Along with invitations to the White House and other prestigious addresses, the Rev. Al Sharpton can now include the Oxford Union, where such luminaries as President Ronald Reagan and Mother Theresa have spoken. It was also where Malcolm X was a debater almost 50 years ago to the day, although Sharpton was quick to remind that he was invited to speak, not debate.
And speak he did on this whirlwind trip last weekend with attorney Michael Hardy as they attended the Oxford Union, Parliament and Bishop Joe Aldred’s church, and met with folks at Operation Black Vote, headed by Simon Woolley.
“It was great,” Sharpton said of the trip Tuesday between breaks on this radio show. “After I spoke at the Oxford Union, I fielded a number of very interesting questions from the young people in attendance. They wanted to know about race relations in America, and I told them we had made progress but still had a long way to go.”
All the young people asked serious questions, said Hardy, “No trick questions … they asked about the current protests and the history of the Civil Rights Movement.”
Sharpton said that being hosted at Parliament and meeting with Diane Abbott, the longest serving Black member of the body and the Labour Party’s Chuka Harrison Umunna, who won a seat there four years ago, were among the highlights of the trip.
Their meeting with Woolley and members of Operation Black Vote was extremely significant, Sharpton said, because the elections in May in many of the districts will have an outcome riding on the Black vote.
He told listeners how perceptions of him have changed over the years. “They would characterize me as fat Al, with a medallion in a tracksuit,” he began. “I was the cartoon character. But ever since we got Obama in the White House dealing with issues of race inequality, I’ve gone from the cartoon character to their editorial. I’m no longer a laughing matter.”
When Woolley mentioned the importance of the Black vote in the upcoming elections, Sharpton said, “The fact that the Black vote could decide 169 marginal seats means in this election you hold the balance of power. Now that’s real power.”
In an exchange of tweets with Woolley, Sharpton reiterated some of the steps toward unity for Blacks no matter where they are in the Diaspora.
“The blood that binds us,” he said, “is thicker than the waters that divide us.”
At the end of his speech, which was delivered at Westminster University, Sharpton received a 10-minute standing ovation.