By Micha Green
AFRO D.C. Editor
mgreen@afro.com

Not many people have known their life’s calling and then began that work during adolescence; however the Rev. Al Sharpton has been in pulpits since boyhood, led civil rights organizations since his teens and been a life-long justice-fighter. At 65, the founder and president of the National Action Network (NAN) and world-renowned activist does not plan on slowing down his work anytime soon as he continues to actively fight system racism, demand legislative reform and organize the Aug. 28 “Get Your Knee Off Our Necks” Commitment March on Washington.

Sharpton, in an exclusive interview with the AFRO via Facebook Live, talked about knowing his reason for being on earth since he was very young.

The Rev. Al Sharpton spoke to the AFRO about his long career in activism, his hopes for the future and the upcoming “Get Your Knee Off Our Necks” Commitment March on Washington. (Courtesy Photo)

“I started preaching as a boy preacher, and when I was around 11 or 12 I just got caught up in the movement in New York and I joined operation Bread Basket, which was Dr. King’s chapter in the north.  And I became youth director of that chapter the year he was killed.  And I just never felt any other inclination. A lot of the older ministers would say, ‘Well get a church, or do this.’ And I’d say, ‘No, I want to do the movement.’ My social justice ministry is what I do and I’ll do that all my life. I’ve had other opportunities, but I always stayed right in the vain of what I do,” Sharpton explained passionately.

He encouraged others to “stay in your lane,” as a means of finding success and happiness with one’s calling.

“I think people ought to find their zone that connects with them spiritually and stay right there.  And the Bible says, ‘Seek you first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these other things shall be added unto you.’ The other things that were added were entertainers or people that supported us- had access to President Obama,” Sharpton explained. “I had no idea when I was a teenager that any of that would happen. I just knew that I was doing what I felt was right, and I’ve been doing it.”

Sharpton has been in many social justice battles.  In 1989 he was instrumental in the eventual exoneration of the Central Park Five, after the young boys were unjustly arrested for a brutal rape they did not commit; and he raised public awareness about the racist shooting of 16-year-old Yusef Hawkins.  In 1999, Sharpton led protests about the fatal police shooting of Amadou Diallo and again when six Black Jena, Louisiana teenagers were convicted in 2006 for beating a White student after nooses were hung in their school’s courtyard. He protested in the name of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and so many more. The minister and activist even preached Floyd’s funeral in early June.  Despite his years of activism, Sharpton is continuing the fight and is now organizing the “Get Your Knee Off Our Necks” Commitment March on Washington at the end of the month.

The Rev. Al Sharpton spoke to the AFRO about his long career in activism, his hopes for the future and the upcoming “Get Your Knee Off Our Necks” Commitment March on Washington. (Courtesy Photo)

This year’s Commitment March on Washington falls on the 57th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington where Dr. King delivered his famous “I Have A Dream,” speech.  Sharpton hopes this year’s march will be just as memorable and impactful as the one in 1963 that encouraged the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965.

“We decided to do it on the anniversary because we wanted to say to the national government that there are legislative things that need to be done to deal with .”

Sharpton said that he, NAN, as well as other activists and organizations, are pushing for the George Floyd Police Injustice Act to stop police chokeholds and a revision of the Voting Rights Act, now the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, in order to ensure no voting impediments.

“So we’re marching to say… that we must have legislation, along with the demonstration,” Sharpton said.

The activist closed the interview considering the 2020 general election- particularly his goal of getting President Donald Trump out of office.

“I believe that Donald Trump is a racist,” Sharpton told the AFRO.

“If we protect the right to vote, I think we can defeat Trump.  I think Trump’s strategy is to suppress the right to vote and put out a lot of stuff to make people say, ‘Voting is not going to matter.  Not going to be counted.’ We’ve got to show up in numbers,” he said.

The activist said some might be concerned former Vice President Joe Biden chose Sen. Kamala Harris (D- Calif.), a Black woman, as his running mate on the presumptive Democratic presidential ticket.  “I said, ‘Why would you be afraid of fighting somebody you already beat?’  We’ve already elected and re-elected a Black president?  How did we beat them?  We showed up in numbers that no matter how much they cheated, they couldn’t deny the victory.  They said it was a fluke in [2008] so we came back in [2012] and re-elected him.  If we come out in numbers, we can win.”

Micha Green

AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor