Rev. Al Sharpton delivers keynote address at HCCC Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Retreat


Rev. Al Sharpton delivered the keynote address at Hudson County Community College’s annual Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Summer Retreat this morning.

By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View

The program seeks to empower minority students and close the gaps of those succeeding in attending college.

“DEI is under question. This gathering is more important and necessary than ever,” Sharpton, the head of the National Action Network, declared.

He explained that he became politically conscious after his father left his family, forcing them to move to public housing projects from their previous middle-class home.

As a result, he became heavily involved in religion at a young age, preaching at multiple churches at seven years old.

“I have seen a period of advancements and a period of retreat. History is always full of forward movement and backlash. Every time there is a step forward, there’s going to be a pushback,” he said early on during the roughly seven-minute speech.

“We get a breakthrough, we think it’s over. It’s not over. You must sustain what you broke through, build on it, and prepare for those who are going to try to make it go back.

Sharpton also recalled that Dr. Martin Luther King noted some leaders are thermostats who change things, while others are mere thermometers reflecting trends. The abolitionist movement before the Civil War consisted of thermostats.

Furthermore, he explained that the Jim Crow Era of segregation was a backlash to Reconstruction after the Civil War, which sought to integrate former slaves into society.

“In order to understand DEI, you need to understand Reconstruction. We would not have had to have Reconstruction had there not been destruction,” Sharpton stated to applause.

“Reconstruction only lasted 12 years. Backlash. A conservative Supreme Court had various Supreme Court decisions, Plessy versus Ferguson, and others, the rise of terrorism, the Ku Klux Klan. By the turn of the century 1900s, Blacks were being lynched. And there was no legal process to protect our rights.”

Sharpton later pointed out that immigration greatly increased later in the 20th Century.

“When they got here, they asked them what are you doing here? You asked us to come here to help build the country. And then you discriminate against them for doing the labor that other laborers weren’t doing,” he asserted.

Sharpton went on to say that Black unemployment is usually double the national rate.

“Yet they will try to divide us by saying Latinos come from Mexico taking our jobs. What jobs?” he questioned.

“As long as they got people who are underprivileged fighting each other, they never have to worry about them addressing the systemic problems,” he declared, again received applause from the audience.

From there, Sharpton told stories dating back to 2001, when U.S. Navy bombing exercises on Vieques, an island off of Puerto Rico, were causing asthma and cancer among natives.

He remembered hearing SEIU union leader Dennis Rivera was going there to protest, reminding him that Rivera participated in protests he led in the wake of the killing of Amadou Diallo by the New York City Police Department in 1999.

“He went down to the police station and got arrested with us. If they stood with us, we got to stand with them,” he explained.

With that in mind, Sharpton went to Puerto Rico to protest, where he was then arrested.

“While I was in jail, they stopped the Navvy from doing that. You have to be willing to pay a price,” Sharpton exclaimed.

Back on the subject of DEI programs, he pointed out that they were instituted so that minorities could find white-collar jobs with companies and secure vendor contracts.

“Either you’re going to start having programs that are diverse, or we’re going to start withdrawing our money,” Sharpton stated.

As explained that while he was very happy with the election of former President Barack Obama, he knew there would be some backlash.

“Everything he did, they wanted to fight Right after him, Donald Trump is elected. I knew Trump for years. I never thought Trump would be President. I don’t think Trump thought he would be president,” he joked.

Sharpton said the election of Trump was fueled by biases against Blacks, Latinos, immigrants, and LGBTQ+ community members.

“If all of us are being despised by the same people, even if we don’t agree on every issue, if we all got together, we could beat them. They win by our division rather than their strength,” he declared to applause.

Following a recent editorial from HCCC President Dr. Christopher Reber, Sharpton weighed in on recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions on college affirmative action, LGBTQ+ discrimination protection, and student loan forgiveness.

“We need to operate in a strategic way. Voting won’t get you everything you want, but it will give you some things: marches won’t get you everything,” he noted.

“Marching is not designed to solve a problem. Marching is designed to expose a problem. Nobody’s going to solve a problem nobody exposes.”

Sharpton also noted he spoke at George Floyd’s funeral and the criticism he receives for participating in such events.

“People always say Al Sharpton just want publicity. That’s exactly what I want! Don’t nobody call me to keep a secret!” he exclaimed.

“They call me because they want to blow it up! You cannot get change if you cannot change the conversation.”

He concluded by speaking on the importance of civil rights as they pertained to affirmative action.

“Civil rights made somebody read your resume. People opened doors to where you are now. The hope was they got you through, you keep them doors open. And make sure other people come through,” he exclaimed.

“They are attempting to close the doors. Your job is to get past your differences, to get past what you don’t like, and keep them doors open.”

Reber presented Sharpton with a plaque and thanked him for being a thermostat leader before he exited the Journal Square facility.

Former Governor Jim McGreevey (D), Jersey City Council President Joyce Watterman, and Ward A Councilwoman Denise Ridley, were in attendance for the event.

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