Rev. Al Sharpton, civil rights activist and president of the National Action Network, was just a teenager when Ed Lewis, founder of ESSENCE, came to Operation Breadbasket to share his idea of building a magazine for Black women. Though just a young organizer at the time, Sharpton revealed this weekend at the ESSENCE Festival of Culture that he was intrigued by Lewis’s desire and commitment to uplift and showcase the “beauty, intellect and the depth of our women.” Now, Sharpton says, it is time to recommit to that mission.
As the Black community continues to grapple with our health amid a worldwide pandemic and the ever-present effects of racism, the civil rights and faith leader says we must channel the strength of the women who ensured our place in history. The women like his mother, who provided for him and his sister despite the absence of their father. The women who never “bent, buckled or bowed under the pressure.” The women who showed their beauty through their strength and their commitment through their efforts and their unwavering determination.
“I’m still fighting for those Black women,” Sharpton insists. Though we live in a country where there are disparities in health services and every day we continue to combat police brutality and racial violence, Sharpton says we can look to the past 400 years to see that this moment in time will not break us. “In our blood is that of the strong survivors,” he notes. “That’s how we took 100 years of Jim Crow.” We can survive now, Sharpton suggests, because we’re stronger and “we have our backbone and our forefront” in Black women.
The proud son of a single mother says at this very critical time, “We must recommit ourselves to that strength” that Sojourner truth, Harriet Tubman, Shirley Chisholm and Barbara Jordan all channeled to make their indelible marks on the history of this nation. We must go forward “erect, regal and confident” to prosper beyond the difficult circumstances that now face us to ensure we continue on our way to a “land of fairness and justice.”
Sharpton warns that it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. And the work will not end until Black people achieve the equity and equality we deserve for building this country up to the place that it is today. “We don’t want favors. We want equality,” Sharpton demands. “We don’t want handouts. We want reparations for what was done to us. We don’t want you to give us Black faces in high places. We want the power of our own self-determination. We want what is due to everybody else that came to these shores.”
He says we’ll get there by leaning into “the strength of our women” and promises “we will not let them down.”