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Strange Bedfellows: The Case of Tavis, Wells Fargo, and NAACP

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While I was reading over the lawsuit filed by the NAACP for predatory lending practices, my eyes kept returning to Wells Fargo. My something-smells-funny nose kept sniffing until I looked across my desk and saw the program guide from the recent State of the Black Union (SOTBU).

In large font was the Wells Fargo logo. They were the title sponsor of the event.

I wondered if the NAACP had any dialogue with SOTBU founder and organizer Tavis Smiley prior to the lawsuit being filed? After all, the bank being sued for institutionalized racism sponsoring a think tank for black folks? You cannot make this stuff up.

Wells Fargo has sponsored the SOTBU for several years, Smiley’s brainchild, birthed from his weekly commentary on The Tom Joyer Morning Show. Last year Smiley quit the TJMS claiming it was to move on to other pressing projects in need of his attention.

One of those projects is to hold President Obama accountable for his political record and campaign promises made as outlined in Smiley’s recent book, “Accountable.”

During the run-up to the 2008 presidential election, while I was still the resident political commentator on the Tom Joyner Morning Show, I caused quite a stir among the listeners, who are largely African-American, by insisting that we hold then Senator Barack Obama accountable for both his political record and his campaign promises. I wasn’t singling him out, but rather applying the same standard to him that we should apply to all.

I feel now, as I did then, that it is our responsibility as engages citizens to expect now-President Barack Obama to live up to the promises that made him an appealing candidate … As Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail reminds us, “Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes from the tireless efforts of men willing to be coworkers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation.”

So, let us take Dr. King’s lead … and go forth and make real the promise of our democracy.” –Excerpted from the Foreword (pages xii-xiii)

In addition to this, the SOTBU Website states that the symposiums purpose is to gather “(s)ome of the most influential thinkers, entertainers, and political leaders of our time gather each year” to discuss issues affecting the black community.

The site states the event is meant to “educate, enlighten, and empower America by bringing people together and engaging them in thoughtful dialogue, leading the way to constructive action.”

Here is the man who has written a book titled Accountable, who has accepted sponsorship for years from a bank that is being accused of forcing blacks into subprime mortgages while whites with identical qualifications got lower rates.

Class-action lawsuits were filed against Wells Fargo and HSBC in federal court in Los Angeles this month and Los Angeles was the host city for the State of the Black Union.

My words may come off as harsh but this is equivalent to a child molester opening up a neighborhood daycare center. It is this type of irony in the black community by leaders and organizations that keeps people from making progress. Here we have “leaders” who play nice and accept money from the very organizations that cause the most harm. This happens in many communities but it is perverse in the communities of color.

Does this means Tavis is going to turn his journalistic intuition on Wells Fargo and hold them accountable? I hope so. These are serious charges being leveled at a time when bad banks are receiving TARP bailouts. Is he going to compile and research the number of loans that were given to blacks vs. whites and present it to the board of directors of Wells Fargo? Will he ask for their resignations? Their explanations? Will he demand action?

Will he help them be a better bank by calling for an examination of how they conduct business with people of color? Will he turn down their sponsorship next year and take their logo off his Website with a link to their mortgage department? Is this not what several of the panelists often ask when others accept sponsorship or advertisement from organizations that do not toe the line when allegations or perceived racist misconduct occur?

It happens all the time.

Tavis has always asked his listeners and viewers to be watchful and test everything and everyone. How did Wells Fargo alleged predatory practices go unnoticed by Tavis who would not allow then Senator Obama to campaign without a thorough scrutiny of the issues and his character? President Obama who has been on the national political scene less than ten years is being examined microscopically by Tavis, while SOTBU, Tavis and the same panelists who appear year after year have held meetings with very loud megaphones on radio and television, sounding the alarm on many issues, yet remaining silent regarding the business practices of Wells Fargo and others, practices that have gone on much longer than President Obama has been in the White House according to the NAACP lawsuit.

I mention these things, not out of malice, but out of my intimate knowledge that we can do better. My beloved grandfather started the NAACP in our town in Mississippi. He stepped out on faith and held meetings when it was considered a death wish to do so. He stood by his principles and gained the respect of everyone including his critics. Not one sponsor paid for meetings that enlightened, encouraged, and empowered his fellow man. He received numerous awards and accolades for his work in the field of civil rights.

Daddy received letters from presidents, governors and other notables as well as those that made a difference that wore no title at all. “Fair is fair,” he said often. “Don’t have a rule for one that you can’t have for the other.” Daddy’s motivation for working hard to ensure others had the right to vote was based on his love for mankind. Daddy was all about fair play, even if it meant ticking off folks who sat on panels.

I learned from the best.

I like Tavis and his work. My critique is exactly what Tavis asks of the public. I will be the first to say he has done much for many, but those precious sponsorship dollars have a way of making folks look the other way. Demands cannot be made of one person when the rules are not applied to all.

That includes corporations who sponsor think tanks regarding accountability.

As “engaged citizens,” we need to hold each other accountable, seek transparency and make sure we are doing due diligence with everyone. Since Tavis has rightly challenged everyone to hold our President accountable for promises made, let us make sure Tavis does not stop with the President who has resided at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue less than three months.

I do hope Tavis will get back to us with any research on Wells Fargo and the outcome of the lawsuit by the NAACP. I hope his findings would be included in the next State of the Black Union.

I’d suggest getting Jon Stewart from The Daily Show to be host. Now that I would pay to sponsor, no questions asked.


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