sharpton march

Fall back Sharpton. Time for the youth to lead

Thanks to the decisions by grand juries in Ferguson, Mo., and New York City, the Rev. Al Sharpton has put his marching shoes on.

[blocktext align=”right”]Don’t get me wrong. I like a good march as much as the next person. Gives me a chance to exercise and see folks that I only see when covering a march. But Rev. Sharpton ain’t the guy to do it.[/blocktext]

He wants to clog the streets of Washington, D.C., on Dec. 13 to protest the decisions that left former Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson and New York City Police Officer Daniel Panteleo unpunished for the shooting death of Michael Brown and the choking death of Eric Garner, respectively.

Don’t get me wrong. I like a good march as much as the next person. Gives me a chance to exercise and see folks that I only see when covering a march.

But Rev. Sharpton ain’t the guy to do it.

I’m not saying that because I don’t like Rev. Sharpton, or because I suddenly agree with the folks on Fox News who are stupid enough to think that he’s a racist because he points out racism.

I’m saying it because it’s time for Rev. Sharpton, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, and anyone else who is on a first name basis with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King or Malcolm X to do something that they haven’t been willing to do.

Fall back.

Why Sharpton must let youth lead

Now I can already see some of you sucking your teeth and giving me the side-eye on this, but hear me out.

I have nothing but love and respect for the folks my age–which is 50–and older who have blazed the trail of the Civil Rights Movement. I totally understand  that without their work, I wouldn’t have the ability to write this column.

I also understand that they went through a lot to get us here. They still have the dog bite scars. The dents from being hit with high-pressure water hoses. The memories of those who went to Freedom Summer and didn’t come home or who crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge and can still smell their own blood as it ran down their forehead after being beaten.

Those sacrifices give you a permanent place at the table…and it’s deserved.

But the fight has changed, and because it’s changed, it needs new leaders.

There are three things that the current “How To Get Away With Murder” relationship between unarmed black men and the police have exposed about Civil Rights organizations.

Needed changes in civil rights organizations

The first is that there are no succession plans, or the ones that are in place aren’t being implemented. Most of the time, organizations are replacing longtime presidents with people in that same age group, something that alienates the youth. Or worse, they bring in someone young, and won’t let them make any changes.

[blocktext align=”left”]When Ben Jealous took the helm of the NAACP, I saw him as someone who … had ideas to try and move the organization forward. He left. The scuttlebutt was that he got tired of fighting with a board that wanted to sing “We Shall Overcome” from the hymnal owned by W.E.B. DuBois.[/blocktext]

Probably the best example that I can come up with of this is Benjamin Jealous’s tenure as President of the National NAACP. When he took the job, I was hopeful because here was someone who was able to recognize what the modern Civil Rights movement looked like and had ideas to try and move the organization forward.

He left. The scuttlebutt was that he got tired of fighting with a board that wanted to sing “We Shall Overcome” from the hymnal owned by W.E.B. DuBois.

The second thing that appears to have been exposed is how disconnected young blacks are from the people who have been traditionally designated as their leaders.

When Rev. Jackson came to Ferguson, he was booed. At a meeting at the White House with some activists from Ferguson, many took to Twitter to express dismay at the way Rev. Sharpton treated them, not speaking with them, but taking credit for their work.

The last thing that it’s exposed is the lack of confidence we have in our youth.

The youth are leading already

When I brought up the whole idea of Old Heads ceding the floor to the youth and allowing them to lead, the two things I heard the most were: They don’t know what they’re doing, and; they don’t really want to lead.

[blocktext align=”right”]It’s time for the youth to step up and take their rightful place at the head of the movement … and it’s time that we allow it to happen. But that doesn’t mean there’s no place for us Old Heads, because there is. [/blocktext]

The reaction to the events of Ferguson and New York shows that they do want to lead, because everything that’s gone on has been youth driven.

Young people are organizing the “die-ins” like the one held at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday. They’re organizing the ‪#‎NotOneDime and‪#‎BlackOutFriday protests and economic boycotts. They’re the ones on Twitter and Facebook getting their peers together to shut down the highways, fill up the public squares, and disrupt the public events so that the message of, “We’ve had about enough of this and we’re not going to take it anymore!” gets through.

They’re handling their business.

As for the idea that the youth don’t know what they’re doing, well, we have only ourselves to blame for that. If our youth don’t know how to lead, it’s because we didn’t show them how, and we need to correct that.

It’s time for the youth to step up and take their rightful place at the head of the movement … and it’s time that we allow it to happen.

But that doesn’t mean there’s no place for us Old Heads, because there is.

What the Old Heads need to do

We need to be there to encourage the youth as they handle their business.

We need to be willing to use our contacts to help them connect to people who will help them get things moving. We should also be around to break a foot off in someone’s behind when its needed.

[blocktext align=”left”]Since we have experience in strategy and organizing, let’s teach the youth … We should be showing them our support because, let’s face it … the youth are more likely than all of us Old Heads to be on the other side of that gun, or that chokehold, or that prison cell.[/blocktext]

Since we have experience in strategy and organizing, let’s teach the youth. Since we have more money and more contacts to raise funds, let’s utilize that.

These kids are going to get arrested at some point. Let’s make sure that we have a group of pro-bono attorneys at the ready to get ‘em out.

We should be showing them our support because, let’s face it … the youth are more likely than all of us Old Heads to be on the other side of that gun, or that chokehold, or that prison cell.

Now I get why Reverend Al wants to march. We have a criminal justice system that will give you six years for killing an elk, but will let a police officer kill an unarmed man without consequence in most cases. Something needs to be said about that.

But what Sharpton is missing here is that attention to these issues has already been brought.

Temple Owls and Penn Quakers have brought it. Morgan State Bears have brought it. Michigan State Spartans and Howard Bisons have brought it. Columbia Lions have brought it.

New Yorkers brought it to the Christmas Tree lighting in Rockefeller Center on Wednesday night.

Youth all around the country have brought it. You don’t need to.

So instead of organizing a march, Rev. Al, why not bring these kids on your show and show them the support they need to keep going.

The children are trying to lead us. It’s their turn.

Stop blocking them… sj favicon 3

Photo: Rev. Al Sharpton Leads March, Rally Over Eric Garner’s Death On Staten Island. (Gerard Flynn, Flickr Creative Commons)

denise clay 2Denise Clay is a veteran journalist, a former adjunct professor, and an active member of the National Association of Black Journalists. She is a regular contributor to Click here to learn more about Denise.

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Judith Robinson

Do white have these divisions ? Generational gaps? White Supremacy has many leaders of all ranks and files…Why do African Americans have these battles while we are all getting our collective asses kick…The young can do what they do…Sharpton and that group do what they do,and the rest of us should be doing whatever we can add to the cause! The leadership issue is dead! Leaders can be undermined ,andsometimes murdered… What are the masses of African Americans going to do about the problems we continue to face i n this White Supremacy society ? I choose to go to city council… Cause all politics is local!


Yes, they do. Remember the civil war? Well they learn from that and now they just have those disagreements in the Senate and Congress in Washington, or have you been paying attention? And to keep this in mind… The Asians have no representation in city Council, but there flourishing in your city. Why is that?

Solomon Jones

Actually there is an Asian Councilman — David Oh.


I hope Judith was being rhetorical, otherwise, she’s being ridiculous…”Do white have these divisions?” Yeah, they do~ever hear of Democrats & Republicans???


This dialogue continues to divide and separate us when what we should have and be touting is a partnership. There’s a place for everyone at the table….yet we continue to be part of the problem with this divide and conquer nonsense.


Did you read the entire article? She’s not saying divide and conquer, she saying everyone has their role. And she’s right! As an activist and organizer myself. She’s exactly right. It’s still a partnership. Everybody must know their role.

Solomon Jones


Ernest H. Johnson

Thanks for the insightful article…and I agree that it’s time for the old guards to fall back. These words by you (“So instead of organizing a march, Rev. Al, why not bring these kids on your show and show them the support they need to keep going.”) are powerful and reflect the kinds of problems I see out in our public schools. Everyone is concerned about the “lack of parents being involved with their child’s education,” but we are not helping the children to become a leaders within their families. I want Rev. Al to march, but I also want our children on the national scene.

Don Bosset

If the youth can’t get past the obstacles of tired, old black warriors, they don’t stand a chance against the opposition. Don’t tell the Rev to stand down, STEP UP!!
… Oh, and I DID read the entire article.


No comma was necessary in this article. Fall back Sharpton was very accurate…just the old heads don’t understand the new age language. Smh on commas!

The baby boomers have always pissed me off for years regarding them standing still and postering against the young people. They have always felt threatened that young people would get in the way of their Photo Opps, their self righteousness, their so-called life experiences that are supposedly greater than and more wiser than the young folk, their right to attend Banquets and Black Tie socials honoring themselves with plaques and dinners for doing nothing in the community. They have alwayyyys been in the way Post Civil Rights era! They got brand new! Left the young folk totally out of the equation. I’m not saying Fall back to Sharpton but can yall old heads at least get the hell out of the way and train the young people on SOME OF THAT antiquated mindset that you’re still talking. Yes alot of it is relevant but uhhh, singing we shall overcome is played out!!, especially when you all haven’t even tried to love each other. You’re not fooling the young people. They see all of the hypocrisy.

I’m 52 years old (a baby boomer)…who has been preaching all of this for over 30 plus years!

The young people have needed us to join forces with them for decades…but nooo the baby boomers were too busy with colorism political games, ‘who knows who’, name dropping, and other non-advancement agendas.

Young people have never been allowed to introduce themselves, nor step up, post civil rights era. Shhhh…remember grown folk are talking!

Now that baby boomers are broke, financially dependent on the system of medicare, social security, and other societal issues…they want the Young folk to STEP UP! You did not pass the baton to them.

Hellllllo….just because you all have attended numerous church meetings, (church nor the clergy have never really embraced young people), NAACP meetings etc…the baby boomers have held empty rhetoric meetings for decades…post Affirmative action….post assimilation….post integration…and became the ‘new’ negroes who lost unity, and became the greater than thou negroes because they were allowed to be employed at IBM and live in the suburbs.

These same new negroes started turning their noses up to each other…sending their children to PWIs, leaving HBCUs…and being snooty!

When in reality NOTHING HAD CHANGED on the race relations front. Imagine if the new negroes had continued the unity that they were forced to have, due to segregated schools, segregated neighborhoods, businesses etc…where would black folk be today? You still could’ve worked at IBM…but continued to remain vigilant in your community. But noooo, you wanted to be at the Country Club with Becky and John…smiling at the swimming pool.

Nowwww that your baby boomer jobs have dried up via layoffs and you’re too old anddd black…nowwww you want to criticize young people not being vigilant enough, not caring about civil rights, not stepping up.

It was the baby boomers who raised Jack n’ Jill children to be elitist against their own. It was the baby boomers who separated their children from other kids who grew up in the Projects/public housing…it was the baby boomers who separated themselves from different churches that were attended by the so-called elite classes of black folk.

Ohhhh now that it’s everrry body’s sons and daughters who are ‘not’ exempt from murder, ‘WE’ all in this together now huh!!!

Oh nowww it’s okay for your Jack n’ Jill son or daughter to protest next to RayRay, Pookey, Kaheem, Peanut, Sheniqua, Shantay and them? Ohhh okay!

Spelman side by side with black Harvard students…Winston Salem State aside with black Duke students…Tuskegee side by side protesting with black Georgetown students?? Still feeling boogsey??

Are we awake yet??!!!

Oh Mighty Isis

Speak the damned truth!

Snow Humphrey


Darrell Smith

Rev Al should most definitetely take a step,and allow the young lions to roar,and I’m praying that the young guard terminate this outdated marching that only generate more money into these states that support racial profiling,and permit the police to murder unarmed black men.This march in D.C will boost the white economy food- hotels-gas- taxes-,and police overtime,etc.This is a lot of black dollars going away from black people into the hands of the the attackers.I heard on Rev Al show today aqbout a bus leaving Atlanta and costing $100 per person,and if 50 people ride that one bus that’s $5000 out the community in the other community.We black people don’t benift from these marches anymore.In Dr king “s day the marches were very successful,but we must boycott economically.Futhermore if blacks would have boycotted in Florida two years ago after trayon martain killing, and kept our money out of Disney for 2or more years that stand your own ground would have been eliminated,these other states such as New York,and Missouri would respond differently,but when I know that I can get away with murder,and the your coming to march,and put millions of dollars in my state its a winning situation.Marching is dead,and we been marching around the civil rights mountain for 50 years and no results,good times,memories,but no justice.The Israelites marched for 40 years and went into the promise land.I believed that black people can get swift victory utilizing the money power in the comfort of their homes.


the problem is you can’t name one young leader…. and its enough greedy news outlet that will give them the spotlight if it takes away from Al and Jesse. the problem is the are HIPHOPed out…. cash in, sold to SONY records ….

Patrick Duff

Let’s ask the question about the choice of counsel and why Benjamin Crump is not licensed in MO or Ohio,why is he at the forefront? Legally he can’t even give them advice unless it is a case out of Florida where he is licensed. Isn’t it illegal to give legal advice when you are not licensed in that state?

Solomon Jones

First, your comment has nothing to do with this article. Second it doesn’t address the core issue–Michael Brown and Eric Garner were both killed by police officers, a fact that many Americans believe is unjust. Third, a lawyer can practice in a state in which he or she is not licensed through a process called Pro Hoc Vice. It means “for on this occasion only.” A Pro Hac Vice motion is a motion through which an attorney who is licensed in the jurisdiction requests that the non‐licensed attorney be admitted to practice in a particular case. Unfortunately, in your zeal to change the subject to something that truly makes no difference whatsoever in terms of the facts of either case, you neglected to look this up. I am a journalist. I did look it up. Feel free to share this information widely. Fourth … stop trolling.

Patrick Duff

Information is key in any situation, and the more we have the more we are ready for the next problem that may pop up. I also looked up how he could practice law outside of his state where he is licensed, which you are correct, Pro Hoc vice may be filed in these situations. The problem with you getting emotional about my question is that you missed the main point that you wouldn’t let me get to. What good does bringing in outside forces such as Sharpton and Crump if they are not effective? This article itself makes the point I was trying to make, that new people need to fight the battle, the youth, who have much less prejudices when it comes to how they organize this new movement. I am an activist who believes in equal rights for all, and I have been consistent with that, so please do not try and alienate me for asking a question that you did not have the answer for until you yourself did some more research. If the consensus amongst the young is to challenge the status quo, then why should we not figure out the “characters” that are forced upon us like they themselves are Gods?


I completely DISAGREE with this one here. My 2 cents. Too many control
freaks, egoists, and power-hungry rookies are chomping at the bit for
the spotlight with no true leadership, no real love for ALL people and
certainly NO CIVIL RIGHTS LEADERSHIP EXPERIENCE. We should be revering
our legendary leaders who put in decades upon decades upon decades of
nonstop work-whether you like it or not. It WORKED. We’re benefiting
from it. Now it’s being jeopardized and some are mad…(for how long)?
You don’t push elders to the side because newbies are “itching for
shine.” No one wants that type of fly by night leadership either. Work
TOGETHER, put some skin in the game, work WITH the leaders, wait til you
have the klout and the influence and results to back it up. Deflate the
ego and get back to work.


I agree with you 100% Denise Clay, the old heads (me included) should have corrected this long ago. This issue isn’t new and it’s no more prevalent, brutal and racist than in the past. The old heads got comfortable and dropped the ball, the youth of 2014 have picked it up and are running. Please let’s encourage from behind and not block their path, they are doing great and yes mistakes will be made but they are playing the hand that they were dealt. Encourage don’t discourage and criticize.


we didn’t drop crap… The HIPHOP movement came in and turned from Public Enemy to the booty,killing and money…. They have no idea or emotions for civil rights …. We got bought by cash contract and the music is in full force to degrade us and we can’t get enough of it


Yes, I agree. I’ve been one of the old heads on peaceful protest, but have enjoyed watching the young people lead. I believe they can benefit from our voice, but as a means of support only. I believe in them.

Patricia Colbert

I agree and I am so pleased that someone said what needed to be said. These young folks are our future. They are coming with new ideas and they are making folks take notice. Please lets support them


The youth are called because they’re strong the old because they’re wise. Sound familiar? Rev Al please don’t let your love for the spotlight overshadow the very core of what you’re fighting for. A better future for blacks in America and the youth are our future. Train them, guide them then have faith in them. Step aside and let them led the future belongs to them.


Did you talk to AL our are you a TV Victim….Have you followed his organization… stop being a FOX news puppet… that one of there talking points because they hate him that doesn’t mean we have to. IF you not going to march or vote please be quiet


Not about age but about fresh new ideas. Rather than marching alone, what is the strategy to re-examine grand juries and prosecuting attorneys’ roles in police shootings like the one in Feguson? What changes are in progress and who’s at the helm? Let’s not exclude those from earlier generations or disrespect them as “old heads,” which is ageist and just as limiting to people’s lives as racism.


Ms. Brown, I would agree with you except that you are comparing the protests of the past couple of weeks to a movement of civil disobedience which endured and sustained for over a decade. This required collective vision, which of course was mainly attributed to the leadership, #1 being REV. MLK because the man could speak like no other. But the movement required unbelievable commitment, humility, discipline, Pro-action, sacrifice, Patience, study, tenacity, and daily, DAILY discomfort and inconvenience, common goals, many of which were necessarily baby steps. Given where we are and have been since then, since the laurel-resting after the Civil Rights Act, 50 years ago; since the younger generations have come up to enjoy more equal rights to exercise all the good AND the bad of American culture: consumerism, entitlement, immediate gratification, greed, violence… Since no potential leaders have emerged to call out their peers on THAT, or model the strength of character needed to accomplish ANY common cause goals – I think it’s too soon to assume that the protests that the young folks are initiating now will gain any productive traction. What they are organizing now require less skill, preparation, or commitment than an any flash mob. So far, the end game has only shown a collection of selfies and Tweets and they’ll fade as quickly as they do from my Facebook news feed. I don’t think that Sharpton or Jackson had what it took then or what it takes now. But they do remind us of HOW LONG it took. There were multitudes of others who actually did the work and made the sacrifices, but they were too busy to be interested in media attention. I can only hope that there are other young folks who we don’t see in the mass or social media who are doing the hard work, who hold the long view that will carry these public exhibitions into a truly productive movement.


The mistake is the distance between the old guard such as the NAACP and the youth. True, the youth have been ignored by the old guard but the youth need the expertise in place. What needs to happen is a meeting of the minds. The youth have the energy to do things and the old guard has wisdom and infrastructure. Fred Gray, the attorney for Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King is still alive and well but no one has contacted him. There are people in place who can guide through the legal aspects. The old guard does have a role in this but the bigger part is the fact that those between 35 and 45 have failed to vote and take part of the process. A city like Ferguson with 70% black population should never have a white mayor or white district attorney. We must stop waiting for a disaster before we get involved. President Obama could not get a jobs bill passed because we did not put the people he needed in office. We need wisdom and energy to make effective long term change


The reason you keep seeing Al and Jesse is because all you want to do is write about what the are not doing. Put your pen down and Vote, March or get elected. Enough of your inside into our senior leaders. We have FOX news for that. Now this month Travis Smiley and Cornel West are Guest Speakers on FOX news while all this shooting is going on. And what are they saying NOTHING. What are they Doing writing books against the President and the remaining Civil Rights leaders since MLK. Fox is laughing at them pitting one against the other for there Million of white conservative viewers. Finally, Nobody holding back the Youth but the corporate sponsor that write there checks. Our Youth are following the HIPHOP generation … J-ZAY, DR DRE, 50 CENTS etc. They don’t need permission from AL and Jesse to lead… They need permission from SONY, and Wall Street. DID they come together like Michael Jackson did with WE ARE THE WORLD and make a Rap called “DON’T SHOOT I CANT BREATH…NOOOOOOooo They are worried about Christmas and boycotting the stores and don’t sell BEATS headphone and other products

Melody Franklin

No one asked Sharpton to lead…there was a void and he rose to the occasion. Youth please step up and just do it.

Solomon Jones

Good point. I think Denise makes some good points, too, specifically around the need for the older generation and younger generation to share resources and strengths in order to meet common goals.


I read – step up and do it. What is that IT? What are the common goals? See, that is part of the problem. Racism goes many ways, white opp. black and there is racism within the black people. I am a white women, married to a black man for 41 years, 2 grown children. Our children and I, as a white woman, get hatred from both sides. Racism is deeply entrenched in the american psyche. A great person like MLK is needed again. But who wants to put his or her life on the line? Al Sharpton or Jackson are not up to the task. They are opportunists, nothing more.


Blocking freeways is an old idea, not a new one…& a bad one, since it creates more hostility to the cause.

[…] wasn’t a disconnect that I was just making up. When the Rev. Al Sharpton held a march back in December, young people had to bum rush the stage to be heard. The Rev. Jesse Jackson was booed when he came […]