O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Illustration by Jeff Crosby

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.

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."  

Although Sharpton is still traumatized by what Sharpton Sr. had done, he never speaks ill of his father and publicly acknowledges him during rallies. But the pain he hopes to conquer some day keeps coming back. If the Baptist preacher has any reservations about the reunion, they all seem to be rolled into one nagging question: How much more can Al Sharpton bear?

Kenny Glasgow's relationship with his family remained rocky because of his frequent run-ins with the law. Before serving his present term, he was released from prison in 2000 after serving 10 years for drugs and weapons-related charges. ("Of all the things I've done and been through," Glasgow disclosed in his June 7 jailhouse letter, "my only regret is . . . my mother seeing me shoot a guy in his mouth.") But he was sent back to jail for an unspecified offense in March of this year. He served three months. Upon his release on June 12 (nonpayment of a $250 fine had delayed his release for four days), his parents and grandmother, Ada Sharpton, harbored doubts about his recovery from crack cocaine addiction.

In his letter to Sharpton, Glasgow complained about the family's refusal to help him pay the $250 fine. "Because of my past track record with my mother and grandma they claim they don't have it," he wrote. "They're saying that because they're scared I'm going to get back on drugs (crack)." Almost in the same breath, Glasgow dredged up the tensions between himself and his father. "Daddy will not pay it either," he added, "but we both know that he's never done anything for me anyway." According to Glasgow, Sharpton Sr., who suspected that his son was using drugs again, had repossessed a taxi he had sold him for $1000. "He took it back 'cause he said I had drugs in it," Glasgow claimed.

But Sharpton Sr. had reasons to be wary of his son. "I wrote some checks on an account that I had put his name on," Glasgow confessed in his letter to Sharpton. "Up to about $1500. He paid them 'cause his name was on them, and that's his excuse now to neglect me as his child. I told him that he's never raised me or did anything for me anyway, and I'm glad he's not God because if he was then all of us would be going to hell. He tells my mother he's showing me tough love. I asked him how could he show me tough love before he's showed me real love? How could he put me down when he's never picked me up?"

Glasgow told Sharpton he was writing a tell-all book. "I've been going through hell my whole life," he wrote. "Remember [name deleted] beating up me and mamma, breaking her legs when I was 12 years old?" Glasgow said his book will chronicle the destiny of two brothers—one who, because of his scandalous birth, became a slave to a crack pipe, and the other, a firebrand activist who aspired to be president. "It would show how my heart was hardened [against God and family] and I went through all the curses of Deuteronomy 28 while you went through the blessings," he explained. "I was born the bastard child and the curse carried over from generation to generation: Since [my] father and [my] mother couldn't break the curse, God intervened and used the older brother to take in the prodigal son—God sent the older brother to do what the father couldn't or wouldn't do."

Glasgow went on to reveal how years of addiction to crack cocaine left him delusional. "I became immune to cocaine," he recalled in his letter. "It got to a point where I didn't get high anymore. I started going to my mother's just to [stare] at [her], my daughter, and my granddaughter, and cry. I didn't tell them [that] other crackheads didn't want to get high with me anymore. When I hit [got high], Alfred, I would start preaching! Yes, preaching and prophesying. I would visualize scripture in my mind and see vivid pictures of people's lives. When I would tell them [what I saw], they would get uncomfortable, some would cry. All who I got high with agreed that God was calling me and I should quit. Since I wouldn't quit, they just wouldn't get high with me. No matter how much I paid them, they didn't want to pray and get high with me. Word spread that I was the [free]basing, crackhead preacher."  

In his letter, Glasgow regretted that he himself was not much of a father. "I never really spent much time with my own kids," he offered. He said he felt he was trying to make up for his absence by getting to know his son-in-law, Marcus, the father of his daughter's baby girl, Tianna.

"I actually stayed home with him New Years [Day], just me and him, and I told him about my whole life—I mean everything," Glasgow wrote. "I've been ruthless, Alfred! I told him I was a dummy, but you can learn a lot from a dummy! When I got locked up in March and called home [I was told that] this young man [had] died in a car accident. My mother told me the first thing my daughter did when she found out [about Marcus's death] was hold up her baby and say, 'Now you're going to grow up just like me, Tianna, without your daddy, too.' Alfred, everytime I think about that I cry."

Glasgow intimated that during his three-month stint behind bars, fellow inmates stopped referring to him as "the basing, crackhead preacher" and christened him "the Weeping Prophet" because he cries while preaching and and singing to them. "Yes, Alfred," he wrote. "God took me away from crack. . . . He used me to lead a lot of brothers to him and reconcile families. . . . I'm telling you because only spiritual people can discern spiritual things. If I was to tell daddy he'd probably think I was high in here."

Glasgow's boldest aspiration is to become a model brother, perhaps to drive Sharpton around, and watch his back as he campaigns for the presidency. "I've been keeping up with you, Mr. President," he wrote. "I'll make sure you don't have a crackhead brother like Clinton."

Kenny Glasgow seemed to put the anger he felt toward his father on hold after Al Sharpton Sr. paid the $250 fine that got him out of jail. In his letter of July 25, Glasgow apologized to his celebrity brother for the nasty portrayal of their father in his previous letter. "Well that was the first letter I wrote to you before daddy came and got me out," Glasgow stated. "He came and got me out June 12th and I've been with him ever since."

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