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Book review: ‘The Rejected Stone: Al Sharpton and the Path to American Leadership’

Herb Boyd | 12/13/2013, 2:44 p.m.
“The Rejected Stone: Al Sharpton and the Path to American Leadership” will be quite familiar to the more informed readers, ...
“The Rejected Stone: Al Sharpton and the Path to American Leadership”

For a public figure as visible, controversial and outspoken as the Rev. Al Sharpton, whose every move and words are scrutinized by the media, a book by him would appear to be redundant. What could he possibly tell us that hasn’t already been at the center of the 24-hour news cycle, chewed up and spit out on the Internet, and the hot gossip of every barbershop and beauty salon in the nation?

True, there is much in “The Rejected Stone: Al Sharpton and the Path to American Leadership” that will be quite familiar to the more informed readers, but it has been a decade or so since he last stopped to summarize his often tumultuous life, and those moments here provide a neat update, particularly when divulged within a format of 23 life lessons.

These life lessons unfold like a self-help book or a primer for leadership, with such chapters as “You Need to Know When to Quit,” “Practice What You Preach” and “Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for What You Want.” Some of these lessons and admonitions have occurred in his two previous books, but they are given fresh veneer here and nowhere are they more revealing than when he recalls his early years.

“When you grow up believing that you have been rejected by the man whose genes helped to form you, whose name is stamped on you, whose face is clearly visible in yours, you can’t help but embark on a dire search for validation,” he writes in a sentence that alludes to the title and recounts the desertion by his father.

Among the three men who provide the validation, if not the father figures, are James Brown, Jesse Jackson and the Rev. William Jones. Though of course, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. are also iconic personalities who played an important role in his activist commitment and political development, he admits.

Sharpton also addresses some of the scuttlebutt about his intimate affairs with women, including the rumors about his dating younger women, in which he relates, “You can go out with a 20-year-old girl, but you’re certainly not 20 anymore. You’re not fooling anybody but yourself.” Even so, he has a much younger trusted companion nowadays, whom he acknowledges at the end of the book.

When he isn’t dispensing lessons, Sharpton is preaching from the page, not allowing his “vanity to outrun his sanity,” and he’s never more pithy and insightful as when he declares, “We allowed a spirit of dysfunction and surrender to supplant our spirit of determination.”

Readers will get the skinny on Sharpton’s weight loss and will learn that it has nothing at all to do with his chapter “Don’t Be Afraid to Be Big.” “One day I woke up, and I was 300 pounds,” he writes.

“Daddy, why are you so fat?” his youngest daughter, Ashley, asked him. It won’t be disclosed here why and how he trimmed down, but it had nothing to do with getting the job at MSNBC.

Toward the end of the book, which is a quick read with short chapters that almost resemble some of his vintage sermons, Sharpton discusses his legacy.

“Your legacy cannot, should not, be measured by material things. If I had the best care in New York when I died, it will be out of style five years after I die. If I had the biggest house when I died, somebody will soon come along and build a bigger one. But if I make a lasting contribution to advancing humanity and breaking down barriers, changing the social order, people will still be referring to my life’s work many years after I’m gone.”

Well, the irrepressible reverend is a long way from being gone, and like the advice he dispenses in one of his chapters, there’s a good chance he’ll know just when to quit.