Al Sharpton honored with Newark 'Key to the City', offers high praise for Baraka

By Dan Ivers | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on June 15, 2015

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka addresses the crowd as Sharpton looks on.

 

NEWARK — Newark officials honored Rev. Al Sharpton with a key to the city Monday morning, and the longtime civil rights activist and media personality repaid them with some high praise for the city's mayor.

Sharpton, who spoke for more than 20 minutes during the ceremony at Newark City Hall, reminisced about his early visits to Newark, preaching at local churches and mingling with black leaders and celebrities such as James Brown.

He also recalled an early meeting with poet and activist Amiri Baraka, before turning his attention to his son, Mayor Ras Baraka, who he said he held in the "highest regard."

"Ras understood that the key to leadership is service," he said.

Sharpton went on to tweak other young civil rights activists, who he described as more desirous of fame than with their cause. Late last year, he faced criticism from a group of young organizers for rebuffing their request to speak at a rally against police brutality in Washington, D.C.

He characterized Baraka, however, as having earned his stripes in both politics and in education without care for personal notoriety.

"There is a difference between celebrities and servants...This brother worked in the trenches...he earned every step he took, and he gained and earned the respect of the people in this city and beyond," Sharpton said.

He also appeared to tweak past Newark mayors who have aspired to higher political office, saying Baraka was committed to his office long-term.

"I've seen too many peoples that titles change them. Ras Baraka has changed the title," he said. "It is not a jumping board or a springboard to somewhere else...He's not here for a season, he's here for a reason."

Earlier in the ceremony, Baraka offered kind words of his own for Sharpton before presenting him with the ceremonial key to the city, saying he was consistently at "the front of the battlefield" on civil rights issues.

"We have the luxury of being in the back and not taking the hit, and being able to take this position or that position because we're not in the front. This man is in the front, and so he needs to know that when he turns around there's some people behind him," he said.

Sharpton was also honored with keys to Irvington, East Orange, Orange and Hillside at the ceremony, presented to him by the mayors of each city.

"We're here because of the struggle that you fought many years ago," said Irvington Mayor Tony Vauss.

Sharpton is the latest in a string of prominent civil rights leaders to visit the city and sing Baraka's praises in recent weeks, joining others such as Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. and Dr. Cornel West.

He has made regular visits to Newark in recent years, including a 2013 rally to celebrate the anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, and a 2011 call to end violence in the city.

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