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In his autobiography, Smiley says that a deputy mayor caught him systematically adding extra hours to his time sheets, illegal behavior that could have seen him charged with a felony and expelled from college, but instead of pressing charges, Mayor Allison allowed him to work all of the hours for which he had already been paid, and did not tell other people what he had done.
When Smiley visited Los Angeles to attend a national student leaders' convention, the cousin of his roommate introduced Smiley to football star Jim Brown.
Smiley countered with the assertion that he had offered the story—an interview with Sara Jane Olson, an alleged former member of the Symbionese Liberation Army—to CBS, which, along with BET, was owned by Viacom.
Smiley ultimately sold the interview to rival network ABC, he said, only after CBS passed on the interview, and suggested that his firing was payback for the publicity he gained as a result of providing an exclusive interview to ABC.
Instead, Smiley did not graduate from college at all, because he failed a required course in his senior year, and "did poorly in several other courses," which meant he could not complete his degree on time; rather than stay for an extra term, he chose to leave IU and move to Los Angeles, where he had been promised a job.
Campaigning for a seat on the Los Angeles City Council in 1991 against incumbent Ruth Galanter, Smiley finished fourth among 15 candidates.
The Smileys had three more children and added four more after the murder of Joyce's sister.
Each of these town hall meetings focused on a specific topic affecting the African-American community, featuring a panel of African-American leaders, educators, and professionals, assembled before an audience, to discuss problems related to the forum's topic, as well as potential solutions.
Smiley also used his commentator status on Joyner's radio show to launch several advocacy campaigns to highlight discriminatory practices in the media and government, and to rally support for causes such as the awarding of a Congressional Gold Medal to civil rights icon Rosa Parks.
Initially, four of her five children were cared for by their grandmother (known as "Big Mama"), but ill health impaired her ability, and Joyce and Emory took them in.
The trailer home sheltered thirteen, including Tavis and his seven brothers and two sisters and the three adults.
Smiley then began hosting The Tavis Smiley Show on National Public Radio (NPR) (2002–04) and used to host Tavis Smiley on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) on weekdays and The Tavis Smiley Show on Public Radio International (PRI).