the impact of African Americans on America. Smiley hoped the premiere of the presentation at the Naperville campus would extend the life of the exhibit -- in it's last year -- and mark the start of a national tour.
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"It is the biggest, baddest, boldest exhibit ever to tell the story of the African-American contribution to the country," Smiley told an audience at Pfeiffer Hall as part of North Central's weeklong tribute to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Mostly still photos, some video and sound bites explored contributions in economic, sociopolitical, spiritual and cultural imprints. The exhibit itself showcases tangible reminders from Prince's purple guitar to the prison cell key that locked King in a Birmingham, Ala. jail.
It was a presentation designed to answer scholar W.E.B DuBois's question: "Would America have been America without her Negro people?" And the answer Smiley told the crowd is an emphatic "No."
After the presentation, Smiley fielded questions from students about politics and in particular, President Obama's chances for re-election.
Smiley, who has criticized Obama for what he sees as not doing enough for the African-American community, said Obama's campaign "cannot play the history card" to attract African American voters.
"It's an enthusiasm gap among your base that causes problems," said Smiley, challenging Obama to be more progressive on social and economic policies.
Still, Smiley said he would not have included Obama's image in the presentation if he did not respect the president. He defended his comments as holding leaders accountable.
"King was willing to speak truth to power," Smiley said.
Chandra McCain, of Bolingbrook, attended a Smiley presentation almost a decade ago and applauded his research.
"He's very factual, very knowledgeable," McCain, 47, said. "I think it's something that needs to be done."