Dominique Sharpton was just a toddler when her father, the Rev. Al Sharpton, marched the streets of Bensonhurst in the late 1980s over the racially charged death of Yusef Hawkins. It was one of many demonstrations she would participate in as a child.
“I was exposed to the movement and injustices at a young age,” Sharpton said in a recent interview with the AmNews.
Today, at age 28, Sharpton carries the memories of those marches as she starts her own movement, preparing the next generation of foot soldiers in the fight for justice—participating in anti-violence demonstrations in New Jersey, talking to teens at the National Action Network’s Youth Huddle in Harlem and advocating for education through her organization Education for a Better America.
Attending Temple University and completing her schooling at The American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York, Sharpton has combined her love of the arts and activism. Working as a production assistant on her father’s radio program “Keepin It Real,” she has been able to use her creative expertise to connect with people.
“We hear from people around the country,” she said. “Hearing their cries and voices got to me, and I wanted to get more involved.”
She became head of national membership for NAN, overseeing the more than 70 chapters, making sure they adhere to the mission of the organization and extending its reach.
“Everyone has a voice and all of us can be part of making change,” she said. “I’m really working diligently on the ground with members, honing in on their skills and talents and bringing that out and how that fits in what we are trying to accomplish.”
Sharpton is also molding the next generation of civil rights activists by focusing her efforts on younger members of the organization. She’s worked to sustain NAN’s youth movement. Currently, she’s working as an advisor on “Solidarity Summer” spearheaded by NAN’s national youth director, 17-year-old Mary Pat Hector. Sharpton will spend a week this summer in Washington, D.C., with several young people and meet with Congress members to discuss the upcoming 2016 election. Sharpton is leading an effort to get more young people registered to vote.
It’s in the Youth Huddle at NAN where she is able to talk face-to-face with young people and get an understanding of their needs. The Youth Huddle, which meets weekly, was founded by Sharpton’s sister, Ashley.
“The Youth Huddles are a platform that give young people a voice and a place to express themselves,” Sharpton said. “We talk about different issues that affect them, and there are experts on hand to address those issues, from gun violence and education to health care and family issues. There are so many things we can do to help to prevent them from picking up a gun.”
Sharpton is helping in the efforts to curb violence this summer with “Occupy the Corners.” The campaign targets hotspots in the city, giving citizens access to resources and conversation. Iesha Sekou with Street Corner resources and NAN are the organizers. She’s also working with various organizations, including Life Camp and the Justice League, to collectively push Gun Violence Awareness Month in June.
Her passion for youth has resulted in the creation of Education for a Better America. Sharpton serves as board president of the organization and her longtime boyfriend, Dr. Marcus Bright, serves as executive director.
A sister organization to NAN, EBA seeks to promote, sponsor, conduct and fund activities that will build an educational system that serves the needs of students in urban communities.
“We thought it would be a great way to talk about education disparities and budget cuts within public schools,” Sharpton said. “Having an organization like this allows us to advocate about those disparities and bring students, teachers and parents together.”
EBA’s 3C Campaign is designed to influence the lives more than 1,000 public high school students in the city, making them aware of college options. The 3C’s stand for college exposure and enrollment, career awareness and preparation and civics.
In the past year, EBA has had several milestones, including hosting forums on STEM, partnering with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African-Americans and assemblies at schools on college readiness and financial aid.
With a national focus, EBA has reached across the nation to Illinois, Georgia, Alabama and Florida. The organization has also been to a number of Historically Black colleges and Universities.
“My duty is to take in all that I know and share that with the community of young people who need to be engaged,” Sharpton said.
As for the long term, Sharpton said she wants to preserve and tell the history of the movement to the next generation. However, as for her own legacy, she likes to be in the inner workings of change in society. Although she’s associated with her dad, she’s creating her own path and strategy to make changes.
“My father and I are working on the same mission but in two different ways,” she said. “He’s the advocator, but I’m more behind the scenes. My dad has set the overall tone, but I set the tone for fearlessness and strength.”
EBA is partnering with the AmNews to establish a service scholarship for high school seniors entering college in 2015. Two scholarships will be awarded to two high school students for their first year of college.