Activist reveals how he became ‘a force of consequence in America’
A Book Review
By Dwight Hobbes
One does well to take the endorsements on the dust jacket of Reverend Al Sharpton: The Rejected Stone with a grain of salt. Most glaringly, a tribute from no less suspect a source than former President George W. Bush proclaims, “Al cares just as much as I care about making sure every child learns to read, write, add and subtract.” Bush demonstrated beyond a doubt that he never wasted a moment’s thought on the wellbeing of children of color.
President Barack Obama states, “Reverend Sharpton is the voice of the voiceless and a champion for the downtrodden.” Yet President Obama has proven himself deaf to the dire needs of the voiceless, if not with the fiasco of his Obamacare debacle, inarguably by his steadfast refusal to take any sort of impassioned stand on issues impacting the powerless, most conspicuously the Stand Your Ground Law, which has given gun-happy racists license to open fire on Black Americans.
Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes extols, “Sharpton is the go-to Black leader today.” Why is this White woman dictating who qualifies as the number-one guiding African American light — of either gender?
It’s best to simply set those comments aside and see for yourself, deciding on your own whether the book is worthwhile reading. (Odds are you’ve already made up your mind by now as to how great an individual Sharpton is or isn’t.) The fact, of course, that it’s about one of America’s most prominent figures alone is enough to warrant a look-see if out of nothing more than curiosity.
Sharpton lost a great deal of credibility, even among supporters, by falling hook, line and sinker for young Tawana Brawley’s desperately misguided hoax and going half-cocked with a clarion call to demand justice for a crime it turned had never been committed. That may very well have turned out to be a good thing, because since then he has moved more slowly, more carefully, and with less rabble rousing, knee-jerk rhetoric. Whatever could once be said of him as a sensationalist, photo-grabbing grandstander, he eventually evolved into a thoughtfully evocative statesman.
If anyone had questions about whether Sharpton burst on the national scene as some jumped-up, two-bit, hustling blowhard who never went through hard times himself, those questions are concretely answered here. Whether you admire him or not, there is no doubt about the fact that the man paid his dues, and then some.
His legitimacy as a grassroots-spawned leader would be intact had he come up from a barebones existence to eventually attain his current status, along the way standing shoulder to shoulder with high-profile activists and hobnobbing with A-list celebrities, including President Obama and Beyoncé Knowles with her husband Jay-Z in tow at Obama’s inauguration. However, he began as a child of privilege, living in the upper-middle class.
That is, until his well-to-do father, owner of plumbing and construction companies as well as real estate holdings, abandoned the family to take off with, of all imaginable love interests, his own teenaged stepchild. His abandonment left nine-year-old Alfred, his sister Cheryl and their mother subsisting literally overnight in abject, grinding poverty, going from well off to welfare.
Surviving in the nightmarish housing projects of Brownsville, Brooklyn, N.Y., that is the sort of miserable misfortune that will make or break someone, especially at that tender age. It helped forge a resolve in Sharpton to confront personal catastrophe, and despite living the agonizing insecurity of abandonment, to will himself to prevail. There is no taking that away from him.
From there, this doesn’t develop into an autobiography (though it’s, of course, culled from his life), but is laid out as a primer on how to successfully seize the reigns of leadership. As such, Al Sharpton’s résumé — the mere recognition of his name — documents his authority, whether you like where it has led his followers or not, as someone capable of imparting information on how to fill that particular position.
The tone is self-congratulatory, beginning with his own blurb on the dust cover, and there’s more sizzle than steak, neither of which should surprise anyone. However, the broad strokes are there with chapters advancing concepts like, “If You Want to Lead, You Must Decide Where You’re Going”, “Don’t Be Afraid to Change and Evolve,” and “Stay Focused and Don’t be Ruled by Your Emotions.”
In that last one, Sharpton has to be commended for straightforwardly acknowledging, “[I lacked focus] early in my career, when I too often allowed my emotions to control me. That was a mistake I made with one of the cases with which my name became indelibly linked: Tawana Brawley.”
For anyone who used to strut around leading his own self-righteous parade, blinded by know-it-all-it is, to flatly state that he goofed is undeniable proof a leopard can change its spots and that Sharpton operates with a working mind. It’s rather amusing that in “You Need to Know When to Quit It” he points out that Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. didn’t know when to quit and Muhammed Ali did.
It’s important to have what he calls “an exit plan,” yet — face it, Sharpton’s not getting any younger — he doesn’t mention a word about how he intends to someday gracefully step down.
The book will not bore you. It won’t exactly inspire you with a blueprint to go out and take over the world, either. Reverend Al Sharpton: The Rejected Stone does, no two ways about it, give you the benefit of a prominent individual’s experience at becoming a force of consequence in America.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.
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