Al Sharpton is a religious leader and political activist. He was born on October 3, 1954, in Brooklyn, New York. His father left the family and Sharpton was raised by his mother. They had to move to the public housing projects, where his mother worked as a maid and supported the family on her meager income as well as government welfare payments. Sharpton studied at public schools in Queens and Brooklyn, and graduated from Samuel J. Tilden High School in 1972. He was a commanding figure, even as a youth and was ordained as a Pentecostal minister at the age of 10. He used to travel to other places to deliver sermons, and once teamed up with the acclaimed gospel singer Mahalia Jackson.
From a very early age, Sharpton was active in religious and political causes. He joined the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and worked for one of their divisions called “Operation BreadBasket”. This was a program aimed at encouraging businesses to enhance diversity in the workplace. Another such cause was organizing protests against a supermarket chain called A&P. After high school, Sharpton enrolled at Brooklyn College, which he attended for two years before dropping out. He started working as the youth director for the presidential campaign of Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm and also served as the tour manager for famed musician James Brown.
In 1971, Al Sharpton founded an organization known as the National Youth Movement, which collected funds for the betterment of disadvantaged youth. He has worked to raise awareness and bring justice for many racially motivated hate crimes such as the Bernhard Goetz shooting incident. Goetz shot four African American men on a New York City Subway. The case was dismissed as a self-defense incident and Goetz was cleared of all charges. Another such incident was when three African American men were assaulted by a group of white men in Howard Beach. Sharpton organized rallies and protests against the incident. He then founded a group called “National Action Network” which deigned to educate voters of their rights and responsibilities and to support small businesses.
Sharpton was also actively involved in the Tawana Brawley case. Brawley was an African American teenage girl, who claimed that she had been raped by a group of white men, including some police officers. The case was tried but dismissed by a grand jury, concluding that the girl had invented the story for attention. Sharpton was involved in sparking media attention to the story and organizing protests and rallies in her support. Sharpton has vied for a government position, running for the New York State Assembly in 1978, a seat in the U.S. Senate in 1992 and 1994, the mayor of New York in 1997 and a Democratic Party Presidential Candidate in 2004.
Al Sharpton has a horde of supporters as well as a large number of critics. His outspoken nature and tactics often leads people to comment that he strays from the actual cause and uses it to further his own agenda. He was close friends with Michael Jackson and led a memorial service for him at the Apollo Theatre in New York. One of his recent cases has been Trayvon Martin, an African American teenager, shot to death in Florida by George Zimmerman, a member of the neighborhood watch. Sharpton organized movements to bring Zimmerman to justice, who was tried for second degree murder, but acquitted of all charges. Sharpton hosts a television talk show called “PoliticsNation” as well as a radio show called “Keepin’ It Real”. He is separated from his wife and has two daughters.