Cheers are in order for the living legend, the Rev. Al Sharpton, as he celebrates 50 years in the civil rights movement. Sharpton is one of the most recognizable activists from the movement and continues to fight the good fight, despite having been stabbed, jailed, indicted and ridiculed throughout his tenure.
When Sharpton was 13 years old, he was brought on to work with the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. William Augustus Jones for Operation Breadbasket, the economic arm of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which used the power of black ministers and the organizing strength of churches to create economic opportunities in black communities. The organization wasn’t a very popular one in New York City, but a teenage Sharpton did the work anyway.
Sharpton recently stopped by The Root’s offices to look back over those last five decades and to reflect on how far (or not so far) we’ve come, where we’ve yet to go and how the movement shaped him. He even shared a terrifying story of being stabbed during a march for justice for Yusuf Hawkins in the Bensonhurst neighborhood of New York City’s Brooklyn borough. Hawkins was a 16-year-old black boy who was shot and killed in 1999 after getting off the wrong subway stop. Sounds like a headline from 2017, doesn’t it?
“I think the movement has changed in many ways through the years, and I think it’s stayed the same in many ways,” Sharpton said after sharing the story of the most scared he’s ever been during his activism work. “We have more freedom, but we’re still unequal.”