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sharpton obama hug

The National Action Network’s 20th Anniversary Celebration was capped off this past weekend with a panel titled “Measuring The Movement.”

When you think of civil rights leaders since the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., you can’t have a conversation without mentioning the man who many consider to be the measuring stick, Reverend Al Sharpton.

Last week, Sharpton brought together a host of luminaries which included President Obama, to discuss the issues affecting Black Americans in these trying times in which African-American unemployment (15 percent) is higher than the population itself (13 percent).

NewsOne Columnist Rev. Al Sharpton named to Top 15 Civil Rights Leaders of 21st Century

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While many Black educators, journalists, and politicians have been critical of Obama’s resistance to create a “Black Agenda,” Sharpton used his convention to spread the message of “personal responsibility.”

In the convention’s opening remarks, Sharpton said the four-day gathering wasn’t just to remind President Obama of the issues affecting us, but how we can help make his job easier and improve our situation at the same time.

“We are here to make changes on our own because we aren’t the National Pontification Network or the National Procrastination Network, we are the National Action Network,” said Sharpton.

Following the conference, many attendees wondered why personal responsibility was the main theme, when the issues affecting African Americans are problems the community has no political control over such as jobs, education, and violence.

Featured speakers from President Obama’s cabinet, Attorney General Eric Holder and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, begged to disagree.

“There are still parents skipping school meetings, feeding their children unhealthy breakfasts’ and lunches, and not turning off the TV when it’s time to do homework,” said Duncan.

Attorney General Eric Holder touched on the topic of guns and violence in African American communities.

‘It’s time for us to take back our communities and push the drug dealers out, work closer with the police, and help end the violence.”

While many of these remarks were met with applause and shouts of “yes,” many in the crowd rolled their eyes.

And this was the convention.

A place where older African Americans came together to voice their complaints. A convention where republicans sat next to democrats, whites sat next to Blacks, and teenagers sat next to senior citizens for four days. While everyone may not have agreed with each other, they gained something more important – they learned from one another.

Twenty years ago, Sharpton was embroiled in the controversial Tawanna Brawley rape case. A case which damaged Sharpton’s credibility. Many thought he would never bounce back. But he kept on marching; he marched for Yusef Hawkins in 1989, marched for Abner Louima in 1997, marched for the Jena Six in 2007, and has continued to march for where he believes injustice has occurred.

But Sharpton is no longer content with leading at the front of the line. He’s learned that he’s only as powerful as the people behind him, and while he’ll continue fighting for Black causes, he also wants to inspire us to realize how much passion there is within us to improve our communities.

“We can’t always look at others to lead us,” said Sharpton. “Sometimes, we have to look at the person in the mirror and see that we’re capable of creating just as much change as that person in the Oval Office.”

Click here for the complete recap of Sharpton’s 2011 NAN Convention!

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