The Reverent Al Sharpton spoke at St. Olaf College this evening. The event drew a large crowd from far and near. After being introduced, Al Sharpton went on stage. Having offered his thanks, he declared, at the outset, that though Americans tend to shy away from talking openly about race, he was going to talk about it.
He did, offering a memorable account of how the racial situation has evolved in America during his lifetime. When he was a young man, he said, nobody, in their wildest dreams, had the idea that a black person would ever become president of the USA. The election of Barack Obama, he said, and particularly his re-election, is a sign of progress. He also gave the example of Beyoncé, an artist who is embraced by Americans of all races, whereas in his youth, the situation was very different.
While acknowledging progress, he dwelt at length on enduring problem, giving incisive accounts of events such as the recent police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and several such cases from the east to the west coasts.
Reverend Al Sharpton urged the young generation to believe in their ability to effect positive change. Instead of taking on many issues, each one should strive to define specific goals and work diligently to achieve those goals.
He offered a unique perspective on various issues, saying, for example, that when he tells Black people that they are sometimes accountable for the problems they face, he gets some negative reactions. He also said that his idea of civil rights embraces the rights of all groups of people who are in any way discriminated against or disenfranchised--blacks, Latinos, women, gay and lesbian people, Muslims, and so forth. He brought into his talk references to places beyond the USA, such as Palestine and South Africa.
Al Sharpton spoke about the issue of race without alienating anybody. Instead, he won applause and standing ovations with his insights, fairness, eloquence, and sense of humour. He charmed the audience with his jokes. He noted, for example, that people think he just pops up wherever there are problems around the USA. The truth, he said, is that people call him to those places.
After his talk, he was taken to a reception room where he interacted with people informally. He gracefully took photos with anybody who wanted to take a photo with him. My two daughters and I stepped forward to take a photo, and then my eldest daughter brought out Al Sharpton's book, Al On America. Reverend Al Sharpton right away offered to sign it, while reaching for a pen. It was a most touching, unforgettable experience.