Speaking in his usual loud and fiery tone, wearing a black, pinstripe suit and sporting his trademarked, slicked-back hair, the controversial Rev. Al Sharpton didn’t take long Thursday to show why he has been nicknamed “Rev. Soundbite.”
“Sticking your head in the sand only exposes your behind to the world,” Sharpton shouted to a cheering crowd of nearly 1,000.Sharpton appeared as the keynote speaker at USF’s Martin Luther King Jr. celebrations. He spoke on a wide range of subjects, including current racial issues at USF and in the Tampa community.
“Racism still exists in these United States,” Sharpton said. “I come to Tampa this afternoon, and right here you’ve got lawsuits floating around this university.”
Sharpton said, in addition to USF, he was concerned about events taking place across the state of Florida. Among these, he criticized Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s handling of education policies.
“I’d like (Bush) to explain to Dr. King how, at a time when we need education, you stack the Board of Regents with friends and cronies of yours,” he said.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers weren’t out of reach from Sharpton’s comments either, as he suggested that coach Tony Dungy’s firing was racially motivated.
“We don’t (need to look to) Jackie Robinson. Just look at Tony Dungy,” Sharpton said. “They still play the game differently for different folks.”
Sharpton, who was first ordained as a pastor at age nine, told the audience that he was not concerned with racism alone. He said the youth of today aren’t motivated to take a stand on issues.
“Men are more concerned about making babies than raising babies,” he said. “Women are more concerned with the size of their behind than the depth of their mind.”
Sharpton encouraged students in the audience to work hard at their studies, but he said having a degree is empty unless a person is also willing to stand up for a cause.
“If all you do in life is for yourself, you’re the only one that’s going to care when you die,” he said.
Sharpton cited an incident last summer in which a protest landed him in jail for three months. He said spending the summer in jail was more rewarding than spending it on the beach.
“Beats trying to get a tan on the tan I’ve already got,” he said.
A common theme throughout Sharpton’s speech was a respect for King, who Sharpton called a freedom fighter.
“There were other preachers that could speak as well as him. There were others that could tell stories with a lot more pictures painted than him,” he said. “Martin Luther King is in history because he changed the very social fabric of this nation.”Sharpton, in his final thoughts before ending his speech, encouraged the crowd to consider the meaning of Monday’s holiday.
“In Mississippi, where they used to lynch us on flagpoles in front of city hall, city hall will be closed on Monday,” he said. “People remember those who stood for what was right.”
USF alumna Martha Sylla attended Sharpton’s speech and, in light of recent events, said she commends the university on bringing the controversial leader to campus.
“Sometimes it’s so hard to get anyone African American to address us,” Sylla said. “Especially with all that’s going on right now at the university, Al Sharpton speaking here tonight is definitely a show that maybe the university is trying to reach out towards diversity and maybe mend ills they’ve done towards professors or students.”
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