The Rev. Dr. Al Sharpton, founder and president of the National Action Network (NAN), a not-for-profit civil rights organization based in Harlem, New York, was at Norfolk State for its 80th Anniversary Founders Day Breakfast. Nearly 300 people from around the Hampton Roads region and throughout the university community attended the event. For nearly 30 minutes after his arrival, Sharpton was swamped by people who wanted a picture with him.
In a message aimed at both young people, the NSU community and people in the struggle for social justice, Sharpton delivered a thought-provoking and spirited address. Using humor, well-timed delivery and the overtones of a Baptist minister, Sharpton mesmerized and energized the crowd. “If we continue to rebel against the traditional church, traditional organizations . . . the result will be, we’ll be rooted in nothing,” he told the celebrants.
The intimate breakfast, held in the Student Center, brought together students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends of the university. Reality TV programs are not going to prepare our young people for family life, he said. “We need Norfolk State and HBCUs because they still carve out greatness even in times of great challenge,” stated Sharpton. “HBCUs were founded against great challenges. Eighty years ago when NSU was formed, segregation was still the law of the land. Jim Crow was rampant and the country was in the midst of the Great Depression.” The current host of MSNBC’s “Politics Nation” also told the audience that the problems we face as a people and as a nation are not insurmountable. “The problem is not the time, it’s the people in the time. Do we have the same strength, determination and character as those that founded the institution? Black colleges gave us a sense of destiny and purpose. That’s why we needed HBCUs and why we still need them.”