When the National Newspaper Publishers Association, the association of over 200 Black-owned publications, met in Chicago, expectations rose for a showdown between the Rev. Al Sharpton and Dr. Cornel West.

While Rev. Sharpton, a civil rights leader and White House insider, has enjoyed access to the president and defended the president, Dr. West, the outspoken academic from Princeton, has at times been critical of a president that he has also supported.

The different points of view led to a rather heated debate on MSNBC where voices were raised and emotions, but it resulted in Black columnist and commentator George Curry asking Rev. Sharpton and Dr. West to have a debate at the NNPA convention.


Rev. Sharpton defused some of the tension and schoolyard-fight-mentality by saying in June 24 luncheon remarks that the plight of Black people meant that points of disagreement were fine so long as the points were related to issues and solving problems faced by the masses of our people.

But fighting based on ego or “notions” of access to the president were useless and not fights the suffering masses wanted to watch or care for, he added.

When the Sharpton-West discussion started an hour or so later in a packed room of the Drake Hotel, which was the convention headquarters, the crowd was attentive and eagerly watched as the scholar and the activist faced off. They stuck to points of policy and concern about problems facing Black America and poor people.

The discussion was civil and balanced with strong points of view but no personal insults and actually points where the participants laughed and embraced.

What could have been an ugly moment turned into a dignified discussion and ended with participants and listeners having the opportunity to critique and assess the president and his policies–policies which impact Black America, Africa, the Caribbean and the world.

It is proper to critique the president on policy and to debate ideas, solutions to problems and remedies recommended to cure the ills faced by Black America. It takes maturity and commitment to assess policy and avoid the personal, whether it is personality, personal pride or ego or even a sense of having been disregarded or dismissed.

The challenge of leadership is to think for the whole and to understand both realities seen and unseen. Barack Obama is the president of the United States, but like any other president there are unseen forces that dictate and influence how he moves. As president he is dependent on advice and strategy that comes from experts in their respective fields. So a president who is a constitutional scholar depends on the advice of business and economic leaders when it comes to solving the problems of the economy. As a result when these economic experts, who happen to be the same crowd that ran Wall St., say a stimulus package is needed or the country will go down the tubes, the president heeds their advice. Now with the economy still limping along and jobs hard to find, the question becomes what happened to the stimulus which seems to have done little and what happened to the money? The president, of course, remains responsible but we also have to challenge those around him, their motives, their agendas and how they wield their influence and why.

Otherwise we do not deal with reality and cannot get the proper results, because the true problem and the real power have yet to be addressed.

The same is true when it comes to military incursions, such as Afghanistan and Libya. In the past, Colin Powell, a respected Black man was used to justify the invasion of Iraq and told the world there was a need for immediate action. But in the end, there were no weapons of mass destruction. The president also has military and security advisors and there are corporate interests who also try to dictate and influence policy. Many have complained of Washington, D.C.’s political scene as a revolving door where the same people are recycled once their party comes to power. When out of office they run and speak for think tanks, lobby government or engagement in other business where connections gained in public service are used for private gain. It’s a merry-go-round with the truly powerful benefitting in some way regardless of what party is in power.

These unseen forces exert constant pressure and influence to make sure that their goals and aims are achieved. The presidency is just another avenue they use to get things done.

As the Tea Party and the Republican Party sharpen the political knives to throw at the president and as those who have hatred and murder for him in their hearts, opinion and debate must be tempered with wisdom. We pray that nothing happens to the president or his family and our hope is that somehow he will be able to break free from the demonic entities that surround him.

He has a difficult time as America is subjected to the judgment of God for her evil done to her once slaves and the children of her once slaves in fulfillment of scripture. Our prayer would be that he heeds the words of divine warning coming from the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, who has expressed love and concern for the president and the highest form of patriotism by pointing out that this country is on a wrong course and needs to change and change quickly. No divine man who delivers a message of warning desires the destruction that God promises to the rejecters of that message. The divine warner always hopes the leaders and the people will find the right path and avail themselves of God’s divine mercy. It is no different today and while we may have policy differences with the president, we always pray that his errant positions will change for the better. There is no hating or hatred here.