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Al Sharpton aims to spotlight gun violence here

Rev. Al Sharpton.

Rev. Al Sharpton.

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Updated: August 3, 2013 6:35AM

The Rev. Al Sharpton is like a three-ring circus.

These days, he’s a civil rights leader, a Hollywood celebrity and a TV personality. Maybe it’s all because of his dramatic weight loss or his White House insider status, but Sharpton is at the top of his game.

On Saturday night, he was among hundreds of A-list guests at the wedding reception of “Star Wars” creator George Lucas and celebrity financial adviser Mellody Hobson.

And on Sunday morning, he was at the Greater St. John Bible Church in Austin, where the Rev. Ira J. Acree is pastor.

Sharpton surprised his host and the congregation by announcing he was joining in the anti-violence efforts here by taking an apartment in Chicago.

“It was breaking news,” Acree said in a telephone interview. “He did not say he was coming to solve the problem or to bring jobs. Al Sharpton is trying to bring national attention to the problem.”

Acree’s church is in an area of the West Side that led the city in homicides last year. Last summer, 7-year-old Heaven Sutton was gunned down in Austin as she tried to escape gunfire on the street.

Acree, a well-known community activist, is running free day camps for neighborhood children to keep them off the street.

“This violence is out of hand,” he said.

More than geography separates the two events that drew Sharpton to Chicago.

One took place in a world where people glitter. The other gathering was in a world where most people try to keep their heads down.

Sharpton has been able to navigate both these worlds despite having come out of the tumultuous National Action Network, a grass-roots movement in New York City.

Frankly, in the not-so-distant past, Sharpton would have been at great odds with many of the people at the Lucas/Hobson soiree.

For instance, in 2007, Sharpton came to town to blast then-Mayor Richard M. Daley for the city’s handling of the brutality accusations against Jon Burge. Sharpton threatened to sabotage Daley’s bid for the 2016 Olympics and joined in on calls for a school boycott.

Now Sharpton is working with Martin Luther King III to plan events surrounding the upcoming 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.

In the 1960s, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. rented a rundown apartment on the West Side to highlight the city’s segregation.

Sharpton said he intends to rent an apartment in an area such as Austin to mimic King’s symbolic gesture.

“I am taking an apartment to put a spotlight on gun violence. Although voting rights and other things exist, our challenge inside is gun violence and putting the focus on ourselves,” he said Monday.

Violence is a complicated issue. But the number of shootings and homicides that occur in predominantly black neighborhoods threatens to reverse some of the gains black people made during the civil rights era.

After all, too many black youths are ending up with criminal records that doom them to a life of failure.

Beginning in September, Sharpton said he would bring his MSNBC show to Chicago two or three times a week and interview people in the community. He also said he would get up in the morning to walk children to school.

“I’m not coming in with a new program. We want to come and help put the spotlight on those that are battling in the community, those that are in the trenches,” he said.

That spotlight would focus on people like Acree, Sharpton said.

“I made the announcement even though I’m not coming until September. The problem with the people who have a national reputation is that they drive by and local activists don’t even know they are coming,” Sharpton said. “Through radio and the TV show and talking to people in the trenches, we will bring a national spotlight.”

Of course, we’ll have to wait and see if Sharpton puts down a security deposit.

In 2007, Sharpton announced he would open a Chicago chapter of his National Action Network, but that project never got off the ground.

Additionally, at this point, the violence appears to be decreasing. In the first six months of this year, there were 274 fewer shootings and 76 fewer murders than during the same period last year, according to the Chicago Police Department.

Chicago has had a lot of national exposure because of the violence.

Frankly, I hope there’s no need for Sharpton to come here except to celebrate.

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