updated 8/20/2006 2:32:40 PM ET 2006-08-20T18:32:40

Many black youths fall under a spell of “gangster mentality,” preventing them from becoming leaders and making a positive impact in politics, the Rev. Al Sharpton said.

The civil rights activist faulted Hollywood and the record industry for making “gangsterism” seem cool and acceptable.

“We have got to get out of this gangster mentality, acting as if gangsterism and blackness are synonymous,” Sharpton said Thursday at the annual conference of the National Association of Black Journalists.

“I think we’ve allowed a whole generation of young people to feel that if they’re focused, they’re not black enough. If they speak well and act well, they’re acting white, and there’s nothing more racist than that.”

‘Let’s work together’
The key to leadership is taking the initiative to change things, Sharpton said. He said his National Action Network is just one group willing to help young black leaders get into politics.

“Nobody broke in my house in Brooklyn and dragged me out the projects and made me a leader, I wanted to do that. Clearly, we would work with young people who want to do the work,” he said.

Lottie Shackelford, vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, said during the same panel discussion that the time is ripe for getting more young black people involved.

“So many young folks are waiting to be asked, or they say they want others to move so they can gain a slot, and I say, there’s room for everybody. Let’s work together,” she said.

Sharpton, who competed in several Democratic primaries during a 2004 presidential bid, said he might run again in 2008 but will decide after this November’s elections.

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