The Rev. Al Sharpton appeard at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church on Sunday, January 19, 2019, speaking of dreams, civil rights and the Bible. Behind him is the pastor, the Rev. Jamal Bryant. (Photo courtesy of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church)

Rev. Al Sharpton speaks on dreams, modern challenges this MLK holiday

At a service honoring the civil rights icon famous for his “I Have a Dream” speech, a well-known modern-day activist challenged attendees not to lose sight of their own dreams in today’s society.

The Rev. Al Sharpton spoke Sunday morning at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, with the congregation getting a mix of civil rights oratory, personal history, politics and some old-time gospel religion.

The sometimes controversial preacher-activist-media personality brought the crowd of about 5,000 parishioners to their feet several times with his sermon tied around dreams, the big kind and the personal variety.

“Everything was something that wasn’t there until someone dreamed about it,” said Sharpton, everything from inventing chairs to pushing for voting and civil rights.

But he cautioned those at the megachurch in Stonecrest that it was an individual’s responsibility to succeed and push through to get things done. “Can’t nobody block your dream but you,” he said.

As a child, he said, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. couldn’t attend a white school. Later in his career, King pushed for “economic justice” when banks denied loans to black people.

“Tomorrow morning, every bank will be closed; every school will be closed,” Sharpton said, to rousing applause. “The United States government is going to be closed for a dreaming black boy from Atlanta, Georgia.”

Although there’s now an official holiday in honor of King and his civil rights legacy, Sharpton noted some apparent backsliding in the country. On Monday in Richmond, Virginia, “white supremacists are having a pro-gun rally. They formed groups all over the country and have arrested seven this week, three of which were headed to Virginia with 1,500 rounds of ammunition saying they wanted to kill blacks and Jews.”

The Virginia Citizens Defense League, a gun-rights group, has organized peaceful rallies in past years, and this year’s rally was billed as a way to draw attention to proposed gun restrictions by that state’s lawmakers.

Three of those arrested were from here in Georgia for allegedly plotting to kill a couple from Bartow County and start a race war.

But, it’s not just the rising extremism that is troubling, he said. “It is the institutional bigotry that we continue to see every day. Even in a good economy, blacks are still doubly unemployed to whites.”

This brought him to President Donald Trump in his speech. “It’s not just Trump who is the problem. Trump just represents the problem. Trump is just bringing out what a lot of folks thought of us already.”

The Rev. Al Sharpton came to New Birth Missionary Baptist Church on Sunday, January 19, 2020, to commemorate the Martin Luther King Jr holiday. (Photo courtesy of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church)

His 43-minute sermon had him recounting getting stabbed in the chest during a 1991 protest march in Bensonhurst in New York, and growing up in a family who went from middle class to poor after his father ran off with Sharpton’s step-sister.

“I dreamed through the disgrace,” he said. And he pointed out that his hard-working mother kept telling him: “Life is not about where you start, it’s about where you are going.”

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