Genma Speaks

Entrepreneur/ Writer/ Radio-Host

Sunday, June 14, 2009

If Tavis Smiley was White, Wells Fargo and "Ghetto Loans" would be Front Page News

This is the third in a series of posts about Tavis Smiley and Wells Fargo, sponsor of the State of the Black Union (SOTBU). Everyone is in uproar about Wells Fargo employees calling loans to black mortgage holders “ghetto loans” and the disdain they showed for the customers they made the most profit from. But the media, especially black media, has been very silent about the role Tavis Smiley played in helping stack this ill fated deck of cards that has plagued the black community in several major cities.

When Mr. Smiley first partnered with Wells Fargo in 2005, he was a TEACHER of economic empowerment and assembled seminars around the country as the keynote speaker for wealth building. Press releases filled every major news outlet inbox and black newspapers were infected with faxes stating Mr. Smiley’s desire to teach the principles of home ownership as the key for breaking the cycle of poverty in the African American community. All this knowledge was given at no charge to trusting black folks. This was the golden ticket to obtaining the elusive piece of the pie via Mr. Smiley’s recommendations. Surely the intentions of all involved were pure and Mr. Smiley had vetted Wells Fargo thoroughly. Or so we thought. My granddaddy would say often, “Be wise when someone wants to give you something for free, there will be a price to pay later.”

Here’s what Mr. Smiley and Wells Fargo said in 2005 according to a widely circulated press release:

Wells Fargo Home Mortgage Joins With Tavis Smiley to Offer Free Wealth Building Strategies Seminar in Washington, DC

Tavis Smiley and a Host of Financial Experts Share Information
About Building Generational Wealth and Family Financial Security

WASHINGTON, Aug. 25 /PRNewswire/ -- Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, the nation's leading originator of home loans to ethnic minority customers, has joined forces with talk show host and author, Tavis Smiley; and several financial affairs experts to provide free Wealth Building Strategies Seminars in eight cities across the country, including Washington, D.C. Additional seminars featuring other popular panelists also will be offered in 12 more cities, nationwide.
The Washington, D.C. event will take place Sat., Sept. 10 at the Hilton Washington, 1919 Connecticut Ave., NW, from 9:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. For more information, or to register for the event contact 866-275-8584 or visit
"African-American households had $656 billion in earned income in 2003, an increase of 3.9 percent over the previous year*," said Jackson Cosey, senior vice president of emerging markets, Wells Fargo Home Mortgage. "The Wells Fargo Wealth Building Seminars will teach attendees the best route to make their income work for them over time through homeownership, investments and credit improvement while simultaneously helping them plan for their financial futures."
The free day-long events will feature interactive sessions and one-on-one meetings with financial experts, real estate professionals and Wells Fargo home mortgage consultants who will share information on building generational wealth and family financial security. In addition,the Wealth Building Strategies Seminars will include a keynote address by Tavis Smiley, the first person to ever simultaneously host signature talk shows on both the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) and Public Radio International(PRI).
Other cities on the Wells Fargo Wealth Building Strategies Tour include Los Angeles,Richmond,Va.,Dallas,San Francisco,Philadelphia,Chicago and Baltimore.
"All families dream about home ownership,college education, world travel and more but may not know the best steps to becoming financially independent,” said Smiley. "I am thrilled to be a part of the Wells Fargo Wealth Building Strategies Seminars tour because I truly believe this event offers attendees the fundamental tools they need to make their dreams a reality."
In addition to Smiley, acclaimed financial authority Kelvin Boston, host of PBS's financial affairs series "MoneyWise with Kelvin Boston" will be among the event speakers. The Wells Fargo Wealth Building Strategies Seminar also will feature interactive breakout sessions focused on topics including real estate, investing, and credit. Each seminar will feature a panel of experts who will provide a range of information related to their topic followed by a question and answer session. Following the breakout sessions, panelists will be on hand to meet privately with attendees to get advice related to their specific issues.
The Wells Fargo Wealth Building Strategies tour is just one of many initiatives that showcase Wells Fargo's commitment to its customers and the African-American community. Other programs include the African-American Business Services program which supports economic development in the African-American community and their Afro-centric branch designs which reflect the local African-American community and celebrate its heritage.
Wells Fargo Home Mortgage is the nation's No.1 retail mortgage lender**, the No 1,lender to low-to moderate-income and ethnic minority customers, and one of the country's leading servicers of home mortgages. It operates the country's largest mortgage network from more than 2,300 mortgage and Wells Fargo banking stores and on the Internet. Based in Des Moines, Iowa, it services loans for over 5 million customers nationwide.

(Source: Wells Fargo/PR Newswire)

Mr. Smiley stated he was “thrilled” to help black folks achieve their dreams but now that many of them have found themselves in a nightmare, where is he? Has he spoken out against the “ghetto loans” statement by Wells Fargo employees? Has he demanded accountability that he touts must be part of helping President Obama be the best President he can be? Has he applied that same scrutiny to Wells Fargo now that their sins of omission and commission have been exposed by their employees? Mr. Smiley’s messages are often woven with biblical terms to give his messages of empowerment a spiritual halo; so I will take a page from his book, has he washed himself in hyssop to amend for his leadership initiatives with Wells Fargo that has caused financial harm to people of color? Was he aware of their ‘good intentions’ from the start? Has he and the Smiley Group sent out press releases to denounce the actions of Wells Fargo that have been highlighted in the media over the last few weeks? There are hundreds of releases on the web announcing his decision to help black folks dreams become a reality from 2005-2008. Shouldn’t he address their present nightmarish economic plights as vigorously?

We should not be shy about asking these questions of Mr. Smiley. But why is black media afraid to question one of their favorite sons about the role he played promoting Wells Fargo to the African American community? Could it be they are part of the problem as well? I am keenly aware of the balance between the news and advocacy and recruiting advertisers and sponsors but we should not be ostriches when it comes to a story of this magnitude. For those who used Mr. Smiley’s conferences/events as promos to keep themselves in the mainstream media eye as “leaders” of the African-American community, they are eerily quiet on this subject. Many are giving the vibe that this is not their problem. Not only is this their problem but a problem that was sold to the community by many of them lending creditably to Wells Fargo by their participation at the SOTBU organized by Mr. Smiley. Mr. Smiley's events were promoted heavily on black radio stations and pushed to the African American community by the very media that has become silent. Many books, DVDs, and future speaking engagements as well as branding of black folk friendly products, like Wells Fargo loans, were marketed to attendees of these conferences.

Many of SOTBU featured speakers are protest initiators and apology demanding enthusiasts. Where are their statements on this subject? Wells Fargo is still a sponsor of Mr. Smiley’s events and he maintains a link on SOTBU website to their mortgage department? My PR training of yesteryear is still valid today; separate when your brand is being tarnished by another. Mr. Smiley’s continues with his Accountability Tour and black folks are still flocking to them without asking him to be accountable. We seem to love the oki-doke. Why do we play dumb and ignore the obvious? Mr. Smiley has done media interviews since the revelations of Wells Fargo employees’ statements and not one media personality has asked him about his ties to the Wells Fargo. Shouldn’t the public demand answers from a so-called leader about his financial partnership to a company that practiced such grievous actions? If Mr. Smiley was white, this would be front page news and a black radio tour would be ongoing for months by his cohorts that pranced on SOTBU's stage. Baltimore, MD was one of the first cities on his wealth empowerment tour. Will anyone cross reference his list of past attendees with those who have foreclosed properties now? Inquiring minds would like to know.

This is a larger symptom of an age old problem with black folks. We justify the actions of ego-driven-self-appointed helpers of the downtrodden with this verbiage “let’s not touch God’s anointed”. It is reminds me of the gospel shows on BET, the hypocrisy smacks you right in the face. Again, for the record, this is not a personal attack of Mr. Smiley, but stating facts which are not being addressed. When the NAACP filed the lawsuit against Wells Fargo, I questioned the SOTBU sponsorship in several posts in March and April. It is June and Mr. Smiley still has not issued a public statement. The community of color that he has taught to “enlighten, encourage and empower” is waiting. If he was white, the cries would be shouted from the roof tops? For too long, black folks have allowed our very own to pimp and sell us on the auction blocks to the lowest bidders without consequences. Wells Fargo used one of our own to profit from our trust of that individual. Mr. Smiley was not the only avenue Wells Fargo used to get their acid laden loans in the black community hands. As Wells Fargo’s employees stated last week, part of their marketing strategy included preachers of mega churches. Surprised? Why? What better way to get to the sheep than through those who claim to be shepherds. As for Mr. Smiley, he allowed his influence to be used to peddle nonsense to the very people he claims to love so dearly, yet he continues to promote his Accountability Tour. That is the definition of absurdity.

What’s that sound I hear from the media? Being a pest control operator, I know it all too well...crickets.

Update: Link on Mr. Smiley's website regarding Wells Fargo:

Previous posts about Tavis Smiley and Wells Fargo:


The Black Sphere said...

GREAT piece, Genma. It should be noted that Smiley did help with wealth just wasn't for black folks! Chalk yet another one up for the "poverty pimps!" Anybody with half a brain would have warned blacks that this was not a sound practice!

Darryl! said...

Wow!!! Genma, nice to see you are still on top of these tings and are willing to step out an speak to them.

I do have some general concerns about the posting and in some ways the criticism you present. While I will agree that there should be some expectation of "clarity/apology" from the Wells Fargo institution and its leadership. Clarity of the official policy and perspective on lending in "ethnic minoritiy" communities. Apology for the idiotic and unacceptable reference to people living in certain areas of the community/socioeconomic level/geographic location.

However these types of "clarity and apologies" often ring hollow in light of the revelation of the behavior which is more indicative of the true intention, attitude, and belief system in place in the corporation; especially in regards to communities of color.

And yet, I wonder if the "employees" were speaking of their own opinions or those held by the institution? I wonder if the "employees" were in positions of power to enact any form of bias or if they were given orders that they simply followed?

What is the percentage of minority homebuyers/owners that were successfully and powerfully helped and aided by Wells Fargo compared to those that were misguided or unfairly managed? Is this a problem specific to Wells Fargo or is this an industry wide issue that must also be exposed and corrected?

Wells Fargo is like many entities that supposedly do good will in our communities (WalMart, Tobacco companies, Alcohol Companies, etc) that support many efforts while still causing sever damage the personal and economic health of our community members/families. And these companies have many layers and "off spring" that have dome some good while the parent company may not, consistently.

In this light, I do not think that if Wells Fargo, or any other entity, intended to defraud or injure the community it would not tell Tavis or any of our leaders/pubic figures (not assuming any of them are leaders) about those intentions.

An idea was presented to Tavis (or he had one) and the opportunity was created. In and of itself this was not bad. And unless we can be sure that Tavis gave faulty information in his seminars, and/or that he did not issue specific warnings and guidance to help people make informed decisions we cannot hold him responsible for the practices of the parent company outside of his direct involvement with it.

So before we hold Tavis to the fire, let's hold Wells Fargo to the light if inspection first. Let us see what they intended and knew when Tavis was engaged and if in fact he was "used" to gain access to a "market" for Wells Fargo and then that trust was abused.

I do expect to hear from Tavis on this and many issues; but I would give him time to do his review of the situation, work with those whom he was contracted by for his seminars, do some investigation and then give us a full comprehensive report of both his involvement and the facts of the situation.

We must hold everyone to a fair standard and at the same time expect that policies and practices be put in place to make sure these kinds of abuses do not happen again.

So again Kudos to you Genma, and let us all be diligent in presenting all the facts so that we can actually do something about the situation.

Peace and blessings,


Genmaspeaks said...

You kill me! Haven't heard from you in ages and you post me a dissertation!My point is and always will be Mr. Smiley would never allow three months to pass if this was anyone else. He would on the TJMS getting folks to call/email/fax. I am asking him to park the accountability bus and check himself. Love you input anyway. Call me!

hoipolloi said...

Thanks for this! Just the antidote to the noise Tavis & Friends are making with that myopic Obama Complaints & Resentment tour. I look forward to hearing TS' response to your calls for accountability. Amazing how loud of a statement crickets can make.

Yvonne said...

I just found your blog. African American female professor here. You write smart, honest and to the point. Believe it or not it is rare in the blogosphere. Keep writing and I will keep reading. Thank you.

ladybee21 said...


Brilliant. Hold him accountable!

Pamela Lyn said...

Thank you for your excellent post and staying on top of this issue.

Wells Fargo was just one of the questionable sponsors of the SOTBU Conference. I also was troubled by the fact that Exxon Mobil logos were everywhere at a conference focusing on Accountability. Exxon, a company which has done all it can to avoid responsibility for the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

I hope that Mr. Smiley will speak out on this issue but I don't see it happening. I suspect that he believes that sponsorship of the SOTBU outweighs Wells Fargo's sins.

However, there is no excuse for Earvin Magic Johnson who is using his celebrity to promote Rent-A-Center. Rent to own places, which are not accidentally most often located in minority neighborhoods, prey on the economically vulnerable.

MartiniCocoa said...

Thank you for providing such clarity of Tavis Smiley's current predicament.

As he bleats for accountability from the President, it is illuminating to see first hand proof that he values corporate sponsorship over integrity and his professed love for the best for the black community.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting post. Tavis Smiley has always been pretentious and self serving, but this is a new low even for him. The bad thing about it is it is not surprising. it is distrubing, but not surprising. Someone sent me a link to your site and we both share similar thoughts about the great Rev. Smiley

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