Rev. Al Sharpton’s Justice Icon Award honors decades of fighting on behalf of Black people

OPINION: The reverend, who has been fighting for Black people for five decades, reminded us in his acceptance speech, “Some of us had to pay a price for your resume to even be read.”

Rev. Al Sharpton, TheGrio Awards,
Rev Al Sharpton attends the 2nd Annual theGrio Awards at The Beverly Hilton on October 21, 2023 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for Byron Allen AMG/TheGRIO Awards)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

The GrioAwards is where we honor people who are critical to our community, so it makes sense to bestow the Justice Icon Award on the Rev. Al Sharpton. The man has been fighting on behalf of Black people for five decades. 

In his acceptance speech at theGrioAwards, he explained how civil rights activists like him have opened doors for so many others. “Some of us had to pay a price for your resume to even be read,” he said. “Some of us had to take nights in jail or licks upside the head or be shut out of boardrooms like Byron, so you could walk down the red carpet and act like you got there by yourself,” said Sharpton, referring to Allen, the founder, chairman and CEO of theGrio parent company, Allen Media Group. 

Without a doubt, we stand on the shoulders of our ancestors. Black people today have more freedom because of the battles our civil rights era predecessors fought and the sacrifices they made. Nowadays we have possibilities that they could not have imagined because we stand on the shoulders of everyone who fought on behalf of Black people. We are our ancestors’ wildest dreams precisely because of the work they did. 

Sharpton seems to have been in the struggle forever. Longtime New Yorkers remember how, in the 1990s, he was always ready to stand up for Black people who were mistreated or killed by police or a wild mob of white men. He was a telegenic activist, one who understood that bringing media attention to Black victims was critical to putting pressure on white institutions and getting justice. Some people misunderstood him and thought of him as someone who chased the cameras, but in so many cases, the media showed up because he was there. Sharpton turned stories that would have been forgotten into headlines.

Sharpton grew up obsessed with preaching — as a small child, after church, he would grab his big sister’s dolls, line them up and preach to them. His interest in the church, morality and justice led to him becoming part of the Civil Rights Movement. His journey is a reminder that the church was an important foundation for that movement. 

TheGrio Awards

Sharpton’s father left the family when he was young, but he grew up working so closely with James Brown and the Rev. Jesse Jackson that he considered them both his second fathers. These two legendary men taught Sharpton how to fight, how to organize, how to be dramatic, and how to change the world. 

Sharpton has dealt with a lot of pushback and criticism over the years. He’s been stabbed in the chest while he marched and landed in critical condition. He’s been ‘buked and he’s been scorned. But he takes pride in the fact that no matter how many arrows you shoot at him, he always gets back up and goes to work to help his people. He has a deep sense of justice and he feels like his role is to keep fighting for us no matter what. At the end of his theGrioAwards speech, he said, “The only thing that I really live for is I get up with this dream: every bigot, every racist, everyone in this country that hates will say damn, he’s up again.” He loves to have them know that they can’t stop him. He loves knowing that Black resistance to oppression is unstoppable. That’s why the Rev. Sharpton deserves the Justice Icon Award.

Watch TheGrio Awards 2023 on Feb. 9 starting at 8 p.m. ET. Download theGrio app now to watch on demand or check your local cable listings for TheGrio.


Touré is a host and Creative Director at theGrio. He is the host of Masters of the Game on theGrioTV. He is also the host and creator of the docuseries podcast “Being Black: The ’80s” and the animated show “Star Stories with Toure” which you can find at He is also the host of the podcast “Toure Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is the author of eight books including the Prince biography Nothing Compares 2 U and the ebook The Ivy League Counterfeiter.

Never miss a beat: Get our daily stories straight to your inbox with theGrio’s newsletter.