Jul 28, 2009

National Action Network’s History

National Action Network (NAN) is one of the leading civil rights organizations in the world and is in the forefront of social justice in the United States. NAN was founded in New York City in 1991 by the Rev. Al Sharpton and a group of activists that were committed to the principles of non-violent direct action and civil disobedience as a direct outgrowth of the movement that was built and led by the Rev. Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. Since its founding NAN has expanded to encompass chapters throughout the United States and maintain important regional offices in Washington, D.C.; Atlanta, GA; Detroit, MI; Chicago, IL; Dallas, TX; Las Vegas, NV; and Los Angeles, CA.

Rev. Sharpton has served as the organization’s president since it was founded. NAN has had 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. The National Action Network is headquartered in New York City. Every Saturday morning since it was founded, National Action Network has held its weekly live action rally and radio broadcast, which has been critical to its development.

NAN has been largely credited with bringing into the national discussion issues such as Racial Profiling, the continued battle for Police Accountability, coalescing Black and Brown communities to fight for Immigration Rights, and fighting for Education and Labor reform. NAN maintains strong platforms with regard to Education Reform, Anti-violence, Law Enforcement, Immigrant Rights, Election Reform, Prisoner’s Rights, Health and Disability protections, Employment Rights, Business Development, Housing, Agencies or Child Development, Youth Issues, Homelessness and a Decency Initiative. Membership in the National Action Network is opened to everyone regardless of race, color, religion, or national origin.

National Action Network started a month after Rev. Al Sharpton was stabbed at a march protesting the killing of Yusef Hawkins. The campaign around the Hawkins case and the fight for the prosecution of the killers was NAN’s first major civil rights battle. 16-year-old Yusef had been shot to death in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, as he was attacked by a crowd of white youth wielding baseball bats. One, armed with a handgun, shot Hawkins twice in the chest, killing him. 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.  Due to NAN’s civil disobedience and direct action protests, several of the killers were convicted. Since it’s founding, the National Action Network has led the efforts for justice for Carmel Cato, whose son Gavin was killed in a tragic car accident in Crown Heights, Brooklyn; 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;

Soon National Action Network began to crystallize its fight against police brutality and its fight for police accountability with the fight for 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 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 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 began along with Attorney Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr. 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. In 1998 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 in the forefront and a driving force in highlighting the great injustices occurring in Jena, Louisiana, and 47-years after the historic March on Washington where Dr. King delivered his “I Have a Dream Speech,” Rev. Sharpton and National Action Network  led 30,000 people in the “Reclaim the Dream” rally and march in Washington, DC.

In November 2008, the United States of America underwent a historic transformation when it elected Barack Obama, an African-American, as the nation’s 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. NAN undertook major initiatives to stop the execution of Troy Davis, a wrongly convicted person on Georgia’s death row; lead a national day of outrage to stop the gun violence that is decimating our young men in urban American; and was out front in helping to organize disaster relief for the victims of the devastating earthquake in Haiti in January 2010. NAN has dealt with unfairness in the music industry and how record labels deal with artists and contracts and Michael Jackson appeared at public hearings co-hosted by the late Attorney Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr. at National Action Network to shed light upon the unfairness. Later Rev. Sharpton delivered the riveting and deeply emotional memorial Rev. Sharpton delivered in June 2009 for the “King of Pop” Michael Jackson upon his tragic and accidental death. Recently NAN has been in the forefront of immigrant rights, activism around LGBT rights, and working with police departments across the country to get illegal guns of the streets. 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.

Through its Madison Avenue Initiative,  NAN has been in the forefront in the battle for economic justice and equal access in business and professional opportunities; was in the forefront of the battle to stop the US Naval Bombing exercises in Vieques, Puerto Rico, an action for which Rev. Sharpton spent 90 days in Federal Prison for his acts of civil disobedience; led delegations to Rwanda, Africa and the Sudan to engage the issues of slavery and genocide; and spearheaded 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, D.C. and  Dr. King’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech. “No Justice No Peace,” is its motto and its call to all who want to live in a more democratic and just society.

National Action Network had its first national office in the heart of Black Brooklyn in New York City and held its weekly rallies 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 world renowned as the 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 mysterious fire destroyed its famed “House of Justice.” In December 2006, the new “House of Justice” national headquarters of the National Action Network opened up in central Harlem at Malcolm X Boulevard and 145th Street. NAN has announced a capital drive to build a permanent House of Justice headquarters and activism library and resource center in Harlem, New York and it is Rev. Sharpton’s goal to build a structure that will house a public auditorium for rallies, and to build an archives to have as an open library of activism featuring material 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 in an array of challenges in the 21st century including areas of social justice, education equality, immigration, and women’s, gay and lesbian rights.