National Action Network (NAN) is one of the leading civil rights organizations in the world and is on the forefront of social justice in the United States. Founded in New York City in 1991 by Rev. Al Sharpton and a group of activists, NAN is committed to the principles of non-violent demonstration and civil disobedience as a direct outgrowth of the movement that was built and led by the Rev. Dr. Martin L. King, Jr.
Ironically, National Action Network was birthed after the stabbing of Rev. Al Sharpton while marching in protest of the killing of Yusef Hawkins. 16-year-old Yusef was shot twice in the chest, killing him, after being attacked by a crowd of white youth in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. Before a march was set to begin, on January 12, 1991 Rev. Sharpton was stabbed and seriously wounded by Michael Riccardi in a Bensonhurst schoolyard. The campaign around the Hawkins case was NAN’s first major civil rights battle and due to NAN’s civil disobedience and direct action protests, several of the killers were convicted. With Rev. Al Sharpton serving as the organization’s president, NAN began to solidify itself amongst other civil rights organizations fighting to bring justice to the measureless issues that affect all Americans.
NAN has been largely credited with bringing into the national discussion issues such as racial profiling, the continued battle for police accountability, and coalescing Black and Brown communities to fight for immigration rights, and education and labor reform. NAN maintains strong platforms with regard to anti-violence, law enforcement, election reform, prisoner’s rights, health and disability protections, employment rights, business development, housing agencies, early childhood development, youth concerns, homelessness and a decency initiative. Membership in the National Action Network is opened to everyone regardless of race, creed, religion, or national origin, as NAN prides itself in being the megaphone for the voiceless.
Since its founding, the National Action Network has led many efforts for justice taking on individuals as well as corporations and police departments to protect the rights of various victims. Major cases include: Carmel Cato, whose son Gavin was killed in a tragic car accident in Crown Heights, Brooklyn; and James Byrd, a young black man from Jasper, Texas, whose body was dragged by three white men behind a pick-up truck until his torso was ripped from the rest of his body. Strides in police brutality and the battle for police accountability include: Abner Louima, who, in 1997, was tortured in the 70th Police Precinct in New York City; Amadou Diallo, who, in 1999, was killed by the New York City Police Street Crime Unit in a 40-shot barrage; Tyesha Miller, who was wrongfully gunned down by the LAPD; and Sean Bell, who was killed on his wedding day, in November 2006, in a 50-shot attack by the New York City Police Department. In fact, during the protests for Amadou Diallo and Sean Bell, NAN perfected bringing non-violent, civil disobedience demonstrations to the forefront when people ranging from housewives to Mayors peacefully submitted themselves to being arrested to underscore an issue, which is something that had not been seen since the Southern civil rights movement in the 1960′s.
In 1998, NAN along with Attorney Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr. Began to make a national issue out of racial profiling. NAN’s activism around the New Jersey Four case successfully led to the implementation of racial profiling laws in New Jersey. Four basketball players Danny Reyes, Jarmaine Grant, Rayshawn Brown and Keshon Moore fell victim to police brutality at the hands of two New Jersey State Troopers while in route to a basketball showcase in North Carolina. Without provocation two state troopers opened fire delivering thirteen (13) strategic and close ranged shots that wounded three of the four young men. NAN and Rev. Sharpton were the driving force in highlighting the great injustices occurring in Jena, Louisiana (Jena 6); NAN also undertook major initiatives to stop the execution of Troy Davis, a wrongly convicted person on Georgia’s death row. These various incidents lead to the spearheading of the historic Redeem the Dream March against police brutality and racial profiling in honor of the 37th anniversary of the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington, where Dr. King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
Through its initiatives NAN has established its presence by leading the charge for the disenfranchised. Our staff has travelled far, marched, been jailed, toured and provided the masses with a direct link to the concerns of the citizens in various communities here and abroad. With its Madison Avenue Initiative, NAN has exercised the right for economic justice and equal access in business and professional opportunities. Even tackling the music industry, to protect the rights of artists and shed light on how record labels deal with them and issue contracts. Michael Jackson appeared at public hearings co-hosted by the late Attorney Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr. at National Action Network’s Headquarters, House of Justice to testify and lend support to this cause. Upon his untimely death, Rev. Sharpton delivered a riveting and deeply emotional speech at a memorial in June 2009 in honor of the “King of Pop”. Through NAN’s Social Justice Initiative- the battle to stop the US Naval Bombing exercises in Vieques, Puerto Rico was launched, an action for which Rev. Sharpton spent 90 days in Federal Prison for his acts of civil disobedience; led delegations in Rwanda, and the Sudan to engage the issues of slavery and genocide; led a national day of outrage to stop the gun violence that is decimating our young men in urban America, and continues to work with police departments across the country to get illegal guns of the streets; and was amongst the lead organizations in helping with disaster relief for the victims of the devastating earthquake in Haiti in January 2010. Recently NAN has stepped up its activism for immigrant rights, and around LGBT rights. In January of 2011, Rev. Sharpton along with union friends, AFSCME and AFT conducted a labor tour to speak out about the rights of hard working Americans whose benefits were being snatched from under them. Rev. Sharpton urged people to come out in droves to challenge new proposed legislation that robbed working class citizens of their rights.
In every election cycle since 1991, National Action Network has administered non-partisan voter election and education drives with all of its chapters across the country. NAN’s voter registration efforts were rewarding in November 2008, when the United States of America underwent a historic transformation and elected Barack Obama, an African-American, as the 44th President. Since the election, Rev. Sharpton and NAN have continued their work as change agents. They have led an effort for Educational Reform, supported by President Obama, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, to make education the civil rights issue of the 21st century. In August of 2010, 47-years after the historic March on Washington where Dr. King delivered his “I Have a Dream Speech,” Rev. Sharpton and National Action Network along with their allies in civil rights, labor, religion and education led 30,000 people in the “Reclaim the Dream” rally and march. This march solidified NAN’s stance as a leading civil rights organization, as their chants for equal education opportunities, jobs, wages, and equal rights under the law was heard and recognized by the masses. In April 2011, President Obama came to NAN’s 20th Anniversary Convention and commended Rev. Sharpton and the organization on a great 20 years of service. He stated “I know you all are the National Action Network and not the National Satisfaction Action Network.” Speaking of NAN’s reputation for standing up and defending what’s right, regardless of the size of the opponents or critics. He also stated ” I appreciate Reverend Sharpton for being a voice for the voiceless and a champion for the dispossessed. He’s still on the front lines fighting the good fight.”
National Action Network has truly come along way from its first national office in the heart of Brooklyn, NY and its weekly rallies that were held at P.S. 175 in Harlem for the first four (4) years of its existence. In 1995 the national headquarters moved to 1941 Madison Avenue and 125th Street in the heart of Harlem in what would become the world renowned National Action Network’s “House of Justice.” The Rev. Jesse Jackson, a mentor to Rev. Sharpton dubbed the Network’s new national headquarters as the “House of Justice,” during its official opening and dedication service. NAN operated from the Madison Avenue location until January 2003 when a fire destroyed the building. In December 2006, the new “House of Justice” our national headquarters opened in central Harlem at Malcolm X Boulevard and 145th Street. It is at the House of Justice every Saturday morning that NAN holds its weekly live action rally and radio broadcast on WLIB 1190am. The live rallies which are now live streamed via our website are critical to NAN’s development, as it brings our message to the homes of millions across the globe.
NAN recently announced a capital drive to build a permanent House of Justice headquarters and activism library/resource center in Harlem, New York. It is Rev. Sharpton’s vision to build a structure that will contain a public auditorium for rallies, and house archived material in an open library that features pivotal moments in activism from the Abolitionist Age to the “No Justice No Peace” movement of the 21st Century. It will also be a resource center to train activists on how to organize in urban and suburban communities on a vast array of challenges faced today including areas of social justice, education equality, immigration, women’s rights, gay and lesbian rights. “No Justice No Peace,” is NAN’s motto and it’s a call to all who want to live in a more democratic and just society.
As with every great organization NAN has great leadership. Rev. Sharpton still serves as the organization’s president and has lead unwaveringly through 20 years of struggle and progress. NAN has also been blessed with two very distinguished Chairmen of the Board. Its first chairman was Dr. Wyatt Tee Walker, who was the founding Pastor of Canaan Baptist Church in Harlem and had served as chief of staff to the Rev. Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. Dr. W. Franklyn Richardson, Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Mount Vernon, New York, is the organization’s second and current chairman of its Board of Directors.
Since its founding NAN has expanded to encompass 50 plus chapters throughout the United States and maintain important regional offices includes its National Headquarters and corporate office in NYC; Washington, D.C.; Atlanta, GA; Detroit, MI; Chicago, IL; Dallas, TX; Las Vegas, NV; and Los Angeles, CA.