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Al Sharpton delivers pep talk to Northwestern's high school seniors

The now graduates

Erick Johnson | 6/5/2014, 4:11 p.m.

Civil rights leader Al Sharpton visited Miami Northwestern Senior High School Monday and delivered a stirring message to encourage high school graduates to pursue big dreams as they embark on new phases of their lives.

Just one day before their graduation ceremonies at the Jackie Gleason Theatre of the Performing Arts on Miami Beach, Sharpton visited the school as part of Education for a Better America, a national non-profit organization designed to empower neighborhoods with strong educational programs.

The visit capped a successful year at Northwestern, an inner-city school that achieved its first “A” grade after a four-year turnaround. Once on the verge of being closed by the state, Northwestern had one of the poorest academic record in the Miami-Dade County. Today, the educators, parents and alumni are celebrating the school’ high tests scores and graduation rates.

They invited Sharpton to speak to about 360 seniors in the school’s auditorium where he urged them to continue achieving despite facing many social and economic challenges against them.

“You have to be head of your own fan club,” Sharpton said.” If you believe in yourself, no one will doubt you. ”

Sharpton’s visit to Northwestern included a tour of various departments at the school. He was accompanied by school principal Wallace Aristide and Mark Rosenberg, president of Florida International University, which sponsors a dual enrollment program where Northwestern students can pursue college credits while still in school. The program is credited with boosting college enrollment among the school’s seniors.

Also on hand was Florida Memorial University President Dr. Roslyn Clark Artis and Bishop Victor Curry of New Birth Baptist Church Cathedral of Faith International, a church whose origins began at Northwestern. State Sen. Dwight Bullard also attended the event.

Later that afternoon, Sharpton visited Booker T. Washington.

During his speech, Sharpton recalled growing up in a housing project in Brownsville, Brooklyn with his mother, a maid who was forced to scrub floors after her husband left to father a child with Sharpton’s half-sister, a reality that drew gasps from the audience.

After speaking out against several high–profile, racially-charged cases in New York, Sharpton formed the National Action Network to increase voter registration and education. In 2011, he became host of Politics Nation, a news show that airs on MSNBC every Wednesday night.

“I learn to use doubts to inspire me rather than allow myself to go into depression,” Sharpton said. “You may not had too many choices in the way you got here, but you can choose the path to your future.”