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Moment of Truth

Aired July 22, 2009 - 19:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, HOST: And welcome to New York City's Times Square, everybody. As you can see, we're in front of a live audience literally smack-dab in the middle of Times Square. We have brought together this evening some of the most influential radio talk show hosts in the country.

And in turn, we have asked them to invite the most influential people who brought them to a life-changing moment of truth, is what we're calling it. It is just the beginning of a momentous night right here on CNN.

We're premiering CNN PRESENTS: "Black in America 2," which is a look at the most challenging issues facing African-Americans, and also the solutions to those issues. Of course we're counting down to President Obama's prime time news conference. We could not have picked a more timely night to begin our discussion.

But here to get us started is Tom Joyner, his nationally syndicated -- welcome, syndicated radio program, "The Tom Joyner Morning Show," of course, heard by millions of folks every day.

Now the past few days, one story has really dominated the conversation on his program. Take a listen to a little bit of what they were talking about.


TOM JOYNER, HOST, "THE TOM JOYNER MORNING SHOW": So, the professor of African-American studies at Harvard University was arrested because a neighbor...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Really truly arrested?

JOYNER: Arrested.


JOYNER: The Cambridge police came to the door and said, identify yourself. And he said, why? Because I'm a black man in America?


O'BRIEN: The man they're talking about also happens to be the most influential person in Tom Joyner's life. So please welcome in his first TV appearance since the arrest, Professor Henry Louis Gates joining us. (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

O'BRIEN: Tom and Professor Gates, nice to have you both.


O'BRIEN: You sort of had your own moment of truth over recent days. So I'd like to start with that. We know that you were on a lengthy trip to China and you were returning home. What exactly happened?

GATES: Well, I was filming my new documentary series for PBS called "Faces of Americans," it's about immigration. And we were filming Yo-Yo Ma's ancestral cemetery for a week in China. It was fantastic. And my daughter and I -- I took my daughter along. And we had just flown back from China.

I came from New York to Boston. And my driver picked me up. We got to my house in Harvard Square and the door was jammed. The door wouldn't open. And to make a long story short, I asked my driver just sort of to push the door through. I gave him his tip, he left.

I called Harvard Real Estate, which does the maintenance on my house because they own the house. And while I was on the phone, a Cambridge policeman showed up on my porch. I walked with the phone still active to my porch and he demanded that I step out of my house on to the porch.

That's all he said. He said, I would like to you step outside. I said, absolutely not. I said, why are you here? He said, I'm investigating a breaking and entering charge. I said, this is my house, I'm a Harvard professor, I live here.

He said, can you prove it? I said, just a minute. I turned my back. I walked into the kitchen to get my Harvard ID and my Massachusetts driver's license. He followed me without my permission. I gave him the two IDs and I demanded to know his name and his badge number.

O'BRIEN: And when you demanded that, what did he say?

GATES: He wouldn't say anything. He was just very upset. He was trying to figure out who I was. He was looking at the ID. He didn't say anything. And I said, why are you not responding to me? Are you not responding to me because you're a white police officer and I'm a black man?

He turned, walked out -- turned his back on me, walked out. I followed him on to my porch. It looked like a police convention, there were so many policemen outside. I stepped out on my porch and said, I want to know your colleague's name and his badge number.

And this officer said, thank you for accommodating my earlier request, you are under arrest. And he slapped handcuffs on me and they took me to jail. O'BRIEN: Originally they put the handcuffs behind your back.

GATES: They put the handcuffs behind my back. And I told them that I was handicapped, I used a cane. They had a debate. There was a black officer there who was very sensitive. He persuaded them to move the handcuffs from around the back to the front. They took me to the Cambridge Police station and booked me, fingerprints, mug shot, which has now been all over the universe.

O'BRIEN: I've got to tell you, to see -- I mean, Professor Gates, I had him in college. And you know, to have that shot, your mug shot, it is quite a shock to see. What was that moment like for you?

GATES: It was terrifying. And I realized...

O'BRIEN: Were you afraid?

GATES: I knew that I was in danger but I knew, too, that as soon as my friends could get to jail, starting with Professor Charles Ogletree, who is my friend and lawyer, that eventually I would be OK.

But what it made me realize was how vulnerable all black men are, how vulnerable all people of color are and all poor people to capricious forces like a rogue policeman. And this man clearly was a rogue policeman.

O'BRIEN: The police report said he described you as behaving in a tumultuous manner.

GATES: Yes, look how tumultuous I am. I'm 5'7", I weigh 150 pounds. And my tumultuous, outrageous action, Tom, was to demand that he give me his name and his badge number. Soledad, why? Because if I had stepped out on the porch -- it is important for all people to know this about the police.

If I had stepped outside of my house, he couldn't come in my house legally without a warrant. He couldn't arrest me without a warrant. Had I stepped outside he would have slapped handcuffs on me for being under suspicion of breaking and entering because he was responding to a profile.

Two black men with backpacks were breaking and entering into my home. And when he see me, he just presumed that one of them was me.

O'BRIEN: A neighbor called 911. I mean, it was a neighbor of yours who said that description, two black men breaking into your house. Are you angry with your neighbor?

GATES: No. In fact I hope right now that if someone is breaking into my house this nice lady is calling the police. I have a lot of valuable art and books in that house. And in fact, I think I'm going to send this person some flowers. I hope she is watching. I know that she must be intimidated and she must think that I'm very angry.

It wasn't her fault. It was the fault of the policeman who couldn't understand a black man standing up for his rights right in his space. And that's what I did. And I would do the same thing exactly again.

O'BRIEN: The charges were dropped.

GATES: Charges were dropped and the mayor of Cambridge, God bless her, called me and apologized to me. And my lawyers and I are considering what further action. Because this is...

O'BRIEN: What does that mean? Does that mean lawsuit?

GATES: Perhaps. Because this is not about me. This is about the vulnerability of black men in America.

O'BRIEN: You know, you raise an interesting point. And again, the reason you were originally here was to talk to being the inspiration for Tom Joyner. You helped Tom Joyner track down part of his history that brings us right back to the vulnerability of African- American men, but many, many years prior to your situation.

GATES: Almost a century ago, Tom's great uncles, Tom and Meeks Griffin (ph) were electrocuted on September 29, 1915, in South Carolina for a crime -- for murdering a white man, a Confederate veteran, for a crime that they most certainly did not commit. And we are filing papers to the governor of South Carolina, who has been rather busy lately, hasn't responded to my -- to our case.

O'BRIEN: Yes. We heard about him in the news too.

GATES: I think he took your petition to South America somewhere. But we're going to get them exonerated. It is a terrible, terrible story.

O'BRIEN: What was -- what did it feel like? I mean, all this was done with the DNA testing. And really your passion has been to sort of fill in the blanks of the story of African-Americans. You do that on PBS. You do that in your work. You do that in your research. You do that in the DNA testing.

It was incredibly emotional for you to know the people you came from.



JOYNER: First of all, when you asked me to do this, and you asked, name someone who has been very influential in your life, this was three weeks ago, not knowing that what happened to Dr. Gates would have happened and making him the star of this whole "Black in America 2" show today.

Every day that I go into my studio, I have the books that he gave me about my ancestry.

O'BRIEN: Tracing your history. JOYNER: And like the log at the Apollo, just for good luck, when I walk into my studio, I rub these books, because that makes me realize that no matter how much of a struggle that I might be going through, that my ancestors went through a larger struggle.

And that we have come -- we've come a long way and Dr. Gates and the incident reminds us that we still have a long way to go.

O'BRIEN: Why is it so important that black people know where they come from? I mean, a lot of your passion, Professor Gates, is in making that connection. And when people discover who they come from, they freaked out.

JOYNER: You get fired up. You get fired up. I know it did for me.

O'BRIEN: What did it do for you?

JOYNER: It did for me. When he showed me where I came from and the people that came before me, the shoulders that I stand on, my ancestry, it was inspirational to me. Now all of you out there in this audience, out there in the audience -- the TV audience, I strongly recommend that you do the very same thing.

And no matter how tough things seem to be, if you can look back and see what your ancestors went through and where you came from, you will be much better as a person. And you will say, hmm, you know?

O'BRIEN: Why does it change people, Professor Gates? Why do they have this visceral emotional reaction to knowing something that happened many decades prior?

GATES: Because our ancestors' identity systematically, systematically robbed from us. The identity of our ancestors, our collective history, and our individual history. And when I, using a team of genealogists out of Utah, thank God for the Mormons who have done all of this -- gathered all of these records.

When we give people their family tree back, they all cry. Whether it was Oprah Winfrey, whether it was Chris Tucker, Chris Rock, Tom Joyner, they all cry because the lost have been found.

It's like thinking heretofore that you were floating on air without any roots. Zora Neale Hurston said we were a people -- we were branches without roots. But we are branches based on roots, and each of us has to do our own family tree. Each of us has to restore the lost ancestors back to slavery. And collectively we could tell a new tale of the history of the African-American people as a group, as a community.

O'BRIEN: You have offered to fill in some of the blanks for that police officer who helped himself into your house and arrested you. And you've said you want an apology. Have you had an apology yet?

GATES: I haven't heard from Sergeant Crowley. I would be prepared to listen to him. If I were convinced that -- if he would tell the truth about what he did, about the distortions that he fabricated in the police report, I would be prepared as a human being to forgive him.

That would not deter me from using this as an educational opportunity for America. Because if this can happen to me in Harvard Square, this can happen to anybody in the United States. And I'm determined that it never happen to anybody again.


O'BRIEN: Gentlemen, I thank you both. We'll have you both stick around as we continue our conversation.

We're waiting, of course, for President Obama's news conference and the premier of "BLACK IN AMERICA 2."

We're going to be joined in just a moment by talk radio host Steve Harvey and the man who brought him to a MOMENT OF TRUTH. We're walking the walk of faith.

That's straight ahead. Short break.


O'BRIEN: And welcome back, everybody. We're counting down to President Obama's prime time news conference, and then the premier of "BLACK IN AMERICA 2."

As we wait, we are talking with some of the nation's best known talk radio hosts. Our next guest is Steve Harvey. He is an actor, he's an entertainer, he's a comedian. He's also the host of his own nationally syndicated program, the Steve Harvey Morning Show.

It is nice to have you. Thanks for being here.

STEVE HARVEY, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: How are you doing? Thank you very much.

O'BRIEN: I'm great. What was your moment of truth?

HARVEY: You know, I think a lot of us at one point in time in our life have to deal with our spirituality as a person. Back in 2000, 2002, somewhere in there, I was really struggling with it. Because especially for me -- it's tough, because you know, we think if we become spiritual or we admit that we need God or we love God, that that somehow diminishes our manhood. That it's going to put us into a submissive role oftentimes or we're going to have to start taking stuff we wouldn't normally take.

And that's kind of hard for me to come to that. So my moment was -- I got off the radio in L.A., I was sitting in my dressing room. I was really, really struggling with -- I just wanted to say, hey, man, that I had a really, really cool relationship with God, that God loved me in spite of how I was.

I was sitting there wrestling with it because of what I do for a living, because of what I say when I'm on stage, or because of some of my material sometimes has an edge to it. Or maybe it's because you rap, or because you sing secular music...

O'BRIEN: You couldn't figure how to do both things.

HARVEY: I mean I was wrestling with that.

And then my man, Bishop Kenneth Ulmer, he just happened to come up there that day to the radio station to take care of some type of business with his church.

He sat me down and he explained something that really changed me, you know. That, look, man, God created you, that you can still do your thing, as long as your thing is legal, you can still do your thing and you can still have a relationship with God and God will still love you in spite of all your shortcomings.

That may sound like kind of regular or corny to the average person, but we all got to deal with our spirituality. Because we all got a connection to God, you know, whether you want to admit it or not. And that moment of telling me that the way you walk with God is different from the way of everybody else.

It ain't no certain way that it goes because your mission in life is different from other people's mission. And he made me get comfortable with the fact that, okay, Steve. Sometimes you're going to trip; you're going to say something crazy. Sometimes, man, you're going to be a little bit out of bounds. But everybody is out of bounds sometimes.

Bishop Ulmer is your person of influence. I'd like to bring the Bishop up.

Nice to have you, sir. Thank you for being with us.

BISHOP KENNETH ULMER, SR. PASTOR, FAITHFUL CENTRAL BIBLE CHURCH: Thank you. Thank you for having me. It's an honor to be here.

O'BRIEN: Pleasure.

It was interesting to me you were also struggling at that same time. Was it difficult for you as a man of cloth to try to give advice at the same time that you were personally struggling?

ULMER: I think the way our lives came together was that we were walking the same path. I was going through some really challenging things. Our church purchased the Great Western Forum where the Lakers used to play. And we got a lot of heat from that. I got a lot of heat.

One person said how can a church do this? How can you do this? It was similar to where Steve was, to be questioned, particularly about your heart, your motive, about your integrity. To say that because you are this, you cannot do that. Because you are here, you cannot go there. To see that God kind of had us in similar places and I think for me, he was a gift. I was kind of surprised he'd be here. I thought it was a prank from nephew Tommy.

He was a gift in that what I do is very lonely sometimes. What I'm called to do, to minister the way I do. And people who are up there or trying to get up there, it's very lonely at the top. It is a cliche but it is true.

O'BRIEN: You mentor each other? Is that a way -- what do you do for each other?

ULMER: There is a verse in the bible that says we're as iron sharpening iron. God has used him to bless me, and I didn't know how much I blessed him, but -- I think it's just the way God works.

O'BRIEN: How does this fit into your focus on men and manhood? We talked about this before, about Harveytown, all the things you're trying to do to help young men.

HARVEY: Men have to hear from other men that they love them. That's hard for us especially in our community, man because we build around such bravado. It is necessary for us to know that it's okay for men to say I love you, man. I love you, I feel you what you're going through, I love you.

It is important, man, that another man hugs you sometimes. Just put his arm around with you one of them strong embraces that just gives you a word in your ear, "Man, hang in there." you know what I'm saying?

I was going through something around New Year's Eve -- this even. He texted me the next day because I had an idea in my mind about doing something sideways. I'm not really -- I'm a Christian, but...

O'BRIEN: A struggling one sometimes?

ULMER: Right on the edge.

HARVEY: Yes. Because you know -- I'm permanently on the edge. I'm like -- I'll step off the line in a heartbeat if I have to. Somebody had done something to me. I said it is easy for me to retaliate.

He sent me a text that said, "Kings don't swat flies. Kings have fly swatters." What I had to come to terms to was in the position that I'm in, man, just sit down and back down. Just let it get handled in its own way. He didn't have to text me -- I didn't even know he knew but he always texts me at moments when I'm really, really struggling.

I don't want to sound corny or nothing, but we all have these moments. I know everybody can bring somebody on here about somebody that done something financial or something this, that and the other but your spiritual aspect of your life is critical because it is a key element. People get uncomfortable talking about it and news people don't like mentioning it.

O'BRIEN: No, no, they run.

HARVEY: They edit it out. But we lie. So you can't.

O'BRIEN: It's why we asked you to come on and talk about this, so we can talk to you both. We're going ask you to stick around as we continue our conversation.

Coming up next is a family, really, a basic family influencing in everybody's life.

Next guest is radio talk show host Bev Smith. She says it was a family member who brought her to her MOMENT OF TRUTH. Smith and her sister are going to join us up next.

We continue to count down to President Obama's news conference, and then the premier of "BLACK IN AMERICA 2."

Stay with us.



O'BRIEN: What's your goal for them?

MALAAK COMPTON-ROCK, ACTIVIST: I mean I always dreamed, the goal, is to come back and these kids are going to be our next leaders, our next civic leaders.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. We're counting down to President Obama's primetime news conference. It will be followed by the premier of CNN's "BLACK IN AMERICA 2."

It features the activist you saw there, Malaak Compton-Rock. She took 30 kids from a Bushwick, Brooklyn to Sueto, South Africa and the goal was expand their world; to inspire them to dream big.

Tonight with me, some of the country's most influential and most popular radio talk show hosts. So please join me in welcoming Bev Smith. She's the host of "The Bev Smith Radio Show" on American Urban Radio Network.


O'BRIEN: 20 million listeners in 200 markets; got to get that in. What would you describe as your MOMENT OF TRUTH?

SMITH: When I was born. Seriously.

O'BRIEN: That's a good start.

SMITH: My mother with all six of us proclaimed the African way. Professor Gates could probably tell you but this, my child will be this much, I will be that much. I will be this.

O'BRIEN: What did she say about you?

SMITH: You really want to hear it?

O'BRIEN: Yes. What did she say about...

SMITH: That I would be the advocate for the black community. And it has come true. Yes. Speak the words that be not as if they are and here I am.

O'BRIEN: It can be a lot of pressure. Did you ever say, "Actually, mama, I don't want to do that?"

SMITH: Every time I look at my paycheck.

O'BRIEN: That I do not believe at all.

You have brought -- your mom, I know couldn't be here.


O'BRIEN: But your family, you're very tight with your family. You brought your sister Doris Palacios (ph)

SMITH: Cookie.

O'BRIEN: Cookie -- one of those -- family members who inspires you. Cookie, why don't you come on up. Cookie is the director of the Human Services Department for the City of Chesapeake in Virginia.


O'BRIEN: Tell me a little bit --


O'BRIEN: Great to see you. Thank you for being with us. Talk about advocacy. Was your mom a tough mom? Easy mom?

PALACIOS: My mother was a marine sergeant. And I can tell you an incident. She worked two jobs and so did my dad and we were supposed to do the dishes.

She came home around 12:30. We were all sleeping. She found the dirty dishes, she woke us all up, pulled the dishes out and we had to wash every one because she wanted us to learn how to do a job right. That's the kind of mom we had.

SMITH: Not only that, we weren't allowed to run in the house. You know how kids run all over the house? We were not allowed to do that. And we were not allowed to slam the door. If you slammed the door you had to go in and out of the door 100 times.

Had I known what I know now, I'd be doing it, because it makes you lose weight. O'BRIEN: How did her passion and her vision for your advocacy play a role in your life? Obviously on your show you've become a spokesperson for so many issues in the black community. Health care is one. Connect the dots for me.

SMITH: I can't talk about my mother without talking about my late father. My mother was an advocate all the time. She told us what we were supposed to do.

I'm reminded of something that happened with my father. My father helped start a black union for construction workers. He was called to go to Washington, D.C. to testify before Robert Kennedy.

Before he got off the Pennsylvania truck, about ten -- about ten to 13 white men beat him, unmercifully. Put him on the train and sent him back home.

O'BRIEN: They didn't want him testifying?

SMITH: They didn't want him testifying about the racism in the industry that still exists today. And so when he came home, we were crying, "Daddy, daddy, look at you, look at blood." He said "Clean me up." And he got back on that train and he went to Washington, D.C. and he testified. That's who we are. That's who we are.

O'BRIEN: On your show you talked about this pool incident is what people call it; the story in Philadelphia with these kids in a day camp who were basically kicked out.


O'BRIEN: I want to play a clip from your show where you discuss this issue with your listeners.


SMITH: The people from Philadelphia called us and said, this is what is happening and no one is talking about it. Then of course, you saw the little boy and he was crying. He said, "We have a black president." And I never thought this would happen.

We learned this morning that the people in that group are going to sue that country club. Here we go, Ben. I mean it is deja vu.


O'BRIEN: You were talking to Ben Jealous there, the new head of the NAACP. What do you take from that incident? I mean other people say, "We have the first black president."

SMITH: Well, we have a black man in the White House but we've always had a black man in the White House because we built the White House. So I mean that's not different.

We have an African in the white house. But Africans have always been in the White House. D.L. and I had a little disagreement earlier.

I know that there are symbols. You are a symbol. Oprah's a symbol. But I'm old enough to be tired of symbols. I want to know what it feels like to be free.

And Barack is in the White House and he gets more threats than Abraham Lincoln did. Barack is in the White House with the more gorgeous first lady we have ever had. And they talk about her on the front.

Barack is in the White House and an aide to a legislator put him on a stamp and 44 presidents -- and they put him like they did in the minstrel days with white eyes and a black background.

I am really fed up to the limit with this. I'm at a point where we're not going to take it no more. We have had enough. We paid the price.

We're an educated professor. We're a Tom Joyner, we're a bad Steve Harvey. We're a funny D.L. Hughley. We're Cookie Roberts. And we're not going to take it no more so we have a job to do. That's what I talk about on the Bev Smith Show.

That's the passion of my mother and the passion of my father. And I think everyone in this audience ought to look back at their parents and what their parents sacrificed, because you owe it to them and you owe it to your children not to let it happen again.

O'BRIEN: Cookie, does she sound like your mom and your dad?

PALACIOS: She sounds exactly like them and my grandparents. I can remember going into my granddad's room on Sundays and all these men came with cigars. They were actually planning the first union for black miners.

We have had this throughout our family for as long as we know. It's just what we do.

O'BRIEN: It's in the blood. It's what you do. Nice to have you Cookie and Bev, always.

We're going to ask you stick around as we continue our conversation, getting ready for "BLACK IN AMERICA 2."

I want you all to think about the most important person in your life, maybe -- like our guests -- a friend, a sister, a pastor. There's another possibility. In the case of D.L. Hughley -- you were just talking about him -- it's a teacher. And it's a teacher who he has not seen in 37 years.

They're going to join us as we await President Barack Obama's news conference and of course, the premier of CNN's "BLACK IN AMERICA 2."

Stay with us; we're back in a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome to Times Square, everybody. Right in the heart of New York City, watched over by the iconic statue of the songwriter George M. Cohan. His greatest hits include "Give My Regards to Broadway," over there. Yankee Doodle boy.

It's nice to have you all in the audience because we are very live right now, quite literally in the middle of Manhattan.

My next guest also made his reputation as an entertainer. But these days D.L. Hughley is branching out. He is a CNN contributor, just joined the ranks of radio talk show host on New York's WRKS 98.7, KISS FM.

Nice to have you.


O'BRIEN: Always great to see you.

HUGHLEY: Good to see you.

O'BRIEN: You were part of "BLACK IN AMERICA," the first one, which we so appreciated.


O'BRIEN: What was your defining moment? What was your moment of truth?

HUGHLEY: Well, it's funny that I would bring a teacher on that I hadn't seen in 37 years, which is incidentally probably the last time I went to school so...


But I remember being a kid. And I remember my mother used to always say, never ask why. You ask so many questions. Stop asking why. And I was in class one day and I said -- I remember the girl's name was Tanya. And she asked a question and I started to ask something and I went, oh, I'm not supposed to ask why. And he said never be afraid to ask why.

O'BRIEN: This teacher.

HUGHLEY: This teacher. And I -- it opened something up for me that clicked. And I know you can tell by the fact that I dropped out two years after that. Never went to school again. But to have somebody tell you and give you permission to have a perspective and to form an idea on your own was life changing to me.

You know, and it kicked in later, had a late effect on me but to have somebody give you permission to be you is an amazing thing.

O'BRIEN: Mr. Lane Boston is with us. HUGHLEY: Yes.

O'BRIEN: I know he was on your radio show. Come on up. Mr. Boston.


You talk a lot, D.L, about his car being parked in your driveway.


O'BRIEN: Nice to see you, sir. Thanks for being with us.


HUGHLEY: I didn't even know his first name was Lane.


I just called him Mr. Boston.

O'BRIEN: We'll just call him Mr. Boston.

HUGHLEY: And whenever I would get in trouble, which is all the time.


HUGHLEY: He would have his Volkswagen in my -- I would be coming home and I see his Volkswagen in the driveway, and I go damn! And he would tell on me all the time. And he looked like a hippie. He would have -- he had long hair. And he looked like the dude -- I used to think he was Shaggy from Scooby-Doo like -- because there was no white people in my neighborhood except police officers and insurance men.


And this dude was not afraid of anything. Like anything. People -- I remember once they came and shot up the school and he went after -- to protect his students, he went after the gunman. And I thought this is what happens to white people. They just...


O'BRIEN: What did you think of D.L. when he was growing up?

BOSTON: Well, you know, D.L., people ask me well, yes, D.L. Hughley in his class, you know, like, as if he was going to walk in there, have a microphone and do a monologue or something. Well, I tell them, you know, if that would have happened, because I probably would have gotten that microphone and beat him over the head with it. You know?

D.L. was -- you know he was quiet but a great kid. You know? He was -- I still remembered him from -- it was funny, though, because he went by D.L. So I followed him all throughout, you know, his career. Lots of moments.

O'BRIEN: Did you know you had such a big impact on his life? Do you have any idea -- I know you haven't talked to him in 37 years.

BOSTON: Well, this was a funny thing because I've been trying to see him like -- just to get a chance to talk to him, because I had his two sisters and brother, I was their teacher, too. And so I just wanted to see what was happening. So he played in Hermosa Beach, which is right next to where I live.

And I went down there. I just brought a little card saying, you know, "Mr. Boston from Avalon Gardens is in the audience." He brought me backstage. And you know, to tell you the truth, I didn't even know if he would remember me. You know, 37 years, right?

And the guy has a photographic memory. He remembered everything. And then he told me about how he felt. And you know, I went into teaching to make a difference. You know, obviously, not to make a buck. And you know, some of the things, when you have something like that happen, my wife's a teacher. And she hasn't been teaching for as long as I have but she got this award from USC, Teacher of the Year.

You know I've been teaching for 38 years. And I have not any award at all. But I'm just tell you right over here knowing that I did something positive to create this gentleman right here, this wonderful person, I'll take that over any award they can give me.


O'BRIEN: You -- you're crying. You are crying. You're -- how come he affects so? I mean, you know, you joined a gang. You were not -- you dropped out. You end up getting your GED.


O'BRIEN: Why is what he's saying upsetting you so much?

HUGHLEY: Because I was this close to never making it.

O'BRIEN: He saved you?

HUGHLEY: Never being nothing. So when I see people -- when I see people who don't believe they can do it, just one person can say one thing that nobody believes in me, ever. And to have a dude say, "You can be what you want?" We had a fair. And I wanted to win my mother an apple. I won an apple and I got it to my mother. And she bit the apple, and she said, "This apple is rotten just like you are."

And I laughed, and I told him that story. He said, "You're not rotten. You're going to be something." And I'll never forget that. And I hope he's proud of me as I am.


BOSTON: You know, and the funny thing was, as I knew he was going to be something. You know his family, the kids... O'BRIEN: You knew it. You knew it.

BOSTON: I knew it because his family, you know, they're very bright kids and the parents were very -- you know, hands-on and they were very concerned. But I didn't ever think he was going to be a comedian or anything like that. He was just too quiet. But you know, it's funny when you find your niche. You know? You're not going to find it at 10 years old. You can find that...

O'BRIEN: D.L. Hughley crying. Shocker.


HUGHLEY: Yes, well...

O'BRIEN: I want to take a moment to introduce you all to a gentleman who is the star of our documentary, "BLACK IN AMERICA 2." He's in the audience. Dr. Steve Perry is the founder and principal of Capital Preparatory Magnet School and I know...


You must be affected by what you see, to have a student 37 years later talk about the impact.

STEVE PERRY, MAGNET SCHOOL FOUNDER & PRINCIPAL: Soledad's objective in life is to make brothers cry, I just want you to understand, D.L.


And she's got both of us working over here. There can never be -- it can never underestimate how important an educator is to a child's life. And everyone here in Times Square can point to somebody who was in a school who at one point or another touched their life in one way or another.

The reason why I wake up at 4:30 every morning to make sure that I can pick children up to get them to school two hours before school starts is because I know that one day they're going to look back and they're going to change somebody's life because somebody took the time to change their life.

So, Mr. Boston, please, from all of us who's had a Mr. Boston in our life, thank you. Thank you so much for what you do.


O'BRIEN: Are you still teaching, Mr. Boston?

BOSTON: I'm sorry?

O'BRIEN: Are you still teaching?

BOSTON: Yes, I am. I just want to point out that I had a mentor, too. I took karate at 17 years of age with Chuck Norris. And he changed my life over there. And it's like seven degrees. And then I go over there and teaches.

I'd like to point out that nowadays, you know, there's a bull's eye on public education now. And I'm just telling you, you know, that is the thing that makes our country great, it's the thing that has given us the democracy that we have, the educated citizenry, and it's also helped our economy out.

O'BRIEN: Every student can point to a teacher who has changed every single -- I see all the heads nodding. Everybody knows, they could shout out right now the teacher, whether it was their fifth grade teacher or their second grade teacher or their ninth grade teacher who changed their life.

Mr. Boston, so great to meet you. Thank you for being with us.

BOSTON: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: D.L., as always.


We're going to talk more about education and other solutions to some of the problems confronting the black community at 9:00 p.m. Eastern on the premier of CNN's "BLACK IN AMERICA 2."

Right now we're just a few minutes away, though, from tonight's prime time presidential news conference. Wolf Blitzer and the members of the best political team on TV will be joining us in just a few minutes.

Next though, we're going to bring back all four of our radio hosts to discuss President Barack Obama and where do we go from here. Stay with us.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. I'm back with our radio talk show hosts, Tom Joyner, Steve Harvey, Bev Smith, D.L. Hughley.

You know, it's been interesting. We started the night talking about Henry Louis Gates and his experience, his arrest. And then, you know, we're going to go in a few minutes to the first black president holding a press conference as he tries to redo health care in this nation.

Where are we as African-Americans today? I mean which side of the coin is it? Is it the arrest in your home? Is it the first black president? Where are we?

HUGHLEY: I think it's funny that no one black man can encompass our entire -- that's just -- we got Barack Obama and Flava Flav so one guy can't...


Not one guy could -- but I think that, suffice it to say, we're much further than we were and not as far as we're going to be. But they were saying. My daughter graduated from college and she believes that anything is possible.

I haven't had those kinds of experiences and I think differently. But I can't kill my daughter's dream with my nightmare so I have to have her be free to be who she is and to believe what she does. And I think that -- Barack Obama has done that for children. Maybe we won't see it. But these children believe that anything is possible.

SMITH: I think we've been where we always are. We had a Frederick Douglas and we had laws that would not allow us to vote. We had a Barack Obama and we had Georgia trying to return the poll tab.

I think where we are is under the confusion that we are free, which we are not. We are free slaves, in my opinion. And I think we have a lot of work to do.

Do we celebrate? Dick Gregory would kill me if I didn't say yes. Do we celebrate? And my mama's watching. Yes. Do we fight? That's the only I'm upset about. Black people have forgotten how to get up and fight again.

O'BRIEN: Black outrage.

SMITH: The outrage. Yes.

O'BRIEN: We talked about that before, Tom. You know?


O'BRIEN: When you look at some of the statistics, especially in education, and you know, sometimes you want to say why are you not up screaming about some of these numbers?

JOYNER: And look at where we've -- look at where we've come from and where we are now. Yes, there's a whole lot more work to do. But, Dr. Gates is a professor at Harvard. OK? Yes, he was racially profiled and all those things did happen to him.

But he is a professor at Harvard. We have come that far to have a problem to come back to to remind us how far we have to go.


O'BRIEN: You use that as a -- in a way, as a positive reminder for folks.


O'BRIEN: Steve?

HARVEY: Well, you know, I agree with everything everybody has said. But on the upside of it, we are in a position when something does happen to a Professor Gates that we have a platform like this to voice it on a national level. There is an upside that we have the first African American in the White House and now because of that, it's our obligation in our communities to make -- to validate his presidency.

So we can't expect President Obama to change everything. If he did what he did, then we've got to do what we can do. And what we can do is a lot more than we've been doing.

O'BRIEN: Do you see that change? I mean we've talked -- we've all talked about this. You know, he mentioned the word "we" in his inaugural address 43 -- Roland, Roland Martin, where are you? 43 times. 47 times. Thank you for keeping me straight on the count.

Forty-seven times. My sense in doing "BLACK IN AMERICA 2" is that people have taken the "we" part of it very seriously. Some people have been doing it for decades and others are new to it and are running with that ball. Do you see that change?

JOYNER: Yes, I see that change. Look at what we're doing right here, right now. Besides last year, the first one, when have we had this kind of attention as a people? We're talking about black America. Black America, and for the past two years, we haven't had this kind of attention. In a very, very long time. Not since the civil rights movement and that was 40 years ago.

SMITH: And where is America? We fought to fight. We fought to fight. And we're still fighting to fight. And the lights are on and it's because of two people. One was black, Louis Lattimore.

So what we have to do a better job as black people internally telling our history and making sure that our history is told. If they don't tell it in school, tell it in church. If they don't tell it in church, tell it on Sunday around that table. Or something happens as this young man says, and I'm proud of him. I'm proud of him.

HUGHLEY: Because I cry like a baby.


SMITH: No, no. I'm proud of you. Mama Bev is proud of you.

HUGHLEY: I can't go home now.


O'BRIEN: I've got to take a short break. We'll finish that on the other side of this break because, of course, we're trying to get to the president's press conference and I don't want to run late over that.

President Obama is going to walk, in fact, right into the east room of the White House for that prime time news conference in just a few minutes. I'm going to check in with our talk show host about what you would ask President Obama given the moment.

We're back in just a few moment. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Just have a few minutes before the start of President Obama's news conference. Back with our radio talk show hosts, Tom Joyner, Steve Harvey, Bev Smith and D.L. Hughley.

So we'll call this enlightening round. You know he's about to address the nation, talking about health care so talk to me about what you'd like to hear from President Obama.

Bev, why don't you start?

SMITH: I want to hear him say that he cannot do it without we, the people. And that he needs us to take the same kind of action that the Republicans who screwed up the whole entire world have done. That he needs us to get involved.

O'BRIEN: Steve Harvey? What would you say?

HARVEY: I think that whatever he says, I'm going to be perfectly fine with it because I don't see any of his opponents with a better idea. And if you have a better idea, it sounds to me like you have no idea.

O'BRIEN: When he talks about health care, Tom Joyner, you've talked about this a lot on your show.

JOYNER: Yes, yes. We did a story today about people not so much afraid of getting cancer, but how to pay for it. And so that's a concern. Health care in America is a concern of all of America. Not just black America, especially black America, because as Tab has always said in my show, when mainstream America has a cold, black America has pneumonia.

Well, right now, mainstream America has pneumonia, we are in ICU.


O'BRIEN: D.L., final word to you before we go to the president.

HUGHLEY: Well, ultimately, there'll come a day in this country when America won't be -- they wanted to ask for concrete results. He's garnered a tremendous amount of political capital. And this to me is the right fight. And ultimately, he's going to have to choose what he's ascended on, and hopefully, it will be health care because I think it's something that all of us know that we -- we deserve and need as a country.

O'BRIEN: To our panelists, a big thank you. I appreciate your time. We're going to send it right to the best political team on TV, and Wolf Blitzer.

Hey, guys, good night.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Soledad, thanks very much. An excellent, excellent discussion. We'll be back to you in one hour for the premiere of "BLACK IN AMERICA 2." We're all looking forward to that right after the president's news conference.