The Rev. Al Sharpton delivered a rousing call Friday to dream the dream of activism to a young generation of African-Americans he said has given up even trying.
“It was bad enough when we were held back,” Sharpton told a crowd of some 650 Benedict College graduates at a homecoming banquet at the Doubletree Hilton at Bush River Road and I-20. “It’s worse when we have adjusted to it.”
Sharpton’s 30-minute keynote speech hit on civil rights themes of self-reliance, restiveness and inclusiveness. He did not call out any South Carolina officials but noted the pattern of voter ID laws that he said became a fabricated issue only after the election of President Obama.
Sharpton, though introduced as someone who has fought against excessive use of force by police, did not mention last month’s shooting of a black driver by a state trooper during a traffic stop over a seat belt violation. Motorist Levar Edward Jones made his first public statement about the shooting Friday morning on the “Today” show.
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Sharpton spent much of his time criticizing young blacks, especially musicians, who call each other the ‘n’ word in conversations, in lyrics and demean women, too.
“We’re the only ones in America that we can call each other (the ‘n’ word) and we celebrate that,” he said, his strong voice rising with indignation. “How you define yourself is how you confine yourself.”
The veteran civil rights activist and minister lamented “a generation that has convinced themselves or were convinced by others that dreaming is beyond their reach.
“We are facing generations that are coming behind us that are losing the audacity to dream. I believe in the audacity of dreaming because dreams make progress,” he said. “I’ve seen dreams come true. There’s a black family living in the White House.
“Dreams are not about looking at what’s there. Dreaming is about looking at what’s not there and believing you can make it happen. Let’s tell our children that they were not born to be thugs ... they were born to run the world.”
Sharpton, who repeatedly referred to himself as “Reverend Al,” called historically black colleges like Benedict places where dreams are fed. He told graduates they have a duty to reinvest in them.
Historically black colleges are the roots that sustain the tree of success, he said. “Don’t leave the root for the fruit.”
He recounted the civil rights struggles of African-Americans, including his own upbringing in Brooklyn, N.Y., by a single mother who relied on welfare, food stamps and high expectations for her children.
“We were raised that we were expected to make something of ourselves,” he said.
Columbia city manager Teresa Wilson ended the keynote address by presenting Sharpton with a proclamation that designated Oct. 24, 2014, the Reverend Al Sharpton Day and gave him the key to the city.