As the head of one of the most well-known civil rights organizations that has over forty chapters and affiliates across the United States, Rev. Sharpton has been applauded by both supporters and non-supporters for challenging the American political establishment to be inclusive to all people regardless of race, gender, class or beliefs.
Ever since his surrogate father, the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, told him, “you can’t set your sights on nothing little…you got to go for the whole hog,” Rev. Sharpton has been doing just that. He was born on October 3, 1954, in Brooklyn, New York, and began his ministry at the unusually early age of four. He preached his first sermon at that age at Washington Temple Church of God & Christ in Brooklyn where he was licensed by the legendary Bishop F. D. Washington at age nine to be a minister in that denomination. He likewise started his civil rights career very young. At age 13, he was appointed, by Reverends Jesse Jackson and William Jones, the youth director of New York’s SCLC Operation Breadbasket (founded by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.). At age 16, Sharpton founded the National Youth Movement Inc. which organized young people around the country promoting voter registration, cultural awareness and job training programs.
Rev. Sharpton was educated in public schools in New York and attended Brooklyn College. He was later presented with an honorary degree from A.P. Clay Bible College.
In 1991, Sharpton founded the National Action Network a broad-based, progressive civil rights organization which he still heads. From 1994 to 1998, Rev. Sharpton served as Director of the Ministers Division for the National Rainbow Push Coalition under Rev. Jesse Jackson while still serving as the head of NAN. Upon the death of Bishop Washington in the late 80s, Rev. Sharpton became a Baptist, and in 1994, he was re-baptized as a member of the Bethany Baptist Church by Rev. William Jones.
Rev. Sharpton has rejuvenated the Civil Rights movement while raising the bar for political participation for people of color. In 1999, when a young unarmed African immigrant was gunned down in the vestibule of his home by four New York City police officers, Sharpton led 1,200 people in the civil disobedience protest arrest. The throngs that followed him to jail in this protest included former mayors, congressman and religious and community leaders across racial, ethnic and political lines.
Rev. Sharpton’s platforms against racial profiling and police brutality has reached an international audience, and his work on human rights issues has taken him to Sudan, Israel, Europe and further, where he has formed alliances with international peace activists across the world.
But perhaps his most significant international visit was his sojourn to Vieques, Puerto Rico in 2001. Sharpton and three Latino elected officials from New York visited Vieques to protest the U.S. Naval bombing exercises on the island, a practice that has endured for over 60 years. After visiting with hundreds of Puerto Rican citizens who have suffered physical and mental infirmities as a result of the bombing exercises, Sharpton and the other members of the “Vieques Four” led the protest at the U.S. Naval Base in Puerto Rico. They were subsequently arrested, tried several weeks later and sentenced to 40 to 90 days – Sharpton received the longest sentence – in federal prison for their protests. While Sharpton was in jail, he fasted, losing eighty pounds, and even managing to influence the local mayoral election. Because of the stand that the “Vieques Four” took that summer, President George W. Bush addressed the issue and ordered the Navy to end their exercises in 2003.
Rev. Sharpton is a member of Bethany Baptist Church in his native Brooklyn neighborhood where the late William A. Jones, Jr., was the Pastor. Rev. Sharpton still preaches throughout the United States and abroad on most Sunday’s, and averages eighty formal sermons a year. Rev. Sharpton says his religious convictions are the basis for his life. In addition to continuing to run NAN, Rev. Sharpton hosts a talk show on Syndication One that broadcasts in 40 markets, five days a week, and he hosts “Sharptalk” on TV One-- a national cable show based in a barber shop setting.
Rev. Al and Kathy Jordan Sharpton have two daughters, Dominique and Ashley.