TALLAHASSEE, FLA. – The Rev. Al Sharpton delivered a message of caution, reprimand and activism to a full house at the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church on a hot evening during the last week of August.
His second appearance in celebration of Social Justice Sunday coincided with the six-month anniversary of the death of Trayvon Martin, a Central Florida teen, who was gunned down by George Zimmerman, a self-appointed neighborhood watchman.During the rally, which kicked-off at 6 p.m., Sharpton encouraged the congregation to register to vote.
He explained that the “super militant friends” are trying to erase the progress made by requiring voter identification cards.“We are not going to let them take it (right to vote) back,” said the founder and president of the National Action Network. He encouraged the audience to assist with serving the senior citizens and college students, the population he perceives as most affected by the state law.“Some of you are too lazy and ungrateful to help somebody get an ID card,” he scolded. “The only way your life has value is if you do something with your life,” he said in his 45-minute speech, which was a mixture of history lessons, anecdotes and comedy delivered with Baptist fervor. “The hardest job of a preacher is to preach the funeral of an irrelevant person.”
We can’t “hallucinate a life for you, you never lived. The only thing that will matter two minutes after you’re gone is if you did something for somebody else.”
Sharpton admonished the audience, which included elected officials, to commit to assisting with voter registration and to vote. After telling of the brutality of the Civil Rights Movement and the sacrifices activists have made to secure voting privileges and other opportunities, he reminded the audience that “nobody invited us to vote in the first place. We had to fight to get the right to vote.”
“Don’t be an expert in the past and absent from the present,” said Sharpton, the host of “PoliticsNation” on MSNBC.
In his opening remarks, he praised local attorneys Daryl Parks and Benjamin Crump for filling the void left by Johnnie Cochran. He explained that he had to invest in young, Black professionals.He told of his admiration for Martin’s parents —Sabrina Fulton and Tracy Martin — who have “not uttered one public word of bitterness. They have maintained the dignity and integrity of the Civil Rights Movement.”In keeping with the theme of the day, Sharpton said, “All they asked for is justice. No matter how long it takes, we will stand with Sabrina and Tracy because Trayvon was our son, too.”
The Rev. R.B. Holmes Jr., pastor of the church, also lavished praise on Trayvon’s parents. “You have not been bitter,” Holmes said. “But you have made us better. We’ve got to stand up for what’s right and not let them discourage us.”Reflecting on the day’s events that also included an 11 a.m. service where Sharpton delivered the message, Fulton said that Social Justice Sunday had “multiple meanings” for her.“We are still healing six months after his death.”
She said that she was honored that the pastor and Sharpton spoke to them and that activism continues. “It is good to see the young people here.”
Also in attendance was Gina Williams, the mother of Martin Lee Anderson, the teen who died in 2006 after an incident at the Bay County Juvenile Boot Camp.“It’s good everybody is keeping the family in prayer,” Williams said. “Hopefully what happened to Trayvon Martin won’t happen to anybody else.”Sharpton explained that he has been a preacher all his life. He said that he will “stand up for justice, stand up for righteousness and God will make a way.”