On Monday 25th September, the Hist welcomed American civil rights activist, Al Sharpton. Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1954, Sharpton became a key figure in the civil rights movement, especially for the African American community in the Northern states.
In 1971, he founded the National Youth Movement which raised resources for young people facing poverty. In more recent years, he ran for Senate, Mayor of New York and presidential candidate.
Sharpton became an ordained minister in the Pentecostal Church at the tender age of ten. As he became more involved in activism, he joined the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and became leader of ‘Operation Breadbasket’, the SCLC program for encouraging diversity in the workplace, when he was just a high school student. In 1991 founded the National Action Network.
With many supporters and critics, Sharpton remains in touch with contemporary politics in what he deems a “troubled point in history”. Over the course of his address to the Hist, he spoke about President Trump and the effect the new president has had on race relations in the US. Having advised Obama, Sharpton alludes to the possibility that President Trump is somewhat of a backlash to Obama.
However, he denied that the attitude to race that has emerged with the rise of Trump is a resurgence and instead referred to it as a “revelation” of the attitudes that were always present but have now become normalized.
Sharpton became involved in activism at a very early age and this is something he encourages all students to do. He urged young people to choose an issue they are most passionate about as he recalled he did in his teenage years.
While the civil rights movement was largely centered around the Southern states, the Brooklyn-born activist described the way discrimination in the North raised different issues. He spoke about how he became personally passionate about the civil rights movement in the North in the way Martin Luther King was about the South.
This is the kind of passion and inspiration, Sharpton encouraged young people to seek out when beginning a career in activism. As a last word, he advised students to take risks: “I’d rather stumble in the right way than have a perfect walk in the wrong way”.