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Keepers of the Dream honorees and officials (left to right) Honorees Bishop T.D. Jakes, Wynton Marsalis and LaPhonza Butler, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr., NAN’s founder and president Rev. Al Sharpton, Honorees Tonya Lombard, Dennis Miehel, Spike Lee, and NAN’s chairman of the board Rev. Dr. W. Franklyn Richardson

*Make no doubt about it, civil rights advocate Reverend Al Sharpton is a celebrity!  Now we know that he’s been a political star dating way back to his close association with The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. but his popular “PoliticsNation” show on MSNBC has propelled him to celestial stardom giving him broader visibility and his popularity keeps growing as witnessed at this year’s National Action Network  (NAN) convention which was its largest convention to date.

During the convention taking place April 3-6, 2013, NAN made major commitments for equality — targeting private sector companies over diversity and inclusion while separately forming an “alert watch” to monitor pending Supreme Court decisions on voter rights and affirmative action and launching a national drive on gun legislation.

The organization will target major private corporations about their employment, procurement, and inclusion practices at board levels.  According to Rev. Sharpton: “the reason that Black unemployment has remained high is that the public sector jobs are being cut while the private sector has increased jobs but lowered its commitment to inclusion and hiring and doing business in our community.  NAN intends to go at major industries that sell their goods in our community but do no good with our community.”  Rev. Sharpton has sent letters seeking meetings with ten CEO’s of major corporations and will publicly release findings relating to business and hiring practices in communities of color.

NAN started an “alert watch” since the Supreme Court is deciding on Affirmative Action and Section 5 of The Voting Rights Act — both of which Rev. Sharpton attended the oral arguments for at the Supreme Court — and NAN has issued an alert that will go into action in the event that the Supreme Court overturns either of the aforementioned policies.  NAN will mobilize activists to urge Congressional action and to put pressure on the academic and corporate community if affirmative action is lost.

Regarding the national drive on gun legislation, NAN has encouraged its delegates to put pressure on their Senators to vote on stronger gun legislation that could come up for debate in the Senate.  In regards to “measuring the movement” a forum on the final day brought together three generations of civil rights leaders to discuss strategies on what can be done to sustain civil rights and the social justice movement regardless of what the court’s decisions may be.

The forum featured civil rights leaders and a review by some of the legends of the civil rights movement regarding the progress made and mistakes made in the fifty years since the “March in Washington.”  The Forum included civil rights icons Rev. Joseph Lowery, Juanita Abernathy, Otis Moss Jr. and Reverend Jesse Jackson Sr., among others.

One of the social highlights of the annual convention is the stellar Keepers of the Dream Awards now in its 15th year.  NAN is a Keeper of the Dream of Dr. King and is firmly rooted in the principles of non-violent direct action and civil disobedience as practiced by Dr. King.  NAN’s trademark “No Justice!  No Peace!” is shouted throughout the  world by those seeking justice and the right to be free.

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Ashley Sharpton, president & founder, Sharpton Entertainment, LLC, Reality TV Star Omarosa Manigault, Apollo’s Kathy Sharpton, and NAN’s Director of Membership Dominique Sharpton

This was a special celebratory year for the civil rights organization as the gala took place on the actual date of Dr. King’s assassination on April 4.  The awards, given each year in April to mark the anniversary of Dr. King’s death, honor those who have continued to advocate for the principles for which Dr. King gave his life.  In 2011, President Barack Obama delivered the keynote remarks at the Keepers of the Dream Awards.   During his address the president stated, “I appreciate Reverend Sharpton for being a voice for the voiceless and a champion for the dispossessed.  He’s still on the front lines fighting the good fight.”  His words still resonate within the NAN organization.

The gala took place in the grand ballroom of the Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel, New York City.  Attorney General of the United States Eric H. Holder Jr. delivered the keynote address as several of his colleagues from the Obama administration looked on including Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Surgeon General of the United States Regina M. Benjamin, Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, as well as leading members of Congress and activists such as Martin Luther King III, National Urban League president Marc H. Morial, NAACP President Ben Jealous, Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice president Kerry Kennedy, and many others.

In addition, both the family of Hadiyah Pendleton, the 15-year-old who was fatally shot a week after performing with her high school band at the Inauguration of President Barack Obama, and the family of Trayvon Martin were in attendance.

In his righteous remarks about the evening’s honorees, NAN’s founder & president Rev. Sharpton said, “Tonight, as we do every year, we take a moment to reflect upon Dr. King and his dream for a better world, and to honor those whose actions further the work of Dr. King.  They have given their time and energy to fight for what is right, and clearly they have made a difference, and they deserve our highest recognition.”

The 2013 Keepers of the Dream awardees are: Laphonza Butler, president, SEIU (Service Employees International Union) & (ULTCW) United Long Term Care; Bishop T. D. Jakes, global humanitarian and senior pastor, The Potter’s House of Dallas; Spike Lee, award-winning filmmaker & director; Tanya Leah Lombard, assistant vice president, public affairs AT&T; Wynton Marsalis, trumpeter, composer and managing and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center; Dennis Mehiel, managing member, Four M Investments, LLC; and Rosie Perez, award-winning actress & activist.

Lori Stokes, anchor of Eyewitness News This Morning and Eyewitness News at Noon on Channel 7 WABC-TV New York served as host.  In addition to the special remarks delivered by Rev. Al Sharpton and Martin Luther King, III, eldest son of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., other participants in the inspirational program included:

Uptown Dance Company and the NAN Combined Change Choir (entertainment); NAN board member and Mayor of Richmond, VA, the Honorable Dwight C. Jones (invocation & blessing); NAN’s National executive director (welcome & video presentation)Tamika D. Mallory; and NAN’s chairman of the board Rev. Dr. W. Franklyn Richardson who delivered closing remarks and the benediction.   Dr. Richardson reminded us of President Obama’s thought-provoking words from an earlier speech:  “The National Action Network is not the National ‘Satisfaction’ Network.  It is the National ‘Action’ Network.”  (Photos by Aaron J.)

About National Action Network
National Action Network is one of the leading civil rights organizations in the Nation, with chapters throughout the U.S.  Founded in 1991 by Reverend Al Sharpton, NAN works within the spirit and tradition of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to promote a modern civil rights agenda that includes the fight for one standard of justice, decency and equal opportunities for all people regardless of race, religion, national origin, and gender.

Audrey J. Bernard is an established chronicler of Black society and Urban happenings based in the New York City area.

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Audrey J. Bernard