tv Tavis Smiley PBS November 30, 2011 12:00am-12:30am PST
tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. first up, a conversation with marsha coleman-adebayo. she became the public face for what can happen to truth tellers in washington. she has a new book about her story called "no fear." bob knowling is here. he is -- the subject of his book, you can get there from here. we are glad you joined us. >> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it's the cornerstone we all know. it's not just a street or boulevard, but a place where walmart stands together with your community to make every day better.
>> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and every answer, nationwide insurance is proud to join tavis in working to improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic empowerment one conversation at a time. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] tavis: marsha coleman-adebayo was an analyst at the e. p. weight -- epa when she discovered a case to the attention of her superiors. she was told to shut up and denied a promotion. she did not back down.
her efforts led to the passage of the notes here act which protect whistle-blowers. the new book is called "no fear: a whistleblower's triumph over corruption and retaliation at the epa." she joins us tonight from washington. good to have you on this program. >> it is a pleasure to be with you. tavis: your conviction, your commitment, i appreciate that on behalf of all americans. let me start by asking who contacted you from south africa and what symptoms were these persons been afflicted with? >> thank you for having me on your show. i was contacted by a union official who was working with in my capacity. we had brought him to study environmental protection policy. he approached me and told me
that a u.s. multinational corporation was involved in the poisoning of a small community in south africa with a toxin, a very toxic elements. the symptoms are severe. with in the first six months, the male minors become impotent. their tongues turn a bright green, sometimes black. mostly green. in the final stages they believe from every orifice of their body. their eyes and ears. they defecate blood. this is a toxic substance. tavis: they told you about what was happening. did you take a trip to south africa? how did you get evidence?
>> i took this information to my superiors. this one supervisor told me to shut up and the not concern myself with these issues and decorate my office. when i refused, i was the epa representative which is a white house initiative at the beginning of nelson mandela's administration. my job was work with the environmental leadership in south africa to help them transition from apartheid to democracy. gore refers to al gore who was the vice president. the vice president some of these nations had a commission to look at a variety of issues.
>> that is correct. a very high-level commission. every six months we met in the united states or south africa. i was able to get a commission to authorize an independent investigation of the poisoning. when i tried to implement the decree of commission, every obstacle was placed in my way. investigation never took place. when i continue to push and refuse to stop talking about what i heard, i was removed from the commission. i was booted out of the office into another program i could not get the story at of my mind. in terms of the stories i had heard about what was happening to the community. i was able to get a couple girlfriends were medical doctors
to travel with me on our own resources to travel to south africana and conduct our own investigation. tavis: fair to say at the time of your being removed that alcor -- al gore, the white house had been apprised of your concerns? >> no question about that. when daylight came into my office and there was a folder on my desk because the former head of transafrica had written to the vice president. there requesting to see any communication between the epa and randall robinson. the white house was abreast of what was going on. at first i was hoping that meant that was a good
indication that something positive would happen as a result. of course nothing happened. tavis: we know al gore as a nobel peace prize winner. how is it that al gore could have been aware of this and you're still told by your boss is to sit down somewhere? >> it is disappointing. it was one of the darkest days. i remember having a flicker of hope that now the white house has been apprised and maybe they will tell the folks at epa to back off and go to south africa to save this community. the opposite happened. i should tell you that the vice president's office also knew the racial climate and that we survived in at the epa by the naacp.
nothing happened as a result of that knowledge. tavis: the democrats in the clinton white house sometime wanted to keep this thing quiet or not given any attention to it. a republican member of congress ends up being your champion on this legislation. tell me more about that. >> the role he played was he was prepared to talk to us. to provide an entry into the political process. i have to give kudos to sheila jackson of texas. unless she had partnered with james, the law would have died. it was that partnership that allowed the bill to pass through congress unanimously on the house and senate side.
this was the first time ever that a civil rights law had passed unanimously. tavis: what to do you make of the journey you had to make that locket signed into books? -- law signed into books? >> i endured a death threats. these were attacks against me and my family. it was not just me. the beauty of the story is that so many workers joined me in this incredible fights to pass the no fear act. some employees were fired. we suffered a number of casualties in this battle. there were two people i can think of that died in the process of trying to get a law passed. this was a movement. this was a battle that we, as a
group, came together. it was a moment in time or the government said there is something more than just my paycheck. we are staring history in the face and we cannot fail. tavis: what were the authorities in south africa saying about what the u.s. company was doing to its citizens? >> there is a problem. 80% of south africa's gdp comes from the extractive industry. their economy is built upon the mining process. when you have an economy built upon extracting, and almost all are harmful to the environment, we did not get much of a reaction. tavis: danny glover has options to the rights of this.
this will become a movie? >> that is our prayer. we are working to translate the book into a movie. we have received a lot of interest in doing so. tavis: it is not lost on me that i'm looking at a black woman who is fighting on the behalf of black africans who were being harmed by a u.s. company. we now have an african-american president, the epa has its first african-american director, a woman named police said jackson. tell me how this administration is doing on environmental issues. >> we just had a major setback on environmental matters when the president decided to ask lee said jackson to step down. according to the epa system, that would mean about 720,000 deaths, and 38,000 a tax of
asthma or bronchitis as a result -- attacks of asthma or bronchitis as a result. i have been inspired by the occupy movement. i have led a demonstration to ask the president to reverse his decision. a issue that unites all of humanity is that we need clean air to be healthy. we are asking the president to reverse his decision. we cannot leave 720,000 people dead. there is no good reason except we are appeasing business. we have asked the president to reverse his decision. tavis: this is the face of the woman who made it possible for employees to be protected in town.
her name is marsha coleman- adebayo. the book is called "no fear: a whistleblower's triumph over corruption and retaliation at the epa." thank you for your work and your witness. >> thank you for having me. tavis: up next, bob knowling. stay with us. bob knowling crew up on welfare in indiana. -- grew up on welfare in indiana. that did not prevent him from getting an education and becoming a leading telecommunicate -- tele- communications ceo. his new book is called "you can get there from here: my journey from struggle to success." he has been called on by the left and the right, bill clinton
in michael bloomberg have called on him for a variety of projects to have the first and maybe last person on the program to be knocked from the same hometown as i am, indiana, but the same high school i went to. what are the chances you would get two black men out of the corn field in indiana on pbs? only in america. it is an honor to have you on this program. i am sure the folks in indiana are proud to have hoosiers on national television. your story is fascinating. i want to start at an unlikely place. there has been so much conversation about herman cain. those who are turned on to him like his business background and his 9-9-9 plan, the partite keep
coming back to, apparently people like how he wound up where he is given where he began. he started and poverty and he did it the hard way and they're right way. it suggests that most black folks who do not succeed do not do with the same way. it is not that unusual if you succeed, whatever that means. what you make of all the conversation about his success? >> it is a story that has followed me my entire career. it is one that i have tried to downplay because there are hundreds of these cases out there. i look at my mother. there is a case of a single mom with 13 kids who figured a way to get us out of there. people are infatuated with their rags to riches component.
most of my career i have fought against it and focused on what i have done in turning business around and delighting shareholders. quit talking about welfare and getting out of that process. tavis: we went to the same high school, and grew up in the same conditions, you are from a large family, tell me more about growing up during your time? >> my mother was divorced because -- i went between my mom and my dad and my grandparents and at one time followed my debt to michigan. and my grandparents in missouri. i was never a stable and many of those homes. a big family, there are 13 brothers and sisters. as you exist in tough conditions, you do not know your
situation is bleak because everyone is in the same condition. when people ask me what it was like, i was like any other kid. nobody had a car or a telephone. we just existed. tavis: outdoes growing up in that environment -- how does growing up in that environment, what do you draw upon from that upbringing to help you being the kind of man you are? >> i think the values that i picked up from grandparents and my mother, the going to church and having a faith are things i draw upon. tough conditions are the things you draw upon when you get into difficult situations. i have never found anything as tough as overcoming some of the struggle since childhood. not having food. i was beaten once by a principle
to the point where i was numb. some of those conditions, and everything i do in the private sector, is child's play compared to the things as a child. tavis: i spoke at a conference the other day. black enterprise magazine asked me to speak. i spoke to this audience of people about some of these issues, succeeding. one of the issues the comes up is the extent to which as an african-american, some believe you have to surrender your soul and a compromise yourself. you have to put aside your own culture if you want to make it in the culture of business. what has your journey been regarding that? denying who you are as a black man to be accepted?
>> interesting the way you put that. there are compromises you have to work. i am a believer in diversity. i have found that as i navigated through my career, often i would have to make choices i would have loved to make from a heart in terms of people i want on the team. the objective is to get to the ceo suite. you cannot make a lot of waves. you cannot be the bull and the china shop. you can do that once you're in a position of power. it is a process of navigating to think you can be authentic is wrong. it is not the way the process works. i would also say i have never compromised to the point where i lost my vanity. tavis: about real diversity in corporate america, they point to
a handful of black ceos. there are only a handful. there are three or four people, dick parsons, people like that as examples of how much better corporate america is that diversity. i never bought that because a handful of black folk are at the top. that does not mean diversity is setting in as a way of life. let me ask you of how well we are doing or not doing with regard to real diversity in corporate america. >> i was on a show and i was asked about what martin luther king so good about where we are today? i said he would see progress but we are a long way from having parity. if you look at the representation, and number of women and people of color who
are leading businesses, we are no further ahead than 15 years ago. it is a select group of folks to get through. it is tough once you get there to ensure there is a pipeline of succession. i have never compromised on my desire and my ability to put people of color and women in the top jobs. my last business that i ran was a great guy from harvard. my chief operating officer was a white female. i have done the things you're supposed to do. diversity, people think it is a handout program. diversity is the way to get a better perspective and result. tavis: how did telecom and up being your area of expertise? >> i was back at my alma mater
and they told the kids you do not have to have it figured out. i came at of college with one desire, -- out of college with one desire, to take, -- take care of my mother. there was a guy who left his house with a white shirt on. i don't know if he was a janitor or a banker but i said that is what i'm going to do. i'm going to wear a white shirt. i'm going to play to win and take care of my mom. when i graduated i have a lot of job offers, professional sports. i knew i had a better chance of being in a clear finish -- physicist then the nfl. tavis: 800 cities and counting
with peace protests. people are having major issues and pushing back on wall street and corporate america. >> because people do not have jobs. when you look at the compensation being paid, you have a country that is hurting right now. where you go when bank of america says 30,000 jobs are going to be laid off? it is tough times. the turmoil we are seeing relative to people losing their jobs, a housing crisis. turn the clock back 15 years where everybody could get a house. now people are upside-down. you can go into neighborhoods and take the pick of the letter in terms of depressed assets. it is a tough time. wood is the lesson you want people to take from this book?
>> i am a reluctant author. there have been many ceos who have written books and they have all the answers. i said let them be the guys who write the books. one day one of the senior executives said you are depriving the world of some great lessons. i decided it would not be a book or i tell you all the answers. this is a book that will talk about the frailty of the human spirit and the self doubt. what you do when you get a gut punch to? how you run into the wall and continue to charge the door again? the book is wrong because it is a true story -- raw because it is a true story. i hope people will get a nugget that you can come from a way off
and get to a greater distance. tavis: herman cain is not the only one. for those of you turned on by black people doing it a hard way and making success of themselves, you will not be disappointed from this new book by bob knowling, "you can get there from here: my journey from struggle to success." i think you will be inspired. could to have you on the program. that is our show for tonight. as always, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org. tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for the first part of a conversation with harry belafonte.
>> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it's the cornerstone we all know. it's not just a street or boulevard, but a place where walmart stands together with your community to make every day better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and every answer, nationwide insurance is proud to join tavis in working to improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic empowerment one conversation at a time. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you.