Many potential young black leaders fall under the spell of the "gangster mentality" and are preventing themselves from making a positive impact in politics, the Rev. Al Sharpton said Thursday.
The key to leadership is having the individual initiative to change the status quo, said Sharpton, who spoke during the annual conference of the National Association of Black Journalists.
Sharpton, who is considering another run for president, pointed a finger at Hollywood and the record industry, accusing both of making "gangsterism" seem cool and acceptable.
"We have got to get out of this gangster mentality, acting as if gangsterism and blackness are synonymous," he said. "I think that challenge has to be given to Hollywood and the record industry."
"I think we've allowed a whole generation of young people to feel that if they're focused, they're not black enough," Sharpton continued. "If they speak well and act well, they're acting white, and there's nothing more racist than that."
Sharpton's National Action Network is just one group willing to help get young blacks into politics, he said.
"Nobody broke in my house in Brooklyn and dragged me out the projects and made me a leader, I wanted to do that. Clearly, we would work with young people who want to do the work," he said.
Lottie Shackelford, vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, said during the same panel discussion that the time is ripe for getting more young blacks involved.
"So many young folks are waiting to be asked, or they say they want others to move so they can gain a slot, and I say, there's room for everybody. Let's work together," she said.
Sharpton, who ran for president in 2004, competing in several Democratic primaries, says he might run again in 2008. He will watch this November's elections before making up his mind.
Sharpton noted that Congress has several up-and-coming black political stars, such as Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois - the nation's only black senator - and Rep. Harold Ford Jr. of Tennessee, who is running for Senate.
He says he plans to monitor several races this fall that involve black Republicans.
Sharpton said, however, that the media should be careful before reporting that blacks are moving toward Republican leadership positions, as this year's black GOP candidates "may be yesterday's news come November."
By Cliff Brunt