For many Black Americans, he is next to a Messiah. For many non-Black Americans, he is thought to be an agitator, riling up already uncomfortable societal quagmires that are better left swept under the rug. Media image aside, Reverend Al Sharpton is neither of these things. The boy raised by a single mother in working class Queens, New York, developed a passion for civil rights activism as a pre-teen. He began marching alongside Reverend Jesse Jackson and other prominent civil rights activists at the tender age of thirteen, seeking to progress the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s message of civil disobedience and taking the high road to equal rights under the law for Black Americans.
As the years progressed, though the American civil rights movement has remained something of a moving target, much of the fight has landed at Reverend Al Sharpton’s doorstep. Families of victims of police brutality, fatal racial discrimination and other hate crimes come to him in their quest to gain the media attention they need to enact criminal justice and legislative reform on behalf of their loved ones. The powerless and voiceless look to Reverend Sharpton to get their voices heard. As Sharpton, himself, put it to me during our conversation, “People have called me an ambulance chaser, but we are the ambulance.” He is referring to victims’ families who have been helped by Sharpton’s National Action Network (NAN), providing everything from the media attention these families need to pressure prosecutors to take action towards justice, to gaining the attention of congress for policy reform, as well as emotional and financial support in some instances.
Now, with his new book, Rise Up: Confronting A Country At The Crossroads, Reverend Al Sharpton outlines his unrelenting position on the weightiest political and societal issues of our time, recounts some hard lessons learned, and offers an inside glimpse into the mentors who shaped the man we see today. Most importantly, Reverend Sharpton outlines his plan for an America at the crossroads.
Allison Kugel is a syndicated entertainment and pop culture columnist and author of the book, Journaling Fame: A memoir of a life unhinged and on the record. Follow her on Instagram @theallisonkugel and at AllisonKugel.com.