When author and talk-show host Tavis Smiley speaks during a benefit program at Cheyney University next week, he will address the importance of preserving historically Black colleges and universities.

Cheyney will host an “Evening with Tavis Smiley” on Thursday at 7 p.m. at the university’s Marian Anderson Music Center Auditorium.

During an interview with the Tribune this past week, Smiley said it’s important HBCUs like Cheyney be protected and preserved.

“There are a lot of individuals in Black America who are doing remarkably well, but at the end of the day it’s about institutional advancement and not just about individual success,” said Smiley, who is the host of the late-night television talk show “Tavis Smiley” on PBS, as well as “The Tavis Smiley Show” from Public Radio International and the author of 18 books. “We have to make sure that we build and that we grow these institutions. I want to talk about institution building now and in the future.”

During his visit to Cheyney, Smiley will have the opportunity to dialogue with students while he is on campus.

“These are challenging times and when they get their degrees and graduate from Cheyney, they will not be entering into a world that is going to be all that welcoming,” Smiley said. “It’s a tough place. It’s a challenging place. It’s a competitive place.

“Opportunities in the job market are very competitive so it’s a matter of helping them understand how they are going to take this degree, make the most of it and make some meaningful contributions. It requires you to be a little more crafty, a little more innovative, a little more creative than people had to be perhaps in years prior. You’ve got to be creative. You’ve got be innovative. You’ve got to be crafty and you’ve got to be prepared.”

Smiley recently released his new book “My Journey with Maya,” which recounts his friendship with Maya Angelou. Angelou was an acclaimed poet, author, educator and civil rights icon.

He said it was Angelou’s love for young people that drew her from New York to teach at Wake Forest University in Winston Salem, N.C.

“It’s a wonderful calling to have, to be involved in the growth and the maturity of these young people and she took that job very seriously. I learned from her that everything that we can do to aid and abet the growth of these young people we need to do,” Smiley said.

Proceeds from the upcoming benefit event will support scholarships for students in Cheyney’s Keystone Honors Program. The Keystone Honors Academy provides a unique educational experience for academically gifted students. Annually, scholarship funds enable 130 Keystone Honors Academy students to pursue their educational and professional dreams

Officials said the honors academy’s persistence rate is 82 percent and the program graduates students at a rate that is twice that of the national average for African Americans. There are more than 500 alumni of the Keystone Honors Academy, and they are employed in the public and private sectors, spanning the fields of medicine and health, business, law, education and public administration.

“The honors program works to raise funds for talented students who would not otherwise have the means to access a college education,” said Tara Kent, dean of the Keystone Honors Academy at Cheyney University.

“The KHA program has strong outcomes. Our students are an excellent investment.”

The lecture series is an annual Cheyney University tradition and has featured noted figures including filmmaker Spike Lee, author Maya Angelou, and activist and scholar Angela Davis.

Advance VIP or general admission tickets are available at http://keystonehonorsacademy.ticketleap.com/an-evening-with-tavis-smiley/ or www.cheyney.edu.

ajones@phillytrib.com

(215) 893-5747

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