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Al Sharpton targets Harvard alum Bill Ackman over criticism of school's ex-president, DEI

Rev. Al Sharpton's civil right activism group, National Action Network, is holding a protest outside Harvard alum Bill Ackman's New York City office on Thursday.

Rev. Al Sharpton's civil rights activism group, National Action Network, plans to picket outside billionaire Harvard graduate Bill Ackman's New York City office on Thursday in protest of the influential alum's pressure campaign to oust ex-Harvard President Claudine Gay and his criticism of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives.

Sharpton announced Ackman would be the target of his group's next demonstration following the resignation of Gay, who stepped down Tuesday after months of criticism over Harvard's handling of antisemitism on campus and amid mounting allegations of plagiarism in her scholarly work.

"President Gay’s resignation is about more than a person or a single incident," Sharpton said in a statement. "This is an attack on every Black woman in this country who’s put a crack in the glass ceiling. It’s an assault on the health, strength, and future of diversity, equity, and inclusion – at a time when Corporate America is trying to back out of billions of dollars in commitments. Most of all, this was the result of Bill Ackman’s relentless campaign against President Gay, not because of her leadership or credentials but because he felt she was a DEI hire."

Sharpton is no stranger to protests against businesses. In spring of 2023, Sharpton said he was putting McDonald's "on notice" and threatened protests against the fast-food chain if it did not adequately address accusations of racial bias. In 1995, Sharpton led protests against Freddy's Fashion Mart in the Harlem section of Manhattan. Fred Harari, the owner of the shop, evicted a subtenant, a black-owned record store, at the behest of the property's owner, United House of Prayer, a black Pentecostal church. Sharpton led the protests and at one point said, "We will not stand by and allow them to move this brother so that some White interloper can expand his business." On Dec. 8, 1995, a man entered Freddy's, shot and killed eight people and set the building on fire. 

Ackman, the CEO of Pershing Square Capital Management, began speaking out against problems on Harvard's campus after 34 student organizations signed a statement issued by the Harvard Palestine Solidarity Groups that began by blaming the "Israeli regime" for "all the unfolding violence" in the hours after the Hamas terrorist attacks on Israel Oct. 7.


The Harvard megadonor then spearheaded a campaign calling for Gay, University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill and MIT President Sally Kornbluth to "resign in disgrace" following their controversial appearances at a House committee hearing on the rise of antisemitism on college campuses on Dec. 5, when all three refused to say that calling for the genocide of Jews on their respective campuses breached their rules and amounted to harassment. Magill stepped down within days.

In the aftermath, Ackman also suggested in a social media post that Gay had landed her job due to Harvard's DEI policies and criticized the practice of narrowing candidate pools by refusing to consider some applicants based on criteria like race and gender.

Harvard's governing board defended Gay for weeks against rising calls for her ouster following her testimony before the House but finally accepted her resignation this week as more accusations of plagiarism in her work surfaced.


In reaction to Gay tendering her resignation, Ackman said it was time for MIT's Kornbluth to follow suit. He went on to call for the resignation of the Harvard board members who supported keeping Gay in place for so long and argued that Harvard's DEI policies are at the root of the school's problems.

"The National Action Network will show Ackman that his attacks on DEI, President Gay, and Black Americans have consequences," Sharpton said in his statement. "This Thursday, our team will picket outside of his office so New Yorkers, his investors, and Corporate America can see Bill Ackman for who he is. If he doesn’t think Black Americans belong in the C-Suite, the Ivy League, or any other hallowed halls, we’ll make ourselves at home outside his office."


When reached by FOX Business for reaction to NAN's planned noon demonstration, a spokesperson for Ackman and Pershing declined to comment.

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