It is often said that the measure of a man's impact on the world is found in the number of friends he has, and this particular line of thinking was on full display within the hallowed halls of the New York Public Library in celebration of venerable civil rights fighter Rev. Al Sharpton's 65th birthday.
On Thursday evening, elected officials, celebrities of many disciplines, as well as heads of industry, gathered for the birthday of a man who is neither an elected official nor an entertainer of any sort. For a regular Joe, this would raise eyebrows, but it is a testament to the bridge building efforts of Rev. Al Sharpton.
On hand were critically acclaimed actor Samuel L. Jackson, director Spike Lee, Robert De Niro, MSNBC president Phil Griffin, New York congressman Chuck Schumer, current New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio and former New York City Mayor David Dinkins, as well as Essence Communications CEO Michelle Ebanks and a multitude of industrial movers and shakers of diverse composition.
This celebration was for a man who has been fighting the good fight for a very long time. Through his National Action Network, Al Sharpton has institutionalized the fight for civil rights and racial justice in America since 1991. But he had been doing that for at least 15 years prior, unbeknownst to those outside of the New York City sphere of influence.
Within that sphere, Sharpton has gained the respect of just about everyone trying to get things done within the political quagmire that New York historically is. New York Senator Chuck Schumer (D) was the first to shower Rev. Sharpton with praise.
“At a time like this we need Reverend Al like never before,” Schumer told the audience. “We quote the scripture, let not your heart be troubled. That's what we believe. We are going to keep fighting the fight until we win. Until Donald Trump is no longer in power in any way and until America returns to its highest ideals. Let me make a toast to man who, more than just about anybody else, who is working to make that happen, Rev. Al Sharpton. Lift your glasses to the birthday of the great and wonderful Rev. Al Sharpton.”
Sharpton credits James Brown, Rev. Jesse Jackson and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as mentors who provided the template by which he would fight injustice. However, there are many others who credit Sharpton with helping awaken them as well.
Samuel L. Jackson would give a rousing oratory in praise of Sharpton and the importance of his accomplishments.
"I'm here on behalf of myself and my beautiful wife. When we moved here in 1976, we came to New York City we expected big things," Jackson told the gathering. "To dive into this huge sea of acting with hopes of making ourselves a success. Along the way we started to find out about the city of New York, the politics of what was going on, who did what and who had the respect of the people in the street. The man commanded our respect. Little did we know that we would actually get close enough to him to actually call him a friend. I'm really, really proud to call him one of my friends."
However, it soon became clear that this was not only a birthday jam for Rev. Al Sharpton but a reminder of the broiling fight that awaits Democrats and progressives in the 2020 presidential election.
"I'm so proud to be a part of this," Jackson continued. "I'm proud to be a part of most of the events that Reverend Al puts together. We're proud to know that he's still fighting the good fight that we learned as children growing up in the '60s. We knew how to get out in the streets and get things done. To use our voices, to raise our fists, to get people to join our cause and understand what we're talking about. We have something coming up in the next year that will require us to use every skill that we can muster so that we can clear out the rot that's infesting our government to see if we can get someone who understands the future. Not only for ourselves but for our great, great grandchildren who are going to have to inherit this planet and this particular government. I want to thank Reverend Al for being part of that fight for so long and for giving us the faith to keep going."
Reverend Al. Sharpton is a sought-after speaker and political commentator and can be found on MSNBC's Politics Nation. Additionally, he is still very much active at NAN headquarters in Harlem, New York.
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