TAMPA — For the 20th anniversary of the Bible-Based Fellowship Church in Carrollwood, a congregation that doesn't shy away from the fiery speeches of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, its leader introduced another speaker that may not have needed an introduction.
"He doesn't wait until someone's opinion poll tells him it's all right to talk," the Rev. Arthur Jones announced Sunday.
"The media loves to hate him. They love him because he's a sound bite master. But they hate him because he'll take the truth and throw it right back in their faces."
Jones called him a "passionate prophet ... the voice of black America, the Rev. Al Sharpton!"
In the speech that followed, Sharpton told members of the mostly African-American congregation: "We are literally fighting for our lives."
Sharpton, 54, said he never thought he'd see a black president, but he also never thought he'd see America's major auto industries in collapse, or the nation owing more to foreign countries than it has.
The one-time Democratic candidate said he told President Barack Obama, "The good news is you're president. The bad news is, the country's broke.
"We finally got the keys to the bank and there's nothing in the vault."
He described today's America as a place where children have no options other than the street corners, or jails, or cemeteries. And he called upon the congregation to take action.
"The hardest job of a black preacher," he said, "is to preach the funeral of an irrelevant Negro. They roll the body down the aisle … and we're supposed to hallucinate a life you never lived."
He says too many black youth are still living with "enslaved mentalities.''
"Men making children and walking away from them like they just had a bowel movement."
"We've gone from Aretha Franklin singing Respect … to now calling ourselves the N-word and the H-word and the B-word. …"
"We're not hos and b's," he said. "We're the first lady of the United States."
Church organs and crash cymbals punctuated the words of the civil rights activist known for his controversial style. By the end of his speech, he had the congregation jumping and cheering.
Then, he sat down, took a breath, and wiped his brow.
Alexandra Zayas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3354.