Sharpton-West ‘showdown’ becomes dignified debate

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by Jordane Frazier
For New Pittsburgh Courier

(REAL TIMES NEWS SERVICE)—Chicago’s Drake Hotel grand ballroom was crowded and buzzing with anticipation June 24.

Representatives from Black publications all over the country and other news organizations hoping to report on controversy, gathered at the National Newspaper Publishers Association’s annual convention for what they thought would be a spirited discussion between Princeton University professor, motivational speaker and Black philanthropist, Cornel West, Ph.D, and civil rights leader and activist, Rev. Al Sharpton about the state of Black America.

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DIFFERING OPINIONS—Dr. Cornel West, left, and Rev. Sharpton embrace during a discussion of the Obama administration and the plight of the Black community at the National Newspaper Publishers Association’s 2011 Annual Convention in Chicago. (Final Call Photo/Richard B. Muhammad)

But those looking to witness a spectacle would have to take their expectations elsewhere, Sharpton warned before the start of what was previously billed as a debate.

“We’re not having a debate because in this time I don’t think we can afford a circus act to entertain the media,” said Sharpton, head of the New York City-based National Action Network.

But while they dashed hopes of a showdown, Sharpton and West offered the opportunity for the Black Press to join the two leaders in calling attention to the plight of Blacks in America.

“If you came for a circus, there is a Chicago zoo … we didn’t come for that,” Sharpton said.

The point of contention for the two standouts: President Barack Obama.

Things got heated back in March when West and Sharpton last met for a discussion about the progress of the nation’s first Black president. West characterized the president as a “Black mascot,” then drawing a rebuke from Sharpton.

Though the two of them still share different opinions—West feeling Obama owes poor people and Blacks more, and Sharpton feeling that Obama alone is not to be blamed for or looked to solely for resolutions to the groups’ issues— they also agreed on some things.

With an audience that included Martin Luther King III, Rev. Jesse Jackson, author Michael Eric Dyson and a host of others, Sharpton said that Blacks cannot continue to be each other’s problems, but must band together to create solutions for the race as a whole.

These solutions, Sharpton said, can be made with the help of the Black Press.

“Black press used to be about Black advocacy…you (Black Press) advocated on behalf of the people that the other mediums didn’t care about,” said Sharpton. “What I suggest is that we revisit this and come out together.”

After making the audience laugh, applaud and even shout, Sharpton had set a comfortable tone for the discussion with West.

“We cannot be each others’ problem,” said Sharpton. “We need to respect each other so that we can go in together and come out together to win.”

West agreed. He went on to suggest that there was a lack of trust in the Black community that has led to Blacks being underrepresented in political issues.

“Without the Black prophetic tradition American politics is a thin manipulative Machiavellian affair with not a whole lot of talk about justice and fairness for the poor and working class,” said West.

“The question is how do we keep alive the Black prophetic tradition…and sustain our bonds of trust even when we radically call each other into question?”

West, a firm believer and supporter of bettering the poor class and Blacks, proceeded in the discussion with Sharpton to challenge that Blacks need the help of higher figures, such as those in the White House.

With the National Urban League reporting unemployment is double to three-times that of the rest of the nation, West said the White House have to make things happen for the suffering portion of the Black community, something that he feels has not happened.

“When I look at the economic team, they don’t have a history of caring about poor and working people,” he said. “A distinctive feature of the Black prophetic tradition is he or she that is willing to pay a price without putting themselves up for a price.”

Moderated by NNPA columnist, media coach and keynote speaker George E. Curry, the discussion became an opportunity for West to assure those in doubt that he does in fact support his president, but only expects more use of power from him.

“He (Obama) has always been my dear brother,” said West. “I support brother Barack and I support those in access to brother Barack Obama…but there’s a role to play for those who have access.”

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