By Don Terry
Special to the NNPA News Wire from the Rainbow PUSH Coalition
NEW YORK CITY – At the Rainbow PUSH Coalition’s recently concluded 19th annual Wall Street Project Economic Summit there was something for anyone concerned about fighting for racial and economic justice in corporate America. There were titans of tech and powerful politicians, investors and inventors, sports legends and music stars – from opera to Hip Hop – foreign ambassadors and big city mayors, shameful statistics and news to keep hope alive.
The three-day summit, which advocates that the resources and board rooms of Wall Street and Silicon Valley be opened to Black businesses and other minority groups who have been locked out, started on Feb. 16 with news that the Rainbow PUSH Coalition’s hard work is paying off. It was announced that Apple is including African American, Latino and disabled veteran-owned financial services firms in a whopping $10 billion to $12 billion debt offering.
Rev. Jesse Jackson, founder and president of the Coalition, praised the deal and the company, saying that Apple is continuing to show “tremendous leadership” in the movement to “democratize capital.” Indeed, since Rainbow PUSH intensified its campaign in 2014 to open up and diversify Silicon Valley, Apple has included African American, Latino and diverse firms as underwriters in three consecutive debt offerings.
Castle Oak, Loop Capital, Ramirez & Co., and Drexel Hamilton are part of the Apple offering. “When there is inclusion, there is growth and where there is growth, everybody wins,” Rev. Jackson said. “It’s just good business.”
Despite the good news out of Silicon Valley, Rev. Jackson cautioned, “we have a long way to go.”
“We brag about the new smart device that we use, but Facebook does not have one African American or Latino on its board,” he said. “Twitter does not have one. Our communities are barren, because we don’t have access to capital. When they lock us out, it’s like a one-eyed quarterback. They only see half the field.”
Slowly, the whole field is coming into view. Over the past year, with constant pressure from the Coalition’s PUSHTech2020 initiative, nine debt deals in the tech world have broken the color-line in what Chicago-based investor, philanthropist and longtime summit supporter, John Rogers, has called “a Jackie Robinson moment.”
Apple, HP, Intel, Qualcomm and Microsoft (which has over the years excelled at minority inclusion in their financial transactions) have all had such moments. Microsoft Chairman John W. Thompson, a graduate of Florida A&M, a historically Black university, was honored at the summit’s gala dinner and joined tech-journalist and entrepreneur, Navarrow Wright, and Rev. Jackson in a fireside chat about Thompson’s climb from IBM salesman to tech titan.
Sheila C. Johnson, founder and CEO of Salamander Hotels & Resorts and co-founder of Black Entertainment Television, and Bernard J. Tyson, Chairman and CEO, Kaiser Permanente, were also honored at the gala, which ended with the sublime sounds of Philip Bailey, lead singer and original member of Earth, Wind & Fire.
There were panels on financial education, reconnecting and sustaining the relationship between Wall Street and historically black colleges and universities, panels featuring urban mayors and policy leaders. During his panel, the mayor of Detroit, Mike Duggan, thanked Rev. Jackson for helping to secure $2 billion in federal funds for blight removal and neighborhood reconstruction in more than a dozen states. There were sessions on healthcare disparities, the business of Hip Hop and two panels about the vast resources and business opportunities for African Americans in Africa.
“We must expand the exchange between Africa and African Americans,” Rev. Jackson said, but not just to make money. “We must go to serve,” he said. “Power comes through service.”
The summit, as it has been for 19 years, was a “networkers” dream-come true. Hundreds of corporate executives, ministers, community activists, college students, minority entrepreneurs and United States Senator Charles Schumer of New York, the third-ranking Democrat in the Senate, attended. The senator joined a distinguished group of panelists – civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, litigator Tricia “CK” Hoffler, Dr. Reatha Clark King, chairman, National Association of Corporate Directors, Janice Mathis, executive director of the National Council of Negro Women and Nancy May, president and CEO, The BoardBench Companies – to discuss corporate board diversity.
Senator Schumer said he was “shocked” to learn that 74 of the Fortune 250 companies had no African American board directors. “I was educated here today,” he said. “And I’m glad that I was.”
“If you were to ask me,” the senator added, “I’d say by now every company would have one. One thing I’d suggest, maybe through the great work that Rev. Jackson does, I think that should be circulated among the senators. Getting the word out to people who have influence, it would matter to them.”
Senator Schumer concluded his remarks by recounting French historian Alexis de Tocqueville’s famous tour of the young Untied States in early 1830’s.Tocqueville said that America was “going to become the greatest country in the world.”
“He said there’s only one thing that could do this country in – racism,” Senator Schumer said. “He said it in 1835. It’s as true today as it was then.”