SUNY Downstate Medical Center
Office of Diversity & Inclusion
Second Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Leadership Award
Leadership Award Menu
Reverend Al Sharpton
With over 40 years of experience as a community leader, politician, minister and advocate, Reverend Al Sharpton is one of America's most-renowned civil rights leaders. Born on October 3, 1954 in Brooklyn, New York, Reverend Sharpton began his ministry at the tender age of four, preaching his first sermon at Washington Temple Church of God & Christ in Brooklyn. Just five years later, the Washington Temple Church's legendary Bishop F.D. Washington licensed Al Sharpton, his protégé, to be a Pentecostal minister.
A successful civil rights career soon followed helping Reverend Sharpton hold such notable positions as the Youth Director of New York's Operation Breadbasket, Director of Ministers for National Rainbow Push coalition, and founder of his own broad-based progressive civil rights organization, the National Action Network (NAN), one of the leading civil rights organizations in the world.
Since its inception in 1991, NAN has expanded to over 47 Chapters nationwide and encompasses chapters throughout the United States with important regional offices in Washington, D.C.; Atlanta, GA; Detroit, MI; Chicago, IL; Dallas, TX; Las Vegas, NV; and Los Angeles, CA. NAN's documented recent accomplishments include a nationwide labor tour with leading labor organizations including AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) that led to the defeat of proposed bill SB5 (Senate Bill 5) that was an assault on worker's rights; a March for Jobs and Justice on Capitol Hill; a 25-city Jobs rally; an Agreement, along with the NAACP and the National Urban League, and Comcast and NBC Universal (Memorandum of Understanding - MOU), to expand current diversity initiatives intended to increase diversity in a wide range of areas including programming and employment.
As one of the nation's most-renowned and respected civil rights leaders, Reverend Sharpton has been praised by President Barack Obama as "the voice of the voiceless and a champion for the downtrodden," and by former President George W. Bush who said that "Al cares just as much as I care about making sure every child learns to read, write, add and subtract."
From his background as a national civil rights activist, Reverend Sharpton has built a national political coalition. As President and founder of NAN he has influenced national legislation including but not limited too; voting rights, gun control, federal sentencing guidelines, privacy, education, employment, and immigration.
In addition, Reverend Sharpton has opened the door for Americans regardless of race, religion, gender, or national origin to run for political office. In 1978 he was a democratic candidate for the New York State Senate. In 1992 and 1994 Reverend Sharpton was a New York candidate for the democratic nomination for the United States Senate and in 2004 he was a candidate for the democratic nomination for the United States presidency.
Reverend Sharpton is currently the only African-American host of an evening talk show called "PoliticsNation" on MSNBC that analyses the top political and social news of the day featuring the country's leading newsmakers. He also hosts a nationally syndicated radio show "Keepin it Real" that broadcasts in 40 markets and is heard daily all over the country, as well as two local New York radio shows.
He resides in New York and has two daughters, Dominique and Ashley.