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Rev Sharpton, the man

Operation Black Vote is anticipating a night to remember as our ‘Realising the Dream’ event draws closer, bringing one of the most prominent civil rights campaigners in the world to the very hub of London’s political kitchen.

By Richard Sudan

The Reverend Al Sharpton who has remained an outspoken advocate for civil rights for many years will give a speech which will be sure to rock the house marking Dr Martin Luther King’s birthday.

But let’s take a minute to remind ourselves why Sharpton has become such a dominant figure in the struggle for racial and social justice for so long, and why after so many years the former Democratic nominee for President remains a true champion for change, and a man who many African Americans hold close their hearts.

Rising through the ranks as a prominent minister in his early years, Sharpton was ordained as a minister in the Pentecostal church from the age of ten. It was here that Sharpton would learn the skills needed to command the attention of audiences around the World in decades to come.

Born ten years before the Civil Rights Act came to pass, Sharpton came of age at a time when social and racial justice were being forced through progressive campaigning to the forefront of the political debate in America – at a time when events affirming the racial prejudice still evident in the country were common place.

It was Sharpton’s involvement with the church that would ignite the flame of passion in him. Through his involvement with Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) Sharpton realised the necessity of well organised campaigning.

The protests he organised with SCLC, were a learning curve for Sharpton. Through organised demonstrations against big businesses which sought to prevent black people from progressing through the ranks, Sharpton gained invaluable experience.

It was this experience which led him in the 1980’s to lead a number of successful protests, against law suits and incidents of racial injustice which held significance for the black community.

One such case was the racially motivated murder of black teenager Michael Griffith. Sharpton ensured that the case remained of high profile in the national media, and led several public protests affirming the anger felt by African Americans.

Indeed, in Sharpton’s own words “”An activist’s job is to make public civil rights issues until there can be a climate for change.”

This pattern would continue throughout the 80’s and the 90’s raising Sharpton’s own profile in the process, which in turn would enable him to champion the causes he fought for with a bigger platform.

He became notorious for speaking out on issues which many were tempted to stay silent on for fear of a backlash from the right-wing media, and losing political points. While this gained him enemies the respect Sharpton would continue to command due to his integrity and unwavering belief in the issues he fought for, led him to gain national attention.

Sharpton was now in a position to make several runs for public office, including Mayor of New York, the culmination of which saw him throwing his hat into the ring for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004.

While unsuccessful Sharpton has pointed out that one of the reasons he was running was to break down the barriers for others to follow. One could argue that the election of Barack Obama is vindication of his argument.

Today Mr Sharpton, one of the all time heavyweight punchers in the fight for equality has recognised the significance and importance that Operation Black Vote continues to play after 13 years in 2010, in ensuring that black representation and involvement in the political process is of paramount importance.

We must also be mindful that this is a man who has spoken out in support of many issues including among others gay marriage

Al Sharpton embodies the struggle for civil rights and racial justice, in the same way Obama personifies his own message of hope, and reflects the promise of the American dream. OBV welcome’s Sharpton and promises a night to remember on a day which will mark the birthday of Martin Luther King.

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