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I talk to Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton on a regular basis.  In fact, I spoke to both of them on Sunday and Monday.  I have to start off by telling you this so you’ll know that my perspective on these two individuals might be a bit different from others.  I am never on board with everything that another person says, but I’ll admit that getting to know these men behind the scenes gives a point of view that others are not so quick to understand.

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Let me explain:  You see, mainstream media has an issue with African American men, particularly unapologetic African American “leadership,” (whatever that means).  You probably can’t think of one strong African American advocate who has not been made into a clown or had his dirty laundry aired in public.  This is not because black “leaders” have more dirty laundry than others.  I argue that it’s because the media doesn’t protect the images of black public figures the way it does for their white counter parts.  If you dig into the past of almost any respected white “leader,” you would probably find a whole lot more dirt than the media has presented to the American public.  But when it comes to Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and Louis Farrakhan, all bets are off.

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With that said, I think it should be made clear that neither of these men are perfect, and neither was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  In fact, Dr. King died a very unpopular man and his heroic legacy was only restored after his death.  America has never loved black people who’ve pushed the envelope and forced America to look at itself in the mirror.  It is for their struggles and commitment to fighting for something greater than themselves that I will always respect Rev. Jackson and Rev. Sharpton.   In general, I believe in respecting my elders, for their contributions pave the way for the rest of us.

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There are also deeper issues to consider in America’s fight for fairness.  One of the things I find most interesting is that people who complain about men like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton aren’t doing a damn thing themselves.  They will stare at the TV as armchair quarterbacks and complain about this and that, all the while, they aren’t doing anything to advance the causes that they expect their “leaders” to promote.  I get the emails every single day:

“We had a lady get shot in our neighborhood, and where was Jesse Jackson when that went down?  Naw, he was on TV making his money.”

“Al Sharpton wasn’t in California when the black man had his rent money stolen.  He only cares about himself.”

When I get these emails in my inbox (I get tons of them), my reactions to people are the following:

a) Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton nor anyone else can be in all places at once. Even when you travel constantly to do as much as you can (exhausting yourself in the process), there are still going to be incidents that you simply don’t have time to address.  The “Super Negro” Theory for Civil Rights must be abolished.

b) The person who is doing all the complaining in their email is usually doing absolutely nothing himself. So, my first response to the person who asks me why I’m not doing this or doing that is to say, “As soon as you send me a list of all the things you’re doing to help black people, I’ll send you a list of my own.”

My response is not meant to belittle the person’s comment or to attack them.  It is to remind them that this fight belongs to all of us, not just a few figure heads that we see on TV.  The Chicago Bulls were never a great team when the players stood around watching Michael Jordan take all the shots.  They were a great team when everyone got the ball and everyone played a role.  Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream doesn’t just live in a fantasy, it lives inside of you.  So, as you get tempted to complain about what others are and are not doing, or find yourself upset that their strategy doesn’t match the one you’d endorse, find the time to get involved in the fight yourself.  You might find that it’s far more difficult than you think.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.

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