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Like Jackson, Sharpton has a knack for showing up, whether to demand justice for Sean Bell, a black man shot to death by New York police in 2006 just hours before his wedding, or to protest "Stand Your Ground" laws in Florida after the shooting death of Trayvon Martin by a neighborhood watch volunteer.
More than just sticking around, though, supporters say Sharpton has matured.
He is "no longer the jumpsuit-wearing, obese, long-locks guy, up and down the streets and in the hallways screaming," Daughtry said. "If you're going to be a man of the world you've got to be able to relate to all these kinds of people."
After combative relationships with a series of New York mayors, Sharpton and Michael Bloomberg shook hands before cameras during Bloomberg's first days in office in 2002. He speaks regularly with new Mayor Bill DeBlasio, although the death of Eric Garner on Staten Island has led to tense moments between the men, as Sharpton has questioned the tactics of Police Commissioner William Bratton. And he has cultivated a relationship with President Barack Obama, who spoke to Sharpton's National Action Network earlier this year.
Sharpton has also benefited from changes in cable news, which now routinely fills airtime with commentators with clearly political agendas. He has his own show and is a frequent guest on others' on MSNBC.
"He is this kind of modern American construct," said Syracuse University's Robert Thompson, an expert on television and popular culture. "He's in the middle of the story and then he comes back ... and he talks about the story."
That's likely to be the case again this week, when Sharpton returns to the airwaves following Brown's funeral.
It's proof, those who know Sharpton say, of his dexterity at manufacturing opportunity from adversity. Barrett recalls about 20 years ago, when he invited Sharpton to the bachelor party for a fellow reporter who had dug hard into the activist's checkered past.
"He shows up in a white suit, I'll never forget the day," Barrett recalls. "And I'm telling you that's because to him, yesterday's enemy is today's ally ... To The Rev, every day is a new day, and I can make myself anybody I want to make myself into and tomorrow only people like Barrett will remember."