By Glenn Reedus
While the phrase “the struggle continues” is a familiar one, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr. sees the struggle as an evolutionary process that now must be taken to Wall Street and the financial markets.
Jackson, founder of the civil rights organization, Rainbow/PUSH, said the struggle is in its fourth stage. He explained the thrust today is closing the economic disparity that exists between Wall Street and the MLK avenues around the country. His organization, along with the Citizenship Education Fund set a program in motion January 15, 1997 to eliminate the multi-billion-dollar trade deficit between Wall Street and minority communities.
The initiative, tagged The Wall Street Project will have its 19th annual summit in New York City, N.Y. February 16-19. A major objective of the project is to “increase the hiring of minorities, the appointment of more minorities corporate boards, and the allocation of capital to minority companies,” Jackson noted.
He also refers to this mission as the four fundamental stages of the struggle, and the latest is the fourth stage. The preceding stages involved the abolition of slavery, followed by ending “legal apartheid’ or segregation and the third was the right to vote.
“But the fourth stage, beyond freedom is equality. That means access to capital and access to technology. I meet so many people who are so brilliant. They are inventors, scientists and technicians, but they cannot get start-up capital. They cannot get lenders to deem them creditworthy.
The long-time civil rights leader related the story of a former AT&T employee who had 20 years of experience with the company. “She had the tech background and wanted to strike out on her own but couldn’t get the capital needed to do that.” Jackson recalled.
“The Wall Street Project is about access to banks and financial institutions,” the one-time aide to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. noted. He compared minority access to capital and opportunities at tech companies to the recent ruckus about the absence of Black nominees at the recent Academy Awards nomination. “The Oscars is typical where you have a college of ‘choosers’ who can’t even choose the greatest African-American actors. The same is true with Silicon Valley. We can do the work, but can’t get the jobs,” he emphasized. Rainbow/PUSH’s decision several years ago to buy stock in the major tech firms gave Jackson and supporters opportunities to speak at the companies’ annual meetings. Additionally, they received the usual information stockholders get, including details about performance, profits and diversity.
He offered that during a meeting with Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, Cook discussed that prior to the Wall Street Project, “we (tech firms) have not been challenged to do better with minority, particularly African-American hiring.’ Jackson said “he who will be free must strike the first blow. We struck that blow.”
Jackson compared the executives of tech companies to the staunch segregationists of the old South noting that the tech execs we0re the exact opposite. “They were somewhat embarrassed for their brands and didn’t take old hardlines stances.”
Silicon Valley companies are shortchanging non-tech minority companies too, according to Jackson. He said Black-owned law firms, ad agencies, marketing and public relations companies, as well as a number of other small businesses show up in the zero column when the tech companies’ totals in those areas are added.
“We must be persistent. It is not a talent deficit we are looking at. It is a deficit of opportunity. We have young whites who come out of Stanford and can get hired right away,” adding experienced Black applicants, if hired will likely end up reporting to the recent grad. “This is a great frontier we must conquer,” Jackson opined.
Black people “have economic leverage, and we have to use it scientifically,” Jackson said. He noted that means strong negotiating and one of the factors must be educating inner city youth to do jobs and be hired by the tech companies, rather than those companies importing workers from other countries.