“I tripped on my shoelace/And I fell up/Up to the roof tops/Up over the town/Up past the tree tops/ Up over the mountains/Up where the colors/Blend into the sounds/But it got me dizzy/When I looked around/I got sick to my stomach/And I threw down.” © Shel Silverstein “Falling Up”

He’s made quite a comeback since his termination from Black Entertainment Television (BET) 10 years ago. In his new book, “Fail Up: 20 Lessons On Building Success From Failure”, television/radio broadcaster, and New York Times best-selling author Tavis Smiley gets very candid and transparent about some of the failures in his life that transformed into unforgettable life lessons.

Born in Mississippi, and raised in a predominantly white trailer park in Indiana, Smiley says his greatest heroes were Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, but as a defense against the “deep sense of class and race-based inferiority” he convinced himself that he and boxing champion Muhammad Ali shared similar traits of brashness, arrogance, and “in-your-face” tactics which he personified and which made him very unpopular early in life among his family, friends, and peers. To get him through that phase his mother taught him a profound lesson in humility that he references to this day.

He also reveals that during college, as an intern at the Indiana mayor’s office, he was caught with his hand in the proverbial cookie jar, and but for the mayor’s intervention and another graceful life lesson he learned from her, he would have faced a felony charge and jail time. Smiley uses all these life lessons even now in everyday living.

To some of his earliest amazing achievements, he says he was driven to accomplish as much as he did with a sense of urgency because he thought he would not live past the age of 39 like both his heroes Dr. King and Malcolm X. He said the night of his 40th birthday he had a severe panic attack. Later when he shared the experience with his friend Dr. Cornel West, “Doc” told him in part “If one dies at 39, like Martin and Malcolm, or if one lives to be 139, you’re not going to get it all done…”

“Fail Up” is a must-read book! Smiley does a great job of bringing proper perspective – from an informed posture – to some of today’s most pressing and prevailing questions about survival and morality.

Larry Buford is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer. Author of “Things Are Gettin’ Outta Hand” (Steuben Pub.) www.amazon.com. Visit the author at www.editorialbylarry.com (213) 220-8101

Larry Buford