Special to the NNPA
For Chicago-based investor and philanthropist John Rogers, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition’s annual Wall Street Project in New York City is a must-attend event.
The three days of seminars and speeches is a chance for Rogers, the son of a Tuskegee Airman, and other African American professionals to share notes and strategies on how to break into, survive and ultimately thrive in the largely White world of Wall Street by gaining access to capital.
But for Blacks, Wall Street is riddled with potholes. Many of the country’s major hospitals, universities and other institutions with huge portfolios to invest “have never worked with Black firms,” Rogers said. “They have never had their ‘Jackie Robinson moment.’”
Even now, with a Black man in the White House, Wall Street, he said, can feel like “modern day Jim Crow.”
Rev. Jesse Jackson, founder and president of Rainbow PUSH, created the Wall Street Project nearly 20 years ago to spark that “Jackie Robinson moment” by providing an opportunity for participants to hear from and meet some of the biggest names in finance and politics. It was at this conference where Jackson first introduced Rogers, chairman of Ariel Investments, to the CEO of General Motors.
Today, GM is one of Ariel’s largest clients.
“There is no talent deficit,” Jackson said. “There is an opportunity deficit.”
The 19th annual conference will be held from Tuesday through Thursday at the Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel. The lineup includes John Thompson, CEO of Microsoft; Sheila C. Johnson, founder and CEO of Salamander Hospitality and co-founder of Black Entertainment Television; and U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY.
There will be panels on “Corporate Finance and Equity Syndicates,” “Corporate Board Diversity,” “Global Economic Expansion Opportunities” and “Historically Black Colleges and Universities: Reconnecting and Sustaining Relationships with Wall Street.”
There will also be two international sessions, featuring high-ranking U.S. and foreign government officials.
The Wall Street Project uses Operation Breadbasket’s model of research, education, negotiation and reconciliation to challenge corporate America to end its shameful, multi-billion dollar trade deficit with minority vendors and consumers. “Unless we knock on the right doors, the doors will not come open,” Jackson said.
For Jackson, the Wall Street Project is part of “the fourth stage of our struggle” for freedom and equity. The first stage was surviving the horrors of slavery, a 242-year sojourn. The second was “the season of Jim Crow and lynching when 4,500 African Americans were lynched.” The third stage was fighting for and winning the right to vote.
Those stages of the struggle left Black people “out of slavery, out of Jim Crow, with the right to vote” and almost “starving to death” because “we were denied access to capital.”
“We are free,” Jackson said. “But not equal. Effort and excellence means a lot. Inheritance and access means more.”
Access and opening doors is what the Wall Street Project is all about.
“We have never lost a battle we fought,” Jackson said. “And we have never won a battle we did not fight.”