Photo by Howard Simmons in New York Daily News shows, left to right: Carl Washington, Pastor New Mt Zion Baptist Church, Kris Erskine, Pastor Bethany Baptist Church and Patrick Young, Pastor 1st Baptist Church Elmhurst, Queens and Johnnie Green, Pastor Mt Neboh Church.
A recent article in The Daily News “Holy war in Harlem: Pastors want Al Sharpton out” about several church leaders saying they had major beef with Rev. Al Sharpton caught my attention.
“The prince of the pulpit may have a revolution on his hands,” declared the story’s lead. “Four upstart clergymen have invited more than 100 churches to knock Rev. Al Sharpton off his Harlem political throne.”
At an event planned for October 24, yesterday, the church leaders reportedly expected 1,500 people to show up to support their “revolution.”
The church leaders were photographed posing, bunched together, forming a solid impenatrable wall. They each made an attempt at looking “menacing”; as if they would beat up Sharpton and break his knees if they ran into him in the streets of New York.
So, of course I read the article. I wanted to know what it was that Sharpton, founder and leader of the National Action Network, host of “Politics Nation” on MSNBC, and confidante to President Obama, had done to earn the ire of the church leaders.
When I read the article it turned out to be a case of a major “non-story story.”
The church leaders were enraged because Rev. Sharpton lately, according to them, has been traveling too much around the country promoting himself and his new book rather than engaging in activism and highlighting the plight of African American communities, including record unemployment levels.
As one of the pastors, Mount Neboh’s Johnnie Green put it, while Sharpton “is jet-setting around the country, people are going to our churches saying they don’t have money to eat.” And: “People need somebody to fight for them.”
Sharpton doesn’t need me to defend him — he’s far from perfect, but who among us is? Still, I was taken aback and perplexed by the church leaders.
Here you had several pastors, presumably with congregations, telling The Daily News that they were about to hold a major gathering of ministers and that one of the items on the agenda was to attack Al Sharpton because of his absenteeism.
Were these ministers nuts? I wondered.
If Sharpton wasn’t stepping up to “fight” for the needy, why didn’t the ministers do it themselves? Did they need to attack Sharpton first? Did they need his permssion?
Perhaps they thought that was the only way they could get The Daily News and other media to cover their event? Maybe the media had ignored their press release so they decided to adopt an attack- Sharpton-for-publicity strategy?
Even if this was the explanation for the broadside it would still be an embarrassing approach and it reveals more about the ministers than Sharpton.
It falls in the came category of he’s “sold out” criticism I often hear about Sharpton and other Black leaders. Sell outs are people like Clarence Thomas or Dr. Ben Carson.
In any case, if the ministers believe Sharpton has sold out, that’s even more reason for them to step up.
The criticism also presumes that one must always engage only in certain types of struggles. The man does have a national news show now and it should not be a great shock to anyone that he rarely leads street protests anymore.
The bigger question is where are the other leaders? Does Sharpton have a monopoly?
There might also be an element of envy and resentment involved. After all, which one of the ministers attacking Sharpton would turn down a book contract from a big publishing company or a show of their own on MSNBC? They were quick to attack him to be featured in a Daily News article.
It’s also not true that Sharpton no longer is involved in activism and protests. Some racists in Sanford, Florida, would be happy with that. It was Sharpton’s involvement that galvanized national media attention over the Trayvon Martin killing by the stalker George Zimmerman.
Sharpton has also been involved in denunciations of almost all the major New York City shootings, including the recent ones of Ramarley Graham and before that Sean Bell. He’s of course remembered for several others. He was also involved in the march to protest New York City’s unconstitutional apartheid-policing known as Stop-and-Frisk.
In any case, if Sharpton is no longer as involved in activism as he once was why can’t these very same church leaders step up and fill the void?
Ironically, it would not be a great shock to find out that some of these same church leaders may have complained in the past that Sharpton engaged in too much activism and sucked up all the media attention. Now that he’s less involved he’s attacked?
Rather than attacking Rev. Sharpton, why can’t these church leaders lead protests to highlight the many injustices, including the economic neglect, and educational apartheid?
Sometimes Black leaders are misled into attacking other leaders as a pre-condition for attention from the so-called “mainstream” media. This promotes division and diverts focus from the major battles against injustice. Keep the eyes on the prize. Resist devouring and destroying each other.
While it’s true that some people have better oratorical skills and a natural ability to organize, plan and strategize, new young leaders should always be groomed. Better to have too many than a handful who can always be neutralized.
If Sharpton indeed is not as engaged as before the ministers should thank him and step into the vacuum. Rather than attacking him maybe they could learn strategies from Sharpton.
Show some wisdom.