New York—”You guys are supposed to be at church today,” the Rev. Al Sharpton joked as he stepped onto the stage.
At an expo on Sunday focused on bringing panel discussions and entertainment to African American women, Sharpton was part of a group of powerful New York City figures that spoke on the subject of black manhood in America—to teach women in the audience how to help a young man in need.
Sharpton was joined by New York City police chief Philip Banks, president of the corrections officer union Norman Seabrook, and founding principal of the all boys’ public schools network, Eagle Academy, David Banks, among others.
They spoke about the importance of bringing it upon themselves to make a difference on the lives of young black men.
In his keynote speech, Sharpton mentioned the small percentage of residents in Ferguson, Mo., who had been registered to vote, before the shooting and death of teenager Michael Brown fueled residents to register in increased numbers.
“Some things we have to do for ourselves,” Sharpton said. “This is the 21st century. Let’s make it work for us.” He encouraged the audience of roughly 400 to vote and make a difference in the upcoming midterm elections.
He also noted that while African American men have made much advancement in recent years—including the nation’s first black president and attorney general, Barack Obama and Eric Holder—many young black men are still unemployed and struggling.
They are also often victims of racial profiling, “whether it’s Ferguson or Staten Island,” he said, referring to the case of Eric Garner, a black man who died after a police officer placed him in a chokehold during an attempted arrest.
Norman Seabrook mentioned the importance of teaching young men to self-evaluate and constantly improve themselves, while actor Hill Harper stressed that more people need to take the initiative to mentor young men and make the changes needed in their local communities.
“Don’t say what we want to do anymore, say what I’m going to do,” Harper said.
Power of Celebrities
Before the panel, actresses from the cast of the acclaimed Netflix series, “Orange is the New Black,” Adrienne C. Moore and Vicky Jeudy, also spoke with the audience about working on the show.
The series, based on a memoir, follows the events at a women’s prison. Jeudy said it was refreshing to work with a diverse cast, each playing a character with a unique story behind why they ended up in prison.
“They all did something to get in there and they’re facing the consequences of their own actions,” she said.
The two-day expo, organized by the organization for women of color, Circle of Sisters, also included other black celebrities in their roster. On Saturday, Grammy-winning singer Faith Evans, singer and Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Hudson, and celebrity hairstylist and entrepreneur Kim Kimble spoke with the audience through panels on music and beauty tips.
On Sunday, talk show host and psychologist Dr. Jeff Gardere gave tips on mental health, while Korto Momolu, contestant on the reality competition show, “Project Runway,” took part in a fashion show.
Many small businesses, from skincare to jewelry, also set up booths at the expo to introduce their services and products to the African American community.
Paula Phillips especially made the trip from Barbados to introduce her home textiles to the expo goers. Her company, Rest On The Word, produces bed sheets and other linens with quotes from the Bible on them.
She thought this expo was a good opportunity to introduce her products into the American market, including many Christian African Americans.
“I’ve got a good response so far,” she said. Phillips hopes to eventually sell her products in U.S. stores.
Andrew Nichols, a self-taught painter who gets inspiration and support from his mother, sold his artwork at the expo. “That support lasts a lifetime,” he said. “I think that’s why painting women’s pictures gives me security. Because that’s where the encouragement originally came from.”
Many of his paintings feature African American women, celebrated with bright colors.
“I’m an advocate for the cultural American experience,” Nichols said, “in terms of diversity, music, fashion, sports, empowerment,” he added.