On Saturday night, Rev. Al Sharpton presented me with the Excellence in Media award at the GLAAD (The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) ceremony in NYC. What I realized, watching him speak so passionately and eloquently to a room full of LGBT supporters, is that Reverend Sharpton’s answer is ALWAYS “Yes” when I ask him to stand with me on issues that are important to the under-served, whether they are a priority in the black community or not.
Rev. Al is probably mostly regarded by the public as a “black activist” but I see him simply as an “activist” who stands up for any group that is a victim of suffering. And yes, I know, the media enjoys poking fun at my man Al (and he has gotten himself into a bit of trouble in his day) but he always comes out smelling like a rose. Why? Because he is the real deal…a crusader who genuinely cares about justice. This is proven by the fact that he is often at odds with the corporations/organizations that he needs to carry on his work and yet he never allows this to silence him or give him pause, because Reverend Sharpton answers to a higher authority: his conscience. So let the media take shots at him all they want. You can’t deny that the man has dedicated himself 24/7, to doing God’s work.
He knows that fighting for the rights of one group MUST include fighting for the rights of everyone. But it isn’t always an easy ride for him. Let’s face it, some of Rev. Sharpton’s biggest critics come from within his own community. Black conservative intelligentsia has blamed him for making blacks appear “hopeless” or “defeatist.” Many black churches are certainly not thrilled to see a black minister supporting marriage equality for gays and lesbians. And most people in urban communities have no issue with their corner KFC selling buckets of wings to their neighbors, but Rev. Sharpton does, because the birds are treated inhumanely. We can always count on Al to rush to where his heart leads him.
He’s on the radio almost every night and on the street almost everyday. He was one of the first ministers to take on the war on drugs back in the 70’s. And years later, he joined me on fighting the Rockefeller Drug Laws where finally those unjust laws were revised to remove mandatory minimum sentences that preyed upon young men of color further continuing the vicious cycle of the prison industrial complex. In the 80’s, he fearlessly took on police brutality and racial injustice and since then has become one of the most recognized activists of our time.
During the presidential debates of 2004, his politics made more sense than all the presidential candidates (the only thing he left out was one important component from Dennis Kucinich, which was the Department of Peace – which could easily have come out of his mouth). He understands the power of the grassroots movement and the benefits of engaging in non-violent protests that have gotten him arrested. He encourages young people to exercise their right to take their beef to the streets just like Martin Luther King did. It’s the American way and every time I turn on the news and see my friend making noise on behalf of the poor, the prejudiced against, the wrongfully accused…I smile. He inspires me to be a better activist, which in turn, makes me a better human being.
As sure as the sun comes up every morning, I think we can be rest assured that where there are suffering sentient beings in the press, we will see a screen shot of Reverend Al standing beside them. Where there is injustice, there will be a march led by Rev Al. Where there are the voiceless, there will be a spokesperson in Rev. Al. Where there are racial tensions, there will be a beacon of hope in Rev. Al. And where there are lives lost to violence, where criminals aren’t being held accountable, there will be vigils organized by Rev. Al to help us remember and push ahead for justice. He is a servant for the people, all people. That’s just who Al is, and that’s why I love him.