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tv   Tavis Smiley  PBS  April 24, 2013 12:00am-12:30am PDT

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tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. with marytion williams and the mother she considers her second mother jane fonda. she writes about her challenging childhood in oakland, california. it is an incredible story. get to that conversation, we are celebrating our 10th anniversary, we introduce you to some of the folks who make our program possible. turning out is our audio engineer. he has been with me from the very beginning of this program can years ago. been delighted to have you on this program.
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>> thank you. been and broadcasting of very long time. one thing i learned is that content is the most important thing. that is why i am proud to work on this show. that is what it is about. the intelligent compelling dialogue. thank you for letting me be a part of that. take it away. >> we are glad you have joined us. >> there is a saying that dr. king had that said there is always the right time to do the right thing. i try to live my life every day by doing the right thing. we know that we are only halfway to completely eliminating hunger and we have work to do. walmart committed $2 billion to fighting hunger in the u.s. as we work together, we can stamp hunger out. >> and by contributions to your
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pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. tavis: it sounds like a fiction story, a teenager at struggling with the harsh upbringing. she spent an interlude at a summer camp run by a major movie store -- a major movie star. that is exactly what happened to mary williams. the woman she considers her second mother, jane fonda. he has written a very frank and more about her difficult upbringing. "lostook is called daughter."
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havefonda, delighted to you here as well. let me start with this. is sothat your story unique from what most black girls will ever in power, what do you want to take away to be for the reader? >> it is different, but it is relatable to a lot of people. a lot of the experiences i have gone through, maybe not altogether, but separately, a lot of people have gone through. the take away would be in terms of family and that forgiveness is very important in terms of healing. maybe not healing the relationship, but healing yourself. a big part of it is forgiveness. keeping faith in yourself. part of that started with my
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very first family. i was lucky to have been a panther and got the tools i needed to last through some difficult periods. the book is about that as well. a few things i could spend hours on. fascinated and riveted and pleased about your connection to the panthers. we live in a nation that when you see the black panthers, all of you did is punitive and pejorative and nasty and angry ugly rhetoric and that is not your story. say a word to me about your relationship with the black panthers. >> they are misrepresented a lot. they were my very first family. they were a militant organization in the heart of the civil rights movement. for me, they were a family and a
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protective vest and shielded us. i lived in panther housing, i went to a panther school. we were told that we were part of something special and we were meant for something powerful. not just for black people, but for all people who were oppressed. as a young child, i felt empowered. i felt important. i felt appreciated. if i were outside of the black panther bubble, everything in america was telling me i was dirty and i was stupid and i was a criminal. in my early formative years, i was shielded from that. i was given the opposite message. tavis: that did not stop you from having run ins. >> once we left the panthers, and i was being raised by my mother alone, my father was in
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prison, he was also a black panther. my mother left the panthers and it was six children and her. it was a single mother trying to raise us and she did well initially. she became the first female welder in oakland. she would have an injury and she lost the job. she struggled with an alcohol addiction and depression. our family started to fall apart. tavis: tell me how you end up in summer camp. >> my beautiful and incredible uncle, who was a serious panther, new jane fonda. jane fonda. i think you guys were on a trip. >> we went to south africa together. and in fund talking was starting a children's camp.
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i want this camp to be a place for all children. everybody to learn how to get along with one another. why don't you bring the panther children? my uncle sent me and two siblings. it was my first time outside of oakland. tavis: why did the idea of a summer camp for children come into the picture? >> i was married to tom, who later became a state senator. we want to have a place where the children of friends, and that included members of the black panther party, cesar we had kids that came from parole officers, we had kids that could not speak english. we had kids who had never had a room to themselves. we had kids to have made -- had maids.
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a lot of different kind of kids. there was this one girl, this a spark.had whoesence that everyone came in contact with curt knew that she was a special person. my husband and i spent all summer of there with the camp and my son grew up at the camp. a few summers went by -- it is interesting to me that she kept coming and the siblings did not. it has to do with resilience. one summer, she did not come. it was like, where is married? the next summer she came back and she was a different person. she was shut down. she did not want to be touched, she did not want to be in a crowd, she had nightmares. and then she admitted that she
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had been sexually abused. we could suit -- we could see before our eyes that this was -- this job was going under. she was so smart and she was getting f's and i knew i could help. i knew i could help because i knew what was inside this precious human being. if you bring your grades up, i will take you at of that situation. her mother was having a lot of trouble. quite understandably. if you bring your grades up, i will bring you down to live with us if your mother approves. and she did. tavis: it is part of your story. that is a difficult decision to make. to tell that kind of story publicly. tell me about what the experience was like in during that and years later, having to
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tell that story. ,> the community i grew up in and this chilly i talked about how i felt empowered. -- initially, i talked about how i felt empowered. i was the uber tomboy. as i approach puberty, everything changed. the minute i entered 11 or 12 years old, i felt -- i went from being empowered to feeling like prey. some of the men in my community would cruise by the bus stop. and propositioning me and touching me and i began to retreat into myself. i tried to wear baggy clothes, i tried to -- i stopped exploring because i felt frightened of was beingdy -- what
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attracted to me. it was not just me, it was a lot of girls. i saw a documentary that was made last year and they're still talking about that going on. i thought it was normal because i knew it was happening to other people. i will be smart about it, i will do everything i can to avoid it. when i was finally caught, the funny thing was, i took said unto myself because i thought, i got caught. it was not a crime that happened to me, i was stupid and i made a mistake and i was not strong enough. i gave up. i felt like going to that summer camp where it opened up the world to me and i was the wrong people who thought about the future was amazing and made me think i could be that tube. i will have the baby it who will love me and i will find a guy
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you can protect me from the other guys. when that happened to me, how stupid of me to think i could be different. finally -- the reason i finally told was someone wanted to know what was wrong with me. at home, nobody said, what is going on with you? my mother was battling her own demons and my sisters, i have five sisters older than me, they were gone. my older sister was a prostitute and drug addict. my other sister was a teen mother. another sister was also struggling. everybody was out for themselves. i did not think to tell anyone. camp, andt back to they wanted to know and they saw the change, i told them. >> there are all types of black kids. are waiting to be adopted.
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a great conversation that has been ongoing for years about why there are so many black kids waiting to be adopted, even by black people. here is a story where there is a decide to raise as part of your family even though you know there is some baggage. that is my word, not her word. there are some demons, some bad experiences. you and tom decide to bring her into your family anyway. and she is an african-american child. why did you do that? >> i thought i could help curb. she deserved being held. helped. you asked mary the take away from the book. my take away is a little different.
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as a young person, at a young disadvantaged person of any know when you are in the presence of love and metabolize it. a lot of young people i have reached out to that could not take it. they were not able to take it. this is a reminder that you have who can the lookout for help me. position tore in a be able to help, do it. are you'llng chances get more out of it than the person you are helping. from herarned more than she ever has stymied. it is a two-way street. -- than she ever has from me.
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it is a two-way street. it ain't rocket science. love is the cancer. answer.- love is the tavis: i am playing devil's advocate when i am asking this question. i suspect this is the kind of story that might become a movie. it is a brilliantly told stories and happens to be connected to a real-life celebrity named jane fonda. the story is redemptive, but jane fonda is connected to it. if this were to become a movie, there would be black folk in the community, you know where i'm going with this, here comes another movie of another black child being saved by some white people. if hollywood gives me one more list,se stories, a long
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even though there is love and it is worthy, how do you respond to people who say, this is another story of some white folk rescuing -- >> this is a story of me saving myself as well. a lot of people, if somebody is reaching out and hand and there is somebody grabbing a hand. i know people who do not know how to accept the help or see its as a weakness to admit that you need the help. it is not about jane saving me. i have seen that and articles. i think i saved myself as well. i could have easily stayed with my family. i had the courage to step into the unknown. i did not know what was going to go on. that takes a lot of courage. it is not the story of the great white savior. i know those stories. was twofoldion, it
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situation. >> we did not live this with the idea -- [laughter] as a black man, what do you think? the kinds ofare questions. that is a legitimate question. of course, she should have done it. is she right about the fact that love is real. black peoplee should reach out. maybe they do them we do not know about it. >> my uncle was an example. something i read on a blog and it blew my mind. could have been something amazing.
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-- it is about love and it is about someone helping another person. i do not know if we will ever get past the race thing. sad.is that is a statement about what is going on. tavis: that is why i wanted couchant and the right context. i love the story. the critique is more of hollywood. there are black folks who did this every day, but hollywood and making those movies. this is the kind of stuff that will be making movies. the kind of movies that can get made that did not tell the other side. it is a fascinating conversation to have. i have to assume that the
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jane fondas house and like being in oakland. in oakland.e being >> people said, you have all of these different families. what people need to understand is that the heart of this, these are militant people who care about the broader things the golan. -- things that go on. some things that -- it was a beautiful home, nothing on what you see like on the real housewives of beverly hills. there was a safe room, there was also a place for you could go if there was a home invasion. a remote control to start the car. it was beautiful.
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tavis: 0 plan might have been safer than jane's house. -- oakland might have been safer than jane's house. >> the thing that made the biggest difference was not necessarily the physical environment. it was the way i was treated. that was the biggest difference for me. >> it was a learning experience for me. i could see that sitting at a dinner table with a family using a knife and fork and how was your day was not part of mary's life. she was soaking it can and learning every day. one day, why was the camps so important to you? she said, i never met people before he thought about the future. that changed my life. i work with young people. i have nonprofits and i know you
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give people a sense of future and they do not engage in risky behavior. hope is the best contraceptive, for example. her being with us and being at the camp was profound in ways i never had anticipated. privilege white people, we take for granted that everybody thinks about the future. another thing after being there a few months, she said to me one day, this is embarrassing, i did not know mothers did not beat their children. tavis: your mom and your mama have finally met. how did that? -- how did that go? >> another amazing thing that jane did is when i came into the han, i had this sense that --
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when i came into the home, i had the sense that a lot of kids do get adopted. i always got afro-centric things. also took it upon herself to make sure that i retained who i was culturally. tavis: i love this picture. how did that meeting go? >> i was nervous, needless to say. i cried. i put myself in her shoes and how hard it is. and i have had plastic surgery.
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a lot of money goes into looking at this age, 75 years old. i did not want her to. i thought this must be really hard for her. i was nervous that she would be mad at me. she was not, she had a sense of humor. we laughed, we had lunch together. a photographer went away and will work together, the three of us all afternoon. i went to our house and i've lived through her photo albums. i have not there for a while. -- i hung out there for a while. what do you say to those young girls in oakland or south central or harlem who find
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themselves in the same situation as you did years ago where they feel like prey and everything around them is collapsing? i will repeat what you said. look for someone out there, whether it is a teacher or a , look for someone who was willing to open their hearts. i could have had jane fonda the celebrity, but what if to unfunded the celebrity was an awful person? it is about -- jane fonda the celebrity was an awful person? tell somebody. it is not your fault if someone has abused you. it is not right when a stranger doesn't, it is not right when someone related to you does it. family is not always genetics.
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look for -- save yourself, you are the hero in your story. i worked to save myself. tavis: that is why i celebrate the book and the work you have done. the book is called "the lost daughter." recommend you get the text. congratulations. that is our show for tonight. until next time, 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 with a conversation with molly ringwald.
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>> there is a saying that dr. king had that said there is always the right time to do the right thing. i try to live my life every day by doing the right thing. we know that we are only halfway to completely eliminating hunger and we have work to do. walmart committed $2 billion to fighting hunger in the u.s. as we work together, we can stamp hunger out. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. >> be more. pbs.
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