Speech Gets Mixed Reviews

Audience Members, Sponsors React to Sharpton Message

The Rev. Al Sharpton's call for increased student activism struck a chord with many audience members in Emerson Hall last night, though several of those present disagreed with the methods he advocated for bringing about social change.

"He was effective in issuing a strong challenge to our generation to fill the void of bold leadership in [the Black] community," said Zaheer R. Ali '94.

"I knew he was on influential Black person in America," said a member of the audience. "Seeing someone from the Black community is something you don't want to miss."

Alvin L. Bragg '95, president of the Black Students Association (BSA), said he agreed with Sharpton's view that youth should not only study Black history, but learn from and act on it.

Bragg said that, in light of Sharpton's controversial status, the BSA wanted to give him a chance to present his views directly to Harvard students.


"I think he's an individual who has been misconstrued a great deal by the media," said Bragg, although he was quick to point out that he does not necessarily agree with all of Sharpton's views.

"The most important thing [about Sharpton's speech] was the call to action," said Bragg. "We need to act upon the ideas we often discuss."

Secretary of the BSA Nnamdi J. Orakwue '95 said that he was critical of Sharpton's suggestion that Black youth emulate the student youth movement of the 1960s.

"Protest is good," he said, "but the way that our generation should protest will necessarily differ from the way our Black student predecessors of the sixties protested."

Now, said Orakwue, increased "educational and economic opportunity has changed the face of young BlackAmerican from the sixties to the nineties. Andtherefore the social movement has to change, fromgrassroots to something that suits our increasedinvestment in the American political system andculture. And that is the challenge of ourgeneration."

Several members of the audience said that theyhad come to hear Sharpton speak out of curiosity.

"I just wanted to hear what he has to say,"said Mary M. Mitchell '95. "I've heard quite a bitabout him."

One first-year said he came because he "wantedto know [Sharpton's] point of view."

He said that he thought the audience should notaccept Sharpton's speech uncritically, and wasglad to hear Sharpton speak to an informedaudience "that can give feedback to what he'ssaying, and challenge him."

The event was sponsored by the BSA as part oftheir continuing lecture series, which BSArepresentatives said is designed to increase theamount of discussion of issues facing Blackstudents.

"The Reverend Al Sharpton is a leader in theBlack community at this time," said Air Patrinos'96, the organizer of the lecture series. "Wethought that he could bring up some provocativeissues that aren't brought up at Harvardregularly.