“The Rejected Stone: Al Sharpton and the Path to American Leadership” by Al Sharpton with Nick Chiles”
(Cash Money Content, 2013)
By Herb Boyd
Special to the Michigan Citizen
For a public figure as visible, controversial and outspoken as the Rev. Al Sharpton, whose every move and word are scrutinized by the media, a book by him would appear to be redundant. What could he possibly tell us that hasn’t already been in the news cycle, chewed up and spit out on the Internet and the hot gossip in every barber shop and beauty salon in the nation?
True, there is much in “The Rejected Stone: Al Sharpton and the Path to American Leadership” that will be quite familiar to more informed readers, but it has been a decade or so since he last stopped to summarize his often tumultuous life. The moments here provide a neat update, particularly when divulged within a format of 23 life lessons.
These life lessons unfold like a self-help book with chapters titled, “You Need to Know When to Quit,” “Practice What You Preach” and “Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for What You Want.” Some of these lessons and admonitions have occurred in his two previous books, but they are given fresh veneer here and nowhere more revealing than when he recalls his early years. “When you grow up believing that you have been rejected by the man whose genes helped to form you, whose name is stamped on you, whose face is clearly visible in yours, you can’t help but embark on a dire search for validation,” he writes in a sentence alluding to both the title of the book and desertion by his father.
The three men who provided his sought-after validation are James Brown and the Revs. Jesse Jackson and William Jones. Of course, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. are also iconic personalities who played an important role in his activism and political development, he admits.
Sharpton also addresses some of the rumors about his dating younger women, relating, “You can go out with a 20-year-old girl, but you’re certainly not 20 anymore. You’re not fooling anybody but yourself.” Even so, he has a much younger trusted companion nowadays whom he acknowledges at the end of the book.
When he isn’t dispensing lessons, Sharpton is preaching from the page, not allowing his “vanity to outrun his sanity,” and he’s never more pithy and insightful as when he declares “We allowed a spirit of dysfunction and surrender to supplant our spirit of determination.”
Readers will get the skinny on Sharpton’s weight loss. “One day I woke up, and I was 300 pounds,” he writes. “Daddy, why are you so fat?” his youngest daughter, Ashley, asked him. No spoilers here, but it had nothing to do with his getting a job at MSNBC.
Toward the end of the book, which is a quick read with short chapters resembling some of his vintage sermons, Sharpton discusses his legacy. “Your legacy cannot, should not, be measured by material things. If I had the best car in New York when I died, it will be out of style five years after I die. If I had the biggest house when I died, somebody will soon come along and build a bigger one. But if I make a lasting contribution to advancing humanity and breaking down barriers, changing the social order, people will still be referring to my life’s work many years after I’m gone.”
Well, the irrepressible reverend is a long way from being gone and like the advice he dispenses, it’s a good chance he’ll know just when to quit.