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About Us

"Our young people are like Kodak film. All they need is a little exposure," Tavis Smiley


Our Mission

Through our mission to enlighten, encourage, and empower, the Tavis Smiley Foundation, founded in 1999, works to develop and mentor future leaders by providing leadership training that will promote and enhance a greater quality of life for them, their communities and the world. The Foundation seeks to examine barriers and identify solutions to alleviate poverty in the United States across all sectors including youth, underserved communities and families. It is recognized as a nonprofit public charity under section 5013 of the Internal Revenue Code.

Over the years, the foundation has mentored and trained over 6,000 youths at leadership training workshops and conferences. It is very active in the community and continuously gives back by participating in educational events. With the help of Microsoft, the foundation created the technology lab at Compton High School.

"Our young people are like Kodak film. All they need is a little exposure, " Tavis Smiley

Our History

Author, advocate, radio and talk show host Tavis Smiley founded the Tavis Smiley Foundation (TSF) in 1999 after granting a request from a single mother to have her son, Will, "shadow" him for a day. Judy Williams was seeking a role model for her son, but the experience proved to be just as positive for Tavis.

When listeners of the nationally-syndicated Tom Joyner Morning Show heard about Will's shadowing experience, thousands called Tavis to request that their daughter, niece or nephew spend the day with him as well. Tavis, who at a young age was inspired by one of his mentors to serve people, recognized the need for a leadership program that would allow him to reach and inspire hundreds of youth.

The result was Youth to Leaders, a program that would identify young people with great potential and then provide training to help them develop into leaders. Tavis believed motivation and encouragement coupled with leadership training and early exposure would result in a new generation of youth organizers, activists, and advocates serving as catalysts for social change reminiscent of the Civil Rights era. And he believed these young people identified as new leaders could begin serving immediately as opposed to waiting until their 30s or 40s.

To date more than 6,500 teens, ages 13-18, have participated in our leadership conferences, workshops and lecture series.

Tavis Smiley Foundation Board of Directors

Tavis Smiley
Founder and Chair                                                             

Denise Pines
Denise Pines, Inc.

Leonard James
US Business Development Manager

Olivia E. Mitchell
Deputy Director
CDD-Human Services and Family Development

Nicole Jones
Associate Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations
Loyola Marymont University

Elicia Azali
Brand Manager

Justin Hempstead
Tax Associate
Ernst & Young LLP

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