When we first saw the heavily edited Shirley Sherrod video on FOX News, most of us experienced several emotions. First there was shock which caused many of us to rush to judgment, just as Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack, and the Obama administration did.
Then as the story began to unfold and change right before our eyes, we began to realize that this was not just the story of a woman victimized by right-wing conservatives, but it was the introduction on the world stage of a woman who was so severely impacted by discrimination in all forms (race, status, etc.) that she decided to devote the rest of her life to its eradication. The video introduced us to a woman who has been fighting for a cause for her entire life; a woman whose calling became bigger than the woman herself.
Sherrod was defamed, publicly humiliated and forced to resign from her job with the USDA as a result of a video heavily edited by conservative blogger, Andrew Breitbart. However, if not for Breitbart, we would have never heard of Sherrod’s name or her rich accounts about a very dark period in our country’s history. As a result of Breitbart’s video, Shirley Sherrod can now rightfully take her place on the long list of civil rights leaders such as Rosa Parks, Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King Jr.
As Sherrod explained in the unedited video, the death of her father in1965 at the hands of a white farmer who was never charged, tried or convicted was a turning point in her life. This is when Sherrod decided to devote her life to bringing about change. Not the kind of change President Obama talked about during his campaign, but change that impacts the lives of poor people. From her work with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee at Albany State University in Georgia, to her suit against the USDA in Pigford v. Glickman, Sherrod has done more for the advancement of colored people than current NAACP president, Benjamin Jealous.
It was reported that Vilsack offered Ms. Sherrod a new position with the USDA. It will be very surprising if she takes the job. Sherrod must come to grips with the fact that the work she is called to do cannot be contained in a government office. Although the prospect of not having a job may cause some concern, Sherrod should not panic, instead, she should take a page from Sarah Palin’s book.
When Palin lost her bid for VP, she decided to make lemonade with the lemons that were served to her. She could have easily gone quietly back to her office as governor to lick her wounds. But she didn’t. Palin turned her 15 minutes into a lucrative future. She quit public service, wrote a book, formed a political action committee which she uses to raise and donate funds to political campaigns. Up and coming republican candidates must kiss Palin’s ring and get her endorsement to have a chance at winning. She is a much sorted after speaker who is paid as much as $100,000 per speech. She does talk shows, has her own show on network TV, and has a loyal following.
Before beginning the rest of her life, Sherrod must first be compensated for the damages she suffered by filing lawsuits against Newt Gingrich, Hannity, FOX News and others who defamed her character. She should also gently nudge the USDA into providing her with a lucrative settlement by filing suit against that Agency. If she does return to the USDA, it should be for the limited purpose of accepting a huge buy-out package, and then she should resign on her own terms.
Sherrod told her life story so passionately on the unedited video which is now on the NAACP’s website, that she can easily transition to teaching a class in civil rights at a college or university. As a result of the lessons she learned in racial reconciliation, Sherrod can start a consulting firm which specializes in conducting training for businesses on issues such as discrimination and diversity in the workplace. The life story of Shirley Sherrod is a fascinating one which must be shared. Therefore, we can expect to see her author several books.
Benjamin Jealous should be fired from his position on the NAACP. The way he handled the Sherrod fallout was disgusting and pathetic. Especially considering the fact that it is alleged that he was present when Sherrod gave her speech at the NAACP in March, 2010. The organization should be led by someone like Sherrod who has actually worked from the grassroots level all the way up; someone who can restore relevance and purpose to this important organization.
Shirley Sherrod’s glass is not half-empty, it’s half-full.