The Rev. Al Sharpton is late. But you wouldn't know it by looking at him. The preacher and political provocateur, wearing a pin-striped suit and flanked by a handful of aides, strolls into the packed gym at Voorhees College like he was right on time.
And when he starts to talk, the words just cascade. It's part sermon, part history lesson, part political theater. The message: If you're young and black, you've got more reason to vote than at any time in modern history.
"Today, blacks in South Carolina, 2003, are double unemployed compared to anybody else in the state," he intones, his gravelly voice deepening with intensity. "Today, it is four times more difficult for you to get a bank loan than people with the same education, same background, and same credit. Today, there are more young black men in jail than there are in college. As long as we don't vote, no one will respect us."
Then, Mr. Sharpton relaxes, turns conversational. "I understand you have to tell the truth to go to this college, is that right?" The crowd of about 500 agrees. "How many of you all are registered to vote?" Most hands go up. "Good. How many of you aren't?" A few hands rise. "Come on, tell the truth." More go up. "I want you all to come on down here and we're going to register you right now."
Sharpton is on a mission - as he has been since he started delivering sermons to his sister's dolls at age three. Sure, he wants to be president: "If Arnold Schwarzenegger can go from the terminator to the governor," he says, "I can be president and the Queen of England, too."
But he's got an ulterior motive in seeking the Democratic nomination, and like everything else controversial about him, he's unapologetic about it. He wants to rejuvenate the liberal wing of the party. He wants to register more blacks and young people than anyone before him. He wants to be the power-broker, the black man at the table when doors get closed and deals get cut. He wants to be to this decade what the Rev. Jesse Jackson was to the 1980s.
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