National Black AIDS Day Carousel_Al Sharpton

Ordained in the Pentecostal church, Al Sharpton is an outspoken and sometimes controversial political activist in the fight against racial prejudice and injustice. In 1971, he established the National Youth Movement. His many critics and supporters have watched him run for Senate, mayor of New York, and candidate for president. His dramatic style brings popular and media attention to his causes.

Early Life: Social and political activist, religious leader. Born Alfred Charles Sharpton, Jr., on October 3, 1954, in Brooklyn, New York. Outspoken and sometimes controversial, Sharpton has become a leading figure in the fight against racial prejudice and injustice. He developed his commanding speaking style as a child. A frequent churchgoer, Sharpton became an ordained minister in the Pentecostal church at the age of ten. He often traveled to deliver sermons and once toured with Mahalia Jackson, a famous gospel singer.

In the late 1960s, Sharpton became active in the civil rights movement, joining the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). SCLC had a program called Operation Breadbasket, which sought to encourage diversity in the workplace by applying social and economic pressure on businesses. In 1969, Sharpton became the youth director for the program and participated in protests against the A&P supermarket chain in the early 1970s. He went on to establish his own organization, the National Youth Movement (NYM).

During the 1980s, Sharpton got involved in many high-profile cases in the New York City area that affected the African American community and led several protests against what he believed were injustices and incidents of racial discrimination. He helped keep media scrutiny on the racially based murder of a black teenager named Michael Griffith in 1986.

To this day, Sharpton remains a political and social activist, with many supporters and critics. He is known for his deft handling of the media, leading some to call him the master of the sound bite. Others are concerned that his flare for the dramatic overshadows the causes he represents or he uses the causes he champions to further his own agenda. Sharpton seems to be pay no heed to his critics and continues to throw his talents behind important causes, cases, and events in the African American community, including rebuilding of New Orleans after the devastation left by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

In June 2009, the Reverend Al Sharpton led a memorial for Michael Jackson at Harlem’s Apollo Theater. A lifelong friend of the Jackson family, Sharpton said Michael Jackson was a “trailblazer” and a “historic figure” who loved the Apollo Theater.

Sharpton has two daughters, Dominique and Ashley, from his marriage to Kathy Jordan.