By Rev. Al Sharpton
President, National Action Network
It’s somewhat of an odd thing for a little boy to be a Preacher. While most kids were outside playing and making new friends, I discovered my calling at the age of four. Rejected by others my age, I forged my own path. When I was nine, my biological father left my family and I on our own. I grew up in a single-parent home, rejected by my own dad. But I was blessed not to succumb to some of the negative influences in my Brooklyn neighborhood, and blessed to have the unyielding love of my mother and later my Godfather, the one and only James Brown.
As an adult, I was rejected by many in both the civil rights community and in the mainstream, but I affirmed my place in society just as many others who have been marginalized, silenced or ignored before me have. That in essence is the premise of my new book, The Rejected Stone, was recently released. The climate in which my book is releasing is interesting to say the least.
As I look at the calendar and see the current government shutdown and looming Supreme Court cases on deck, I’m certain more than ever that all the outcasts and oppressed voices must break from the shackles of complacency. There is too much on the line, and those that have been dismissed by the mainstream must be the cornerstone of a new foundation, a new building, a new day — brick by brick, stone by stone.
It’s hard to believe that the partial government shutdown enters into its second week, and that we are only 10 days away from a debt limit deadline which could potentially lead to a default and set off a global financial crisis. When families find it difficult to make ends meet, we have furloughed hundreds of thousands of government workers. Vital services and programs at the FDA, EPA, CDC and other institutes have been cut or scaled back, impacting everything from food and carbon regulation to infectious diseases.
It is unconscionable that a few elected officials would hold the entire nation hostage just because they can’t accept a law (the Affordable Care Act) that has been upheld by the Supreme Court. That is not how we govern, and that is not how a civilized society functions. Many workers are asked to perform their duties without being paid while some indulge in childish games because they can’t accept that they lost the last two presidential elections.
The rest of the world looks at us as incapable of maintaining order in our own house simply because the rigid can’t accept the reality that the rejected are now the mainstream and they’re not afraid to let it be known. Blacks, Latinos, Native Americans, Asians, women, gays and other marginalized groups have fought long and hard to level the playing field and bring about change. While we have many more challenges ahead of us, we have made tremendous gains. A Black man raised in a single-parent home became the President of the United States. A Latina woman from the Bronx, Sonia Sotomayor, is a Supreme Court Justice. A civil rights attorney by the name of Eric Holder serves at the nation’s Attorney General. Those that have been castigated or scorned by the majority — whether by law or custom — now sit at the cornerstone of the societies we live in. As the barriers to entry are slowly eroded, we cannot and will not turn back the clock on progress.
Those who can’t handle an increasingly diverse country both in thought and in physical make up are attempting to regress us all back to an era that was anything but fair and equal. This past week, the Supreme Court began its new term. Many of the cases on its docket will ask the Court to overrule prior decisions and/or call into question laws that many have relied upon to protect them for years. One such case is that of Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action. In 2006, a Michigan ballot initiative banned the consideration of race or sex in public education, employment or government contracting, but the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the initiative placed a special burden on racial minorities. Now the case is in front of the Supreme Court, and its decision will have ramifications beyond Michigan.
The Court also has cases concerning abortion and women’s rights in front of it. McCullen v. Coakley contests a Massachusetts law that restricted protests near abortion clinics and reproductive health facilities. The Justices will also decide whether to hear a new challenge to the Affordable Care Act that requires employers to provide insurance coverage for contraception. Once again, we are witnessing a war on women, and there is a concerted attempt to erode a woman’s ability to choose and put her back in the reject box. In addition to affirmative action and women’s rights, campaign finance, legislative prayer, housing discrimination and the president’s recess appointment power are all on the table along with other pertinent issues. As we continue to fight our own battles in our communities, we cannot forget that the power structure at the top dictates how much of society will function throughout. After all the years of sacrifice by many who aren’t even mentioned in the history books, we cannot allow the special interests of a few to once again repress and oppress the will of the people. A new era is upon us, and just as the Biblical reference explains, the rejected stone will become the foundation of a fresh beginning. Our time is now.
All those who have ever been dismissed or castigated by the majority must align themselves with one another to continue pushing for progress until there is truly justice and equality for all. We’ve seen many rejected stones forge their way into acceptance, and we can only rest when the remaining ones find their way there as well — not by conforming, but by creating a new paradigm, a new mainstream.