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This Episode's Key Topics:
Civil Rights and Racial Justice: The interview highlights the enduring struggle for civil rights and racial justice, with both Mathew Knowles and Reverend Al Sharpton discussing their own experiences and the broader historical context. There is a focus on the need for continued activism, legislative reform, and the power of community-led movements.
Economic Empowerment and Disparity: A recurring theme is the economic disparity faced by the Black community and the importance of economic empowerment. They discuss the potential of the Black economy and the importance of investments in Black businesses, financial activism, and wealth accumulation within the community.
Voting Rights and Political Representation: There is significant emphasis on the need to protect voting rights, with specific mention of the John Lewis Voter Protection Act as a measure against voter suppression. The conversation also touches upon the importance of fair political representation and the use of government contracts to support Black businesses.
Community Solidarity and Mutual Support: The dialogue emphasizes the importance of solidarity across different racial and ethnic communities, particularly between Black and Latino groups. Reverend Al Sharpton speaks to the necessity of mutual support to achieve collective progress, advocating for shared struggles against systemic inequalities.
Youth Involvement in Activism: Both speakers reflect on the role of youth in activism, recounting their own formative experiences and highlighting the importance of engaging young people in the fight for justice. They share personal anecdotes to illustrate the impact of youth-led activism and the power of dramatic protests to keep public attention on critical issues.
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About Rev. Al Sharpton
As one of the preeminent civil rights leaders of our time, Reverend Al Sharpton serves as the founder and president of the National Action Network (NAN), anchors Politics Nation on MSNBC, hosts the nationally syndicated radio shows Keepin’ It Real and The Hour of Power, holds weekly action rallies and speaks out on behalf of those who have been silenced and marginalized. Rooted in the spirit and tradition of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., NAN boasts more than 100 chapters across the country to promote a modern civil rights agenda that includes the fight for one standard of justice, decency and equal opportunity for all.
In 2007, President Barack Obama addressed NAN’s annual convention and called Sharpton “the voice of the voiceless and a champion for the downtrodden”. He returned in both 2011 and 2014 to praise NAN for its ongoing work in the areas of critical concern such as voting rights and criminal justice reform. He emphasized in a keynote speech that “National Action Network is not the National Satisfaction Network; it’s the National Action Network.” Indeed, it is.
It all began when Sharpton was just a little boy and quickly discovered both his voice and his oratorical skills. He started his ministry when he was just four years old, preaching his first sermon at the Washington Temple Church of God and Christ. At the age of 13, he was appointed by Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. William Augustus Jones as Youth Director for the New York chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s Operation Breadbasket, an organization founded by Dr. King in 1966. Operation Breadbasket served as the economic arm of SCLC and provided the curious and vivacious Sharpton with on-the-ground training in civil disobedience and direct action.
Sharpton had the unique opportunity to absorb a wealth of knowledge from Dr. King’s lieutenants: Rev. Jones, Rev. Ralph Abernathy, Hosea Williams and later Dr. Wyatt Tee Walker. He would go on to incorporate Dr. King’s teachings of nonviolent activism into his work and fight for justice. At the age of 16, he founded the National Youth Movement, Inc. and in 1991 officially launched National Action Network. Under Sharpton’s leadership and vision, NAN has emerged as one of the leading civil rights organizations in the country with headquarters in New York City and regional offices in Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Miami, Los Angeles and Detroit.
A native New Yorker, Sharpton made it his mission to highlight the racism and bigotry embedded in the north – often times hidden underneath a veneer of progress. In the summer of 1986, with the crack epidemic sweeping across New York City and indeed the nation, he started painting crack houses with red X’s to bring about awareness. Later that year when 23-year-old Michael Griffith was chased by a white mob and killed when a passing car struck him in Howard Beach, Queens, Sharpton organized several protests calling for justice. Even as some yelled racial epithets as they marched, they held their heads high and pressed onward.
In 1989, a 16-year-old teenager named Yusuf Hawkins was attacked by a white mob wielding bats and subsequently shot and killed in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. Sharpton led the call for accountability and held several protests which were again met with a hostile response. At one such demonstration in 1991, he was stabbed in the chest and rushed to Coney Island Hospital. Despite the vicious incident, the preacher and activist showed mercy to his attacker, and even asked the judge for leniency at his sentencing. The entire incident galvanized Sharpton even more.
In 1992, he threw his hat in the ring for U.S. Senate. Though he didn’t win the Democratic nomination, he beat Liz Holtzman, the City Comptroller, former DA and U.S. Representative. He garnered 15 percent of the overall vote. Sharpton would later run for Mayor of New York City, and in 2004 he gave a rousing prolific speech at the Democratic National Convention as he ran for President of the United States.
Though he was never elected to office, Sharpton cracked the proverbial ceiling so that others could one day shatter it. He showed young people everywhere that a kid from Brooklyn could aim for whatever they wanted, no matter how many obstacles were placed before them. He served as an example of someone who not only spoke of progress, but hit the streets and made it happen, while always maintaining his focus on creating a more just and equal society.
For decades, Sharpton has turned the power of protest into a mechanism by which to garner reform. In 1997, when Abner Louima was viciously brutalized by NYPD officers, he organized rallies, marches and pressers, and helped lead the fight for a conviction. In 1998, when four young Black and Latino basketball players were shot by New Jersey state troopers, Sharpton led protests, even shutting down parts of the New Jersey turnpike. The focus highlighted how pervasive racial profiling was in traffic stops, and resulted in statewide changes to policing practices.
When 23-year-old Amadou Diallo was shot 41 times in a hail of bullets by plainclothes officers as he stood in the vestibule of his own home in the Bronx in 1999, Sharpton once again called for justice, led demonstrations and stood alongside the family during such a difficult period. Six years later when plainclothes officers fired 50 shots and killed Sean Bell hours before his wedding, he did the same. When the cops charged in Bell’s death were acquitted, Sharpton led massive protests around the city which shut down bridges and tunnels.
Through the years, the civil rights champion has remained consistent pushing for police reform and accountability. In 2014, Eric Garner died after officers in Staten Island placed him in a banned chokehold. Sharpton stood with Garner’s mother, organized rallies and called for justice – even testifying years later in front of the House Judiciary Committee demanding federal regulation and changes to policing. Whether it was organizing a silent march against stop-and-frisk policies in New York City, or delivering eulogies for victims of police brutality, Sharpton’s commitment to fighting on behalf of others has never wavered.
In 2020, after a global pandemic hit the nation and devastated Black and Brown communities especially hard, NAN increased food drives, served meals and provided support during such a tumultuous time. Sadly, police misconduct never ceased even as families grappled with an unknown virus. That May, 46-year-old George Floyd was killed after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin placed his knee on Floyd’s neck for over 9 minutes as he cried out in agony. The incident was caught on cell phone video for the world to see. Sharpton delivered a powerful eulogy for Floyd, both humanizing him and demanding accountability at the same time. Chauvin was eventually convicted of murder, and the other officers at the scene were convicted of violating Floyd’s civil rights. It was a rare moment when law enforcement was truly held accountable for their actions, and it was the culmination of decades of Sharpton’s activism.
NAN and Sharpton have consistently fought for justice even when the perpetrators weren’t police officers. In 2012, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was killed by a self-proclaimed neighborhood watchman as he walked with an iced tea and a bag of skittles. Sharpton drew attention to the case, led rallies and has stood with Trayvon’s mother and family through the years as they grappled with such a horrific, unjust loss. When 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery was killed while out jogging by white vigilantes in 2020, it would take law enforcement 10 weeks to make the first arrests. Sharpton once again stood with the family, demanded justice, attended the trial and helped raise awareness about the case. In November 2021, all three white men were found guilty of murder charges, and in February of 2022, they were found guilty in a federal hate crimes trial. Justice was finally served.
Throughout the years, Sharpton utilized his gifts to raise awareness for injustice wherever it occurred. In fact, he has been arrested over 30 times for acts of civil disobedience, including spending 90 days in jail for protesting the bombing of the island of Vieques. He also spent 45 days in jail and another 10 days for other peaceful demonstrations. He has, in short, paid real dues.
Vanity Fair published an exclusive profile piece in 2014 in which they referred to Sharpton as “arguably the country’s most influential civil rights leader.” And they were correct. Year after year, he and NAN hold a national convention at the Sheraton Times Square Hotel where thousands attend, including dignitaries, elected officials, clergy and activists from around the country, as well as from around the world. Every August, he commemorates Dr. King’s historic March on Washington, and as recently as 2020, over 200,000 people attended demanding national police reform.
Sharpton is the author of several books, including Go and Tell Pharaoh, Al on America The Rejected Stone, Rise Up, and most recently Righteous Troublemakers. He has served as a guest lecturer at Tennessee State University, and has received honorary doctorate degrees from Medgar Evers College, Fisk University, Bethune-Cookman University, Virginia Union University, Voorhees College, among others.
In 2000, Coretta Scott King participated in a NAN-organized “Redeem the Dream” march in Washington, D.C. She praised Sharpton for continuing the steadfast work of her late husband. It was the highest honor he could receive. Thirteen years later, nearly a quarter of a million people attended the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s 1963 March on Washington. It was a defining moment.
Today, Sharpton and NAN continue advocating on behalf of the powerless, and keep up the fight for voting rights, pay equity, police reform, reproductive rights, fair housing, health care, LGBTQ rights, environmental justice, quality education and so much more. They empower youth leaders around the country to carry the torch of freedom and justice forward. Sharpton speaks on the world stage, addressing racial disparity in a host of nations, reminding everyone that nobody is truly free until we are all free.
Sharpton resides in New York City. He is the proud father of two daughters, Dominique and Ashley, and the grandfather of Marcus Al Sharpton Bright.
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