Sharpton overbooks, cancels visit

Joe Lord

The Rev. Al Sharpton spawned moans and groans Monday from students and others, but their response was not caused by the comments of the civil rights activist and presidential hopeful.

It was what Sharpton didn’t say that bothered them.

Sharpton’s visit to Western was canceled Tuesday morning after it was discovered that he had booked an engagement the same day in Washington state.

He was supposed to speak Tuesday evening in Downing University Center and have breakfast and lunch yesterday in Garrett Center, said Saundra Ardrey, the government department head and the event organizer.

“They realized they had double booked, and he was going to try to get a flight in Tuesday,” she said.

That didn’t happened.

Ardrey said she hopes to reschedule Sharpton’s visit, but she had not had any contact with his staff as of yesterday morning. She may hesitate to make another commitment to Sharpton.

“I’m not sure they will follow through, because I had a firm commitment before,” she said. “You would think a minister would abide by his word.”

Sharpton’s staff accidentally booked the Western and Washington events on the same day, Ardrey said. She was told the mix up happened after records were lost in a fire in Sharpton’s New York City offices months ago.

Sharpton’s press secretary did not return numerous telephone calls.

More than 20 people showed up at DUC Theater to hear Sharpton speak. They were met by a pink sign stating the forum was canceled.

“I was ready to go,” Louisville freshman Cecil Kirby said. But he was disappointed Tuesday night.

Kirby said he was looking forward to hearing Sharpton’s views on the possible war in Iraq.

Georgetown freshman Shayla Overstreet said she found out Sharpton would be coming to campus weeks ago.

“I called my mom, called my grandmother,” she said. “They were really excited.”

She too was let down. Both Overstreet and Kirby said they’ll see Sharpton speak, if he ever makes it to the Hill.

Overstreet said she would also vote for him.

“It’s about time we had an African American in office,” she said.

Keyonda Harper, who teaches ROTC, said he was very disappointed that the speech was canceled.

Sharpton is a spokesman for black Americans, he said.

“I may not agree with everything he says, but it’s the big picture,” Harper said. “He’s our voice.”

The visit had been in the works for two months, Ardrey said. Venues, caterers and security for the events all had to be canceled.

Sharpton’s airline tickets and hotel room were being paid for by the government department, African American Studies and the Office of Diversity Programs, Ardrey said. He was not being paid an honorarium.

She did not know how much money had been lost on fliers and posters.

“I hoped that he would bring a different perspective to campus,” Ardrey said. “We would not necessarily agree with him, but he would give us something to think about.

“And I think that’s important if you’re going to be an educated person — that you know all opinions and can formulate your own beliefs.”

Sharpton’s comments, no matter what they were, could have spawned campus wide discussion about such topics as race relations, domestic policy and the possible war in Iraq, Ardrey said.

“I thought his speech would energize campus,” she said.

Reach Joseph Lord at [email protected]