The Rev. Al Sharpton, one of the most vocal and
prominent civil rights leaders in recent history,
will be the featured speaker at the 26th annual Martin
Luther King Jr. Commemoration.
The Baptist minister was a candidate for the
Democratic presidential nomination in 2004 and
for decades now has been an outspoken advocate for people
whom he believes have suffered racial
Begun in 1982, the Johns Hopkins Martin Luther King
Jr. Commemoration honors the Nobel
Peace Prize winner's legacy of nonviolent activism and
community service. This year's event will take
place from noon to 1:30 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 11, in Turner
Auditorium on the East Baltimore campus and
will be broadcast to several other university and health
Sharpton joins an impressive list of past speakers
that includes Maya Angelou, Harry Belafonte
Jr., the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, James Earl Jones, Jesse
Jackson, Danny Glover, Rosa Parks and
Coretta Scott King.
In the past year, Sharpton has led a coalition against
the use of pejorative terms in the
mainstream media and music industry and featured in several
cases that drew national coverage, most
prominently the effort to remove radio shock-jock
personality Don Imus from the airwaves following
an on-air racial slur. He also came to the support of six
black teenage boys in Louisiana, the "Jena
Six," who were accused of beating a white classmate after a
series of racially motivated incidents,
including the hanging of nooses.
Levi Watkins, founder of the Martin Luther King Jr.
Commemoration Celebration and chair of
its committee, said that Sharpton played an important role
in bringing these cases to the world's
"I, too, was concerned about some of the stuff that
has happened in America this past year. I
do not think they were isolated occurrences, and I thought
he could focus on them," said Watkins,
professor of surgery and associate dean of the School of
Watkins said that he realizes that Sharpton will bring
some color, and some controversy, to this
year's event. "But sometimes you need a Frederick
Douglass," Watkins said. "You can't have rain
without thunder and crops without plowing. It's not a
popularity contest. In my opinion, [Sharpton's]
work far outweighs his warts, and I dare you to show me
anyone without warts."
Sharpton has challenged the American political
establishment to include all people "in the
dialogue," regardless of race, gender, class or beliefs.
Known for his fiery oratory, Sharpton speaks against
alleged racial injustice, as in the case of
Sean Bell, who was shot to death by New York City police in
November 2006. In protest, Sharpton
organized a rally and led hundreds of thousands on a march
down Manhattan's Fifth Avenue. His daily
radio show, Keeping It Real, is heard in more than 40 U.S.
markets. He also hosts a TV show that
explores contemporary issues in an informal, barbershop
Born Alfred Charles Sharpton Jr., on Oct. 3, 1954, in
Brooklyn, N.Y., he began his ministry at
age 4, preaching his first sermon at Washington Temple
Church of God & Christ in Brooklyn. Five years
later, the church's Bishop F.D. Washington licensed his
protege to be a minister in his denomination.
Sharpton's civil rights career began almost as early.
The Revs. Jesse Jackson and William Jones
appointed Sharpton, at age 13, as youth director of New
York's Southern Christian Leadership
Conference Operation Breadbasket — an organization
founded by Martin Luther King Jr.
At 16, Sharpton founded the National Youth Movement,
which organized young people around
the country to push for increased voter registration,
cultural awareness and job training programs.
Sharpton, now a Baptist, attended Brooklyn College and was
later presented with an honorary degree
from A.P. Clay Bible College.
In 1991, Sharpton founded the National Action Network,
a broad-based progressive civil rights
organization that he still heads. From 1994 to 1998, he
served under Jackson as director of the
Ministers Division for the National Rainbow Push Coalition.
He is also author of the book Al On America
(Kensington, 2002), in which he touches upon
several hot-button issues of the day, including
presidential politics and the Iraq War.
He still preaches, throughout the United States and
abroad, on most Sundays and averages 80
formal sermons a year. One of his daughters works with him
on his nationally syndicated radio
program. (His other daughter is still in college.)
This year's MLK event theme is "Living the Dream and
Securing Our Future." Watkins said that
the name refers to the great steps taken toward equality
and diversity while also acknowledging that
work needs to be done.
In addition to Sharpton, Watkins wanted Democratic
presidential candidate Barack Obama to
speak at the event, but the Illinois senator's busy
campaign schedule prohibited it. "I felt that
Obama's candidacy was a great representation of King's
dream," Watkins said.
Friday's celebration will include the 16th annual
Martin Luther King Jr. Community Service
Awards ceremony, in which eight Johns Hopkins employees
will be honored for demonstrating through
community service the spirit of volunteerism and
citizenship that characterized King's life.
Being recognized from the university are L. Philomen
Allen and Patrick Cummings, both of KSAS;
Martina Leinz, SAIS; and Paul Thompson, SoM. Health system
honorees are Christina Cardella, John
Fuller, Anita Johnson and Wanda Moss, all of JHH.
The Unified Voices Choir, a gospel group whose ranks
include both Johns Hopkins staff and
community members, will provide musical entertainment
beginning at 11:30 a.m.
Those unable to attend can view the event on
closed-circuit television in 213 Hodson on the
Homewood campus; Hurd Hall, Tilghman Auditorium or on JHH
Patient Channel 54 on the East
Baltimore campus; the Asthma and Allergy Auditorium at
Bayview; the Green Room at Mount
Washington; or the third-floor conference room at 901 S.
Bond St. in Fells Point.
For more information about the event, go to