Al Sharpton and Robert F. Smith in an image with the National Action Network (NAN) Logo.

The National Action Network & Civil Rights

Since 1991, the National Action Network (NAN), has advocated for and championed civil rights in the United States of America. As a leading organization with almost 100 chapters across the country, NAN founder, the Reverend Al Sharpton, seeks to champion the spirit and tradition of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The organization demands “one standard of justice, decency and equal opportunities for all people regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, citizenship, criminal record, economic status, gender, gender expression, or sexuality.”
Whether offering a platform for issues such as the epidemic of Black maternal mortality or highlighting the injustices of a biased criminal justice system, NAN raises Black issues and voices to bring them into the national dialogue.

Robert F. Smith and NAN

As an honoree Robert F. Smith spoke at NAN’s 2018 Annual National Convention where he was honored as a civil rights leader. Smith, the Founder, Chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, shared his insights and solutions to the digital divide, generational wealth and economic justice.
Considered one of “Forbes 100 Greatest Living Business Minds,” and singled out by that organization for its Diversity & Inclusion Awards due to his advocacy in finance on behalf of underserved communities with The 2%Solution. Smith advocates for voting rights, criminal justice reform and diversity from the classroom to the C-Suite. Initiatives he champions prioritize digital skills, STEM education, financial literacy and civic engagement all of which are in alignment with NAN’s mission.
At NAN’s Keepers of the Dream awards, also in 2018, the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, Smith was honored once again. This was specifically for Smith’s continuing advocacy for the principles King espoused and for which he gave his life, namely the cause of civil rights. In previous years Samuel L. Jackson, John Legend and Gloria Steinem were honored for their contributions on behalf of social justice.

NAN’s Vision for the Future

The National Action Network recognizes that to achieve a better future, young people must be offered opportunities to grow into leadership and advocacy. To that end, NAN has a Youth and College Division which focuses on “expansion, sustainability and development.”
The NAN Youth Huddle Initiative, founded by Ashley Sharpton, centers, “STEM training, civic engagement, health and wellness, self empowerment, performing arts, and mentorship under the umbrella of Rev. Al Sharpton’s national civil rights organization, The National Action Network.” The initiative grew following the trial and subsequent acquittal of George Zimmerman, who murdered 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2013. Since then the group has grown and is now hosted live online.
This youth focus aligns with Smith’s initiatives to support and nurture the next generation of Black leaders in America.

Other Civil Rights Organizations

Like NAN, there are other organizations across the country working continuously for the cause of civil rights, whether or not they are well known. Here are a few organizations that have recognized Smith’s efforts in philanthropy and advocacy.
  • Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy, “to secure equal justice for all through the rule of law, targeting in particular the inequities confronting African Americans and other racial and ethnic minorities.”
  • John F. Kennedy Human Rights, a group founded by Kerry Kennedy, a human rights lawyer and activist, is a “team of attorneys, issue experts, advocates, entrepreneurs, and writers united by a commitment to realize Robert Kennedy’s dream of a more just and peaceful world.”
And there are the non-profit organizations that regularly hold policy makers to account for decisions negatively impacting marginalized communities, such as the following.
  • The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) – Formed over 100 years ago in 1920, this group has served as this “nation’s guardian of liberty, working in courts, legislatures, and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and the laws of the United States guarantee everyone in this country.”
  • The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund (NAACP) – Founded in 1909, “the NAACP’s ​​mission is to ensure the political, educational, equality of minority group citizens of States and eliminate race prejudice. The NAACP works to remove all barriers of racial discrimination through democratic processes.”
  • The Congress of Racial Equity (CORE) – Founded in 1942, CORE’s “aim is to bring about equality for all people regardless of race, creed, sex, age, disability, sexual orientation, religion or ethnic background. In pursuing its aim, CORE seeks to identify and expose acts of discrimination in the public and private sectors of society.”
And the list goes on with the Legal Defense Fund, the Congressional Black Caucus and more. Learn more about Smith’s role in the current social justice movement.