O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Inside Al Sharpton’s Family Reunion

 I'll make sure you don't have a crackhead brother like Clinton. . . . I've been ruthless, Alfred.
—From a letter to Al Sharpton from his brother, Kenny Glasgow

When Al Sharpton walks out of federal prison on August 17, anxious politicians like Charlie Rangel—who is slated to endorse Fernando Ferrer for mayor the same day—expect the cover-boy-thin civil rights leader to jump right back into the fray, and most immediately into the mayoral sweepstakes. But Rangel and Ferrer will be the last concerns on Sharpton's mind.

Illustration by Jeff Crosby

The 46-year-old activist has been depressed about his bittersweet family reunion. In the three months he has been incarcerated, Sharpton has agonized over the future of his baby brother, Kenny Glasgow, an ex-con and recovering crackhead turned street preacher. Fearing that his troubled sibling might backslide, Sharpton has vowed to keep him from returning to a life of crime and a jail cell that had been his home for the last decade.

"You know I've done almost 10 years straight," Glasgow said in a gut-wrenching letter to Sharpton, who is serving out a 90-day sentence at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn for trespassing on a Navy firing range on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques. "I've been through so much you wouldn't believe it. I've been one of the biggest drug dealers. . . . I became the thing I despise the most, [an] addict, begging momma and grandma for 2 and 3 dollars to get a hit."

Glasgow, the offspring of an incestuous relationship between one of Sharpton's sisters, Tina, and his father, Al Sharpton Sr., wrote to Sharpton on June 7, the day before he was scheduled to be released from Orange County Corrections in Florida, and again on July 25. Glasgow, who now runs a "street ministry" in Orlando, wants to organize a family reunion to heal a 36-year-old rift caused by the illicit affair. In the letter, he appealed to Sharpton to help make the reunion a reality, partly for the sake of their aging father, with whom both men have had an on-again, off-again relationship. "He just turned 74 and he's really worried about all of us," Glasgow explained in the letter. "He tries to act hard and strong but he wants to have his children reconciled to him. You should see him when you are in Jet or Ebony, or on the radio or TV. He acts like a little child watching cartoons or reading a comic book. He's not young anymore, Alfred."

Glasgow also envisioned the reunion as a path to closure, hoping he'd be freed from the stigma of the family shame that, he believes, bedeviled him and caused him to be trapped in a cycle of violence. "I need you and daddy's spirit to help me," he implored. "I need our family as one to release the curse that was placed on me." Glasgow suggested that the reunion coincide with Sharpton's "wedding."

Sharpton and his wife of 21 years, Kathy, are scheduled to renew their vows on August 26. "I called Kathy to see how you were doing, and to let her know that I wanted to come to your wedding with daddy. Yes, daddy!" Glasgow emphasized in his second letter. "He's coming! Bro, it's time for all of us to be together [in] peace, love, and harmony. What better time than on your wedding day? It's a rejoining of you and your wife as well as your family. Do you see the work of God? You may not admit it, but you've prayed for the togetherness of our family, just like I have!"

Indeed Al Sharpton is big on family. It was a teary-eyed reverend who, on the second day of a jailhouse hunger strike on May 30, said that his only regret is the impact that the 90-day sentence is having on his family. "When they get through all the headlines and all the hoopla, I am a married man with two children," he told NY1 reporter Dominic Carter. "I have to tell them that I am in the building with heads of mobs, murderers, and I was there because I peacefully asked, 'Why did you have to bomb these people?' "

Now Glasgow wants Sharpton to make a similar sacrifice to save his own family. "It is time for us to move this family to a new level," he urged. "You have helped many along the way, but now you're going to help your family!"

It isn't that Sharpton has not tried reconciling his family in the past. "In March 1994 my sister Cheryl got married, and I flew to Atlanta to do the ceremony," Sharpton writes in his 1996 autobiography, Go and Tell Pharaoh. "My father was there. It was the first time I'd seen him in many, many years. He had another family—his new wife and kids were there with him—and my mother was there. Tina was there, too. It was the first time we were all together in the same place in twenty-nine years. Many days sitting on airplanes, many long nights sitting in hotel rooms by myself, I had thought about the various ways I was going to curse out my father if I ever saw him again. But when I did see him, I didn't do anything but smile, because it didn't really matter anymore. I won. I had made something out of myself and my life. It would have degraded my personal victory to attack him. I didn't have to be bitter. The victory is in being able to absorb the pain and keep going."

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