When Rev. Jesse Jackson held the first Wall Street Project Economic Summit in 1997, Bill Clinton was president, the Black unemployment rate was 10.5 percent, Black median household income was about $25,000 and there were 823,000 Black-0wned businesses in the United States, according to U.S. Census Bureau information.
Two decades later, as Barack Obama has exited the White House, Black unemployment is at 7.7 percent, Black median household income is at $53,000 and now there are 649,000 Black-owned businesses in the country. It’s been a difficult tapestry to figure out and Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition is continuing to press for more equality in access to capital and opportunity.
At the summit, beginning Wednesday in New York, Jackson says an emphasis will be placed on teaching people what money is, how it works and how to use it for their benefit — and not just spending it.
“We can invest where we live,” Jackson said in a recent interview with EBONY.com, while visiting New York radio station WBLS, explaining why it’s important to understand the stock market. “We can greenline the redline zone with our capital. We need to have a development bank where we can have long term…loans for development. That money is on Wall Street.”
But Jackson said the summit will take measure of exactly how far Black America has come economically in the past 20 years.
“We’re looking to explore two decades of progress and where do we go from here,” said Jackson. “We have accomplished a tremendous amount over the past 20 years, however as we enter a new political landscape, we need to stay at the table to ensure true diversity is met.
At the summit, there will also be a focus on getting capital for entrepreneurs and the methods by which they can secure it. To Jackson, access to capital has long been an economic Civil Rights issue that he feels has not been adequately addressed. If budding businesspeople were able to get money to grow their enterprises, significant turnaround would eventually happen.
“Entrepreners have the ability, but don’t have access to capital,” Jackson explained. “The system is built on credit and trust. If you don’t have access to credit nor trust, it’s not likely you can get access to capital. As significant as ability is, effort and excellence means a lot, but inheritance and access means more, so we’ve been locked out.
“Many of our freedom allies, those who marched with us against brutality, would not necessarily be our equality allies as we fight for our share of resources and for our share of development,” said Jackson.
The Wall Street Summit runs Feb. 15-17 at New York’s Grand Hyatt Hotel. For more information go to: http://www.rainbowpushwallstreetproject.org/