After years as a Black Entertainment Television host, radio personality and author Tavis Smiley increased his national prominence in early 2002, when he became the first African-American to host his own signature show on National Public Radio. He is also the author of six books. Smiley's most recent book, "Keeping the Faith," is a collection of essays by him and other African-American authors that explore the meaning of faith, hope, and love in their lives. Smiley recently spoke to Beliefnet about some of these issues.

In your book, you write a lot about how your faith has helped you overcome the most difficult times in your life. How has faith played a role in your life?
I believe the biblical definition of faith, that faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. I don't know how one navigates this thing called life without having abiding faith in something. There are some times in certain situations that you have to believe, even when there is no evidence. You have to believe even when there are no signs that something is going to work out.

I'm what people would call a control freak--I trust me and I trust my instincts. I try to control my universe and my world so that I can have the desired outcome for my life. Having said that, there are certain situations we find ourselves in that we have absolutely no control over. In those circumstances, that's where I find my faith that this thing is going to work out, and it's going to work out the way that is best for me. That's where my faith comes in. For people who don't have an abiding faith, I don't know what they do when they find themselves in those situations. They pull their hair out, they commit suicide, they get emotionally depressed, and they get despondent. People with faith can avoid those issues if they just trust the process and let their faith kick in.

Would you describe your faith as believing that God is on your side, or at least always looking out for you?
I believe that God is on my side, but not just mine--He's on all of our sides. The question is not whether God is on our side; the question is whether we are on God's side.

Is there a difference for you between faith and hope?
I think that some people have hope without really having faith. They have some small sense that this might work out. They're holding on to something, however small it might be, that this situation is going to work out. That is hope for me--hoping for the best. Faith is different. It's a step up. Faith says, 'I don't see it, I don't have the evidence of it. But I know that this situation is going to work out.' I think it's possible to have hope without faith, but not faith without hope.

Was the church a very important part of your life growing up?
Absolutely. I was in church pretty much every day of the week. My mother is a missionary. It wasn't just something that we experienced inside the four walls of the church, but it was basically the edict of my life at home and everywhere else. Some people get church when they go to church, but we always had church with us wherever we went. It became a way of life for me and still is.

Did you ever consider going into the ministry?
Nope. My mother has tried that many times!

I believe that what I do is a ministry. My ministry is that of trying to enlighten people, to encourage people, and to empower people, through all the work that I do.

Do you think that African-Americans who are not Christian can feel empowered by your work as well?
I speak to people of all faiths everyday. People who listen to what I do are empowered by it. Faith and hope are not uniquely Christian. They are not ideas that are wholly owned by people who are Christian. People can related to hope and faith--even an atheist has them.

You devote one chapter of your book to 'Black love.' What do you mean by that?
Black love, as I explain in my book, is the ability to love in spite of and not because of. What makes black love unique is that on an individual level and on a community level, black people have learned to love in spite of. That's the greatest kind of love there is--against the odds. Black folk have learned to love white folk and have learned to love this place called America--not because of but in spite of.

You don't normally love someone who discriminates against you or is racist toward you. I think black folk have learned to love under some unique circumstances. In the abstract, love is love. But if you really start to analyze it and look at the circumstances under which black folk have learned to love not only our country but indeed ourselves, it is a uniquely inspiring kind of love.

How is this love different than God's love?
We couldn't approach God's love no matter how hard we tried. For one to give his life the way Jesus did, that's a love that we can never approach. While we say, 'I'd give my life for so and so,' there are very few of us who really would. You'd do everything you could to save someone's life, but if it really meant trading places, most of us would have second thoughts about that. The love of God is something we will never appropriate, but next to God's love, Black love is pretty unique.

Is this concept of Black love something you learned from your parents?
It's just something you learn being an African-American. Black people aren't necessarily aware of it. When you look at all the obstacles that black people have had to endure and learned nonetheless to love this country and our white brothers and sisters, it's remarkable. It's the kind of thing I don't even think most black people are aware of until you really break it down for them how special black love is.

The point of doing that is to be able to say to them that black love is the most powerful change agent that we have in our communities. If we ever really learn to use the force that black love is, to harness its power, if we ever learn to do something in our community proactively rather than reactively, with black love being the fuel that drives us, then we can make some great headway on the issues that we are challenged by every day.

Who are the most inspiring people in your life?
I think they're the same people who inspire most people. They're not people whose names are well-known, but they're the people who have helped make us who we are. In my case, they're my mother and father. My mother and father raised 10 kids, four of whom were adopted. My father is the hardest-working man I've ever known, and my discipline and my work ethic are from him. My abiding faith comes primarily from my mother. My parents are the two people I have received most of my inspiration from. For inspiration, I look at what they have endured and the opportunities I've been blessed to have because of them.

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