Reverend Al Sharpton is the President and founder of the National Action Network (NAN), and one of America’s most-renowned civil rights leaders. A USA Today/Gallup Poll conducted in July 2008 calls him the second leader in the country that Blacks turn to speak for them on the issue of race, just behind Senator Barack Obama, and In February 2007, Rev. Sharpton was called “the most prominent civil rights activist in the nation” by the New York Daily News. Whether it was his noteworthy Presidential run as a United States Democratic candidate in 2004, or his compelling speech at the Democratic National Convention in Boston, Massachusetts, Reverend Sharpton has had an irrefutable impact on national politics because of his strong commitment to equality and progressive politics. In April of 2001, Coretta Scott King hailed him as “a voice for the oppressed, a leader who has protested injustice with a passionate and unrelenting commitment to nonviolent action in the spirit and tradition of Martin Luther King Jr.”
As the head of National Action Network, a civil rights organization that currently has over 45 chapters and affiliates throughout the nation, Sharpton has been applauded by both supporters and opponents for challenging the American political establishment to include all people in the dialogue, regardless of race, gender, class or beliefs. Few political figures have been more visible during the last two decades than Sharpton. His daily radio show, “Keeping it Real,” has been picked up in more than 40 U.S. markets. Reverend Sharpton also has a TV show on TV One that explores various issues, with a barber shop serving as an informal setting. Sharpton recently caught the eye of Conservative pundit Rush Limbaugh, who said on his own radio program that “Reverend Sharpton has the best shot of anyone at becoming the Limbaugh of the Left.”
And Limbaugh isn’t the only one touting Sharpton’s oratory and political skills. Adam Nagourney, the chief national political writer at The New York Times, called Sharpton “smart, articulate, and eloquent…..and as anyone that has ever heard him talk from a pulpit can testify, Sharpton is a man with a heart and firm ideological beliefs…He has a command of politics that rivals some of the great New York party bosses, and no less significant, he has an understanding of the way the press works that rivals more than a few city editors.”
The man that became Al Sharpton began as a youngster, when his surrogate father, the late Godfather of Soul, James Brown, told him, “you can’t set your sights on nothing little…you got to go for the whole hog,” Reverend Al Sharpton has been doing just that ever since.
He was born on October 3, 1954, in Brooklyn, New York, and began his ministry at the tender age of four. The same year, he preached his first sermon at Washington Temple Church of God & Christ in Brooklyn. Five years later, the Washington Temple Church’s legendary Bishop F. D. Washington licensed his protégé to be a minister in his denomination. Sharpton’s civil-rights career began almost as early. At age 13, Reverends Jesse Jackson and William Jones appointed Sharpton Youth Director of New York’s SCLC Operation Breadbasket—an organization founded by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
At 16, Sharpton founded the National Youth Movement Inc. which organized young people around the country to push for increased voter registration, cultural awareness and job training programs. In 1991, Sharpton founded the National Action Network, a broad based progressive civil rights organization which he still heads today. From 1994 to 1998, while still serving as the head of NAN, Reverend Sharpton also served as Director of the Ministers Division for the National Rainbow Push Coalition under Reverend Jesse Jackson. Upon the death of Bishop Washington in the late 1980s, Reverend Sharpton became a Baptist, and, in 1994, he was re-baptized by Reverend William Jones as a member of the Bethany Baptist Church. Reverend Sharpton was educated in New York City public schools and attended Brooklyn College. He was later presented with an honorary degree from A.P. Clay Bible College.
Whether it was his run for President of the United States in 2004, Mayor of New York City in 1997 or Senator in 1992, “The Rev,” as he is affectionately called by his closest friends and supporters, has rejuvenated the Civil Rights movement while raising the bar for
political participation for people of color. Given the names and reputations of those who mentored him, perhaps Reverend Sharpton was destined for greatness. The late New York congressman and minister, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, and another well known civil rights preacher, Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. have all played vital roles in Rev. Sharpton’s life, helping him to emerge, according to TIME Magazine, as the most important Black leader in the city of New York.
In his book “AL ON AMERICA” (2003), Sharpton writes “Presidential politics has become too narrow. It has become an exclusive club for white males, of a certain income, of a certain age…People are living in fear and we have to break that cycle and offer them more than words.” Whether it was in his own presidential run in 2004, or in his myriad campaigns, lectures, protests, travels, conferences, or sermons, Al Sharpton has fought to change the status quo.
Some would argue he is the most important Black leader in America.
Indeed, Reverend Sharpton’s record speaks for itself. In 1999, when a young, unarmed, African immigrant was gunned down in his home by 4 New York City police officers, Sharpton led 1,200 people in a civil disobedience protest. Those who followed him to jail in this protest included former mayors, congressmen and religious and community leaders across racial, ethnic and political lines. In a fateful repeat of history, after a young man named Sean Bell was shot to death by police in November 2006 on the day he was to be married to his high school sweetheart, Reverend Sharpton organized hundreds of thousands for a march down Fifth Avenue in NYC to shed light upon the atrocity.
Reverend Sharpton’s campaigns against racial profiling and police brutality have reached audiences around the world, and he has worked on human rights issues in the Sudan, Israel, Europe, and across Africa and the Middle East, where he has formed alliances with international peace activists. In the Sudan, Sharpton visited the slave camps in a country whose religious war has left thousands of women and children at the hands of terrorist groups. In his visit to Israel and Palestine, he met with both Prime Minister Shimon Peres and Palestinian Leader Yasser Arafat, calling for peace between the warring nations. Sharpton also visited Cuba, meeting with President Fidel Castro, after meeting with Jamaican Prime Minister, P.J. Paterson in Montego Bay.
In 2001, Reverend Sharpton, in what may be his most significant international visit, joined three Latino elected officials from New York to visit with hundreds of Puerto Rican citizens who had suffered physical and mental infirmities as a result of U.S. Naval bombing exercises that have gone on for over 60 years. Sharpton and the “Vieques Four” then led a protest at the U.S. Naval Base in Puerto Rico where they were subsequently arrested, tried, and sentenced to 40 – 90 days in prison., with Rev. Sharpton receiving the longest sentence of the four. While in prison, Sharpton fasted, losing eighty pounds, and in 2003, largely due to the stand the “Vieques Four” took that summer, President George W. Bush ordered the Navy to end their bombing exercises.
Sharpton’s stance on behalf of the disenfranchised has taken him, in his own words, “from the streets to the suites.” In 1999, in a united voice with African -American advertising agencies and marketing and media outlets, he launched the “Madison Avenue Initiative” (MAI)to ensure that those who do business with advertising outlets around the country deal even-handedly with agencies, media outlets and publications run by people of color. Sharpton’s work with the MAI has targeted major corporations, including PepsiCo, Colgate-Palmolive, Microsoft, and others, who have subsequently extended their advertising dollars to reach more of African-American and Hispanic communities.
In the past year, Reverend Sharpton has led the charge against the prevalence of pejorative and racial slurs in the mainstream media and music industry. Motivated by the words of James Brown, his surrogate father, on his deathbed, urging him to “be more aggressive in cleaning up the music,” Sharpton has led a coalition to urge recording labels to ban the words “bitch,” “the n word” and “ho” from
This campaign followed in the wake of Reverend Sharpton’s integral efforts in getting radio host Don Imus off the air after the “shock jock” referred to players on the Rutgers women’s college basketball team as “nappy-headed hos.” Reverend Sharpton proved to be an invaluable leader of the successful efforts of a broad coalition of prominent public figures urging the removal of Don Imus from the airwaves and his leadership in this matter was nearly universally praised, receiving the support from newspaper editorial boards across the country and presidential candidates Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and Senator Barack Obama.
Over the past decade, Reverend Sharpton’s harshest critics have become some of his closest allies and supporters. Those who once shunned his outspoken position on issues affecting people of color now crowd his rallies, loudly chanting their encouragement.
Reverend Sharpton is a member of Bethany Baptist Church in his native Brooklyn neighborhood where the William A. Jones, Jr., is the Pastor. Reverend Jones mentored Sharpton’s civil rights career as a teenager when Sharpton was the Youth Director of Operation Breadbasket under
Jones and Reverend Jesse Jackson. Both men have played a key role in Sharpton’s life since he was thirteen. Reverend Sharpton still preaches throughout the United States and abroad on most Sundays, and averages 80 formal sermons a year. Reverend Sharpton says his religious convictions are the basis for his life.
Rev. Al and Kathy Jordan Sharpton have two daughters, Dominique, and Ashley. Dominique is working with her father on his nationally syndicated radio program and pursuing a career in acting. Ashley is in college.
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