What I Know for Sure: My Story of Growing Up in America

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Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Oct 10, 2006 - Biography & Autobiography - 320 pages
“I Have a Dream,” Dr. King intoned. In English class, we were just starting to learn about similes and metaphors and figures of speech. Those concepts weren’t immediately clear to me as Dr. King talked about “symbolic shadow,” but …I understood the power of symbolic language.

Over the next several weeks, I spent hours studying that one speech…King’s speeches touched me so deeply and profoundly that, for reasons I couldn’t explain, I found myself crying. I wasn’t sure what those tears represented: maybe his words touched the pain and hurt and humiliation I was still feeling; maybe my tears stemmed from the new confidence and purpose his words gave me. Maybe I felt an empathy with my people whose history of suffering and survival was coming alive to me for the first time. In part, they reflected my pride in the courageous brilliance of a leader outspoken in conveying our purpose and passion.

I see now that King influenced me on several levels: First, he showed me that words have meaning—they aren’t arbitrary—and words are powerful. He showed me that words can carry the force of love. He also showed me that one man can make a difference. He himself had made that difference….Despite evidence to the contrary, King believed that things would get better. Every day that I read his words, they moved me like a powerful sermon. They changed my life and emboldened my ambition.
—From What I Know For Sure

From the man who catapulted The Covenant with Black America to number one on the New York Times bestseller list comes a searing memoir of poverty, ambition, pain, and atonement. Celebrated talk-show host Tavis Smiley describes growing up in an all-white rural community in Indiana and the impact it had on his life.

Tavis Smiley grew up in a family of thirteen in a small trailer in Indiana, where money was scarce and the sight of other black faces even scarcer. One of only a few African American kids in his high school, he grew up feeling like an outsider because of the color of his skin, his Pentecostal religious beliefs, and his family’s economic circumstances. It was the love and support of his family that sustained him. But that trust and support was shattered when his father, in a moment of rage, beat him with an electrical cord, sending him to the hospital. Tavis was placed in foster care for a time, and it took him years to bridge the emotional chasm between him and his parents.

Nothing, however, could quench Tavis’s fierce inner drive to succeed. His remarkable speaking ability made him an oratorical champion in Indiana and offered him a pathway to a different world. Determined to fight for the underdog and for African American rights, he entered the political arena, moving to Los Angeles to work in Mayor Tom Bradley’s administration. Later, he embarked on his career as a radio commentator, discovering that it was an ideal way to influence public discourse on the issues of the day. Now with his own show on PBS, he remains committed to bettering the lives of all Americans; he’s especially acclaimed for his work on behalf of people of color and the underprivileged.

An honest, deeply moving self-portrait of one of America’s most popular media figures, What I Know for Sure should appeal to readers everywhere.

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WHAT I KNOW FOR SURE: My Story of Growing Up in America

User Review  - Kirkus

PBS host Smiley (Hard Left, 1996) tells his rags-to-riches—or, more precisely, trailer-park-to-television-station—story.Born in Gulfport, Miss., in 1964, the author grew up in a large family that ... Read full review

What I know for sure: my story of growing up in America

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

Host of his eponymous show on PBS, Smiley (Keeping the Faith: Stories of Love, Courage, Healing, and Hope from Black America ) here collaborates with biographer Ritz (Divided Soul: The Life of Marvin ... Read full review

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About the author (2006)

TAVIS SMILEY is the host of Tavis Smiley on PBS and The Tavis Smiley Show from PRI (Public Radio International). He is the author of the bestsellers Hard Left, Doing What’s Right, How to Make Black America Better, and Keeping the Faith. This spring, his efforts to promote the publication of The Covenant with Black America helped to make it a number-one New York Times bestseller. He lives in Los Angeles.

DAVID RITZ has written biographies of, among others, Ray Charles, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, and B. B. King. His latest book, Messengers: Portraits of African American Ministers, is being published by Doubleday in 2006.

To see photographs from Tavis’s life, as told in What I Know for Sure, and to learn about Tavis’s events and the Tavis Smiley Foundation’s activities, please visit www.tavistalks.com.

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