The National Action Network (NAN) was established in New York City in 1991 by Al Sharpton (its founder and president) and a group of activists who were “committed to the principles of non-violent direct action and civil disobedience.” NAN was formally incorporated as a not-for-profit 501(c)(4) organization on April 4, 1994 -- a date chosen for its significance as the anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s 1968 assassination; NAN's founders saw themselves as “the keepers of the dream that Dr. King lived and died for.” The organization's first national headquarters were situated in the heart of “Black Brooklyn”; in 1995 they were relocated permanently to Harlem. Today NAN consists of more than 40 chapters and thousands of members nationwide.
Viewing the United States as a nation rife with racism and discrimination against black people, NAN seeks to promote “the complete liberation of African-Americans from all injustices visited upon them as such so that they may receive ultimate recognition as free and equal members of the human community.” Toward that end, the organization is “vigilant and vigorous in fighting any discrimination based on the color of a person’s skin,” and works “for the passage of laws ensuring equal treatment ... of all persons.” The motto of NAN's “fight for social justice” is: “No justice, no peace.”
On its website, NAN cites some of the “efforts for justice” which it has led on behalf of numerous African Americans who, over the years, have made news headlines as victims of highly publicized white actions. The first name listed by NAN is that of Carmel Cato, “whose son Gavin was killed in a tragic car accident in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.” In that 1991 incident, a Hasidic Jewish driver accidentally struck a 7-year-old black boy with his vehicle. Following the tragedy, NAN president Al Sharpton stirred racial tensions by publicly declaring that it was not merely a car accident that had killed the child, but rather the "social accident" of "apartheid"; by organizing angry, raucous demonstrations to protest the boy's death; and by challenging local Jews -- whom he derisively called "diamond merchants" -- to “pin their yarmulkes back and come over to my house” to settle the score. Soon thereafter, local black youths went on a three-day rampage of violent rioting.
NAN similarly notes that it fought to win justice for “James Byrd, a young black man from Jasper, Texas whose body was dragged by three white men behind a pick-up truck until his torso was ripped from the rest of his body” in 1998.
NAN's major organizational activities are carried out under the rubric of three broad initiatives:
The Social Justice Initiative aims “to serve as a guide for pastors and congregations, and to bring to light the black churches’ responsibility in addressing the social issues that impact the lives of black men and women.”
The Decency Initiative “was created in order to reduce the dialogue of indecency that has become pervasive in our [black] community as a form of entertainment.” Most notably, NAN calls for “the removal of 'nigga,' 'bitch,' and 'ho' from the lexicon of the music and entertainment industry.”
The Criminal Justice Initiative is founded on the premise that “injustices such as racial profiling have historically been a reality that we [blacks] still contend with today.” According to NAN, “police misconduct” ranks as one of the leading threats to members of the black community. To illustrate the magnitude of the problem, NAN focuses special attention on such high-profile black victims as “Abner Louima, who, in 1997, was tortured in the 70th Police Precinct in New York City”; “Amadou Diallo, who, in 1999, was killed by the New York City Police Street Crime Unit in a 40 shot barrage”; “[Tyisha] Miller, who was wrongfully gunned down by [the] LAPD” in 1998; and “Sean Bell, who was killed on his wedding day in a 50-shot attack by the New York City Police Department” in 2006.
Another, supplemental, NAN campaign is its Madison Avenue Initiative, which “has been in the forefront in the battle for economic justice and equal access in business and professional opportunities.” NAN's Education campaign, founded on the premise that education is “the civil rights issue of the 21st century,” seeks to “clos[e] the achievement gap for minority and underprivileged students.” And the organization's Voter Protection campaign “works to ensure that every vote in every community ... is counted,” particularly “in swing states” where elections may be close.
NAN boasts of having “spearheaded” the “historic Redeem the Dream March against police brutality and racial profiling.” Held in Washington, DC in August 2000, this event commemorated the 37th anniversary of the famous “I Have A Dream” speech which Martin Luther King, Jr. had delivered in that same city. At the NAN event, which was co-sponsored by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, one of the the featured speakers was Malik Zulu Shabazz. During his talk, Shabazz called on black young people, including “gang members,” to unite against their “common enemy” – i.e., “white America” and its allegedly racist police departments. He also articulated a “black dream that when we see caskets rolling in the black community … we will see caskets and funerals in the community of our enemy as well.”