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Latino Conference to Be Taped Live at the University of Chicago

By Wendell Hutson | February 28, 2013 6:11am
 Tavis Smiley.
Tavis Smiley.
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Getty Images/Frederick M. Brown

CHICAGO — For the second time in less than two years, talk show host Tavis Smiley said he will tape a Public Broadcasting Service documentary in Chicago.

This time, the focus is on Latinos.

A conference, "Latino Nation: More Than Numbers," will be taped live on April 6 at the University of Chicago's Harris School of Public Policy Studies, 1155 E. 60th St., Smiley said.

"Latinos proved during this last presidential election that their vote counts and their influence can make a difference," he said. "I taped a series in Chicago last year dealing with juvenile justice and found Chicago to be ground zero for that topic."

Beyond the growing population of Latinos, Smiley is also preparing to host another PBS documentary that hits closer to home.

PBS on March 26 will air "Education Under Arrest-Juvenile Justice Dropout Rate," which focuses on "zero tolerance" discipline policies at many public schools. Tougher disciplinary actions began shortly after the April 20, 1999, massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., Smiley said.

"Kids get kicked out of school and put into juvenile detention centers for minor offenses like throwing gum at a teacher, starting a food fight in the cafeteria and pushing another student,"  Smiley said. "Too many kids from elementary to high school are being funneled through a criminal justice system that scars them for life."

He also contends that law enforcement is more concerned with locking up at-risk youths than helping them.

"This trend is happening with all kids but especially to black males," Smiley said. "Chicago kids are being criminalized by a system willing to spend more money to keep them in prison rather than in school."

Smiley taped part one of the documentary "Too Important to Fail" last year while in Chicago.

"I was there in September when the teachers strike was going on, and I agreed with the mayor when he proposed continuing negotiations while school remained open. I saw kids hanging out on the street all day because schools were closed and that left them vulnerable to the streets," he said.

One Englewood high school caught Smiley's attention when he visited.

"I visited Urban Prep High School, where [founder] Tim King is doing some amazing things with our black males," he said. "Youth violence in Chicago is nationally known, and like most big cities, the offenders are often youth themselves.

"And rather than try to rehabilitate them the criminal justice system simply locks them up and throws away the key."