Al Sharpton on Black firsts in politics: ‘We did not put you there for symbolism’

‘We’re not fans. We’re grown folks that have the power of our vote,’ Sharpton said during the launch of Build Back Bolder.

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Rev. Al Sharpton spoke during the online launch event for the Build Back Bolder plan and called on Black politicians to commit to making change beyond holding their landmark positions.

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The Los Angeles Times reported the Black to the Future Action Fund released the agenda and garnered the support of Sharpton, the Rev. William Barber II of the Poor People’s Campaign, LaTosha Brown of Black Voters Matter, Nsé Ufot of the New Georgia Project, and Deborah Scott of Georgia STAND UP. Build Back Bolder is a Black mandate issued to the history-making President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris administration.

“We did not put you there for symbolism. We are past the Jackie Robinson days,” Sharpton said during the online launch for Build Back Bolder, according to the LA Times. “We don’t want a Black in the game. We want to win the game.”

“What we’ve learned is that we only are going to get what we fight for,” he continued. “And even though some [politicians] may be better mannered, it does not mean that they’re going to do what is right for our agenda. We’re not fans. We’re grown folks that have the power of our vote.”

Juneteenth Marked With Celebrations And Marches In Cities Across America
Reverend Al Sharpton speaks during the Juneteenth celebration in the Greenwood District on June 19, 2020 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. (Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)

Alicia Garza, Principal at Black to the Future Action Fund, worked closely on the project.

“America has consistently failed to deliver on its promise to Black communities,” Garza said, according to the Times. “But when we are focused, when we are organized, when we are determined, Black America has been successful in delivering on our promise to not rest until freedom comes. We pushed the Biden-Harris campaign to victory, not for them, but … for us, because we can’t wait any longer.”

Build Back Bolder recommends that in the first 100 days, the Biden-Harris White House expand Social Security payments, guarantee priority for Black-owned small businesses in the next round of PPP and ensure racial equity in COVID-19 vaccine distribution, among a broader list of suggestions. In the long-term, the plan hopes to simply hold the government accountable.

“Government, and the people who operate it, must be held accountable for laws, policies, and practices that marginalize and perpetuate disparities for Black communities and Black people,” the plan states. “Policymakers must take action to bridge racial gaps in health, wealth, and other social outcomes by eliminating laws, policies, and practices that do harm to Black people, as well as by outlawing private sector practices that exploit racial disparities in order to boost profits.”

Harris made history when she became the first Black and the first Southeast Asian-American to hold the position of vice president. During her first national sit-down interview since the historic win, the Howard University graduate sat with Errin Haines, editor-at-large at the non-profit, independent news outlet The 19th News, and was questioned on her significant role and plans while in office.

“I feel a great sense of responsibility. When I took that oath on Jan. 20, there were a whole lot of people standing on that stage with me,” she said. “And you may not have seen them, but they were in my heart, they were in my mind when I had my hand on the Bible and raised my hand to take that oath. And I feel the weight of the responsibility that comes with that.”

She also spoke to being a “first,” but hopefully, not the last.

Vice President Harris Participates In 40th Annual Black History Month Virtual Celebration
Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at the White House during a Black History Month Virtual Celebration on February 27, 2021 in Washington, DC. . (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

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“I do it with a sense of optimism, knowing that we are still, yes sadly making a lot of firsts, but we are doing it and if we keep at it, soon perhaps we will be talking about the second and the third and the fourth, and it will be common and not something that we need to write about because it’s happening everywhere.”

Watch the full interview below:

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated Alicia Garza’s title.

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