November 2000 - Best known as a civil rights leader for the African-American community, Jesse Jackson has a history of involvement in economic issues. Moreover, his national organization Rainbow/PUSH Coalition plans to expand its membership to other minority groups, including Hispanics.
Rainbow/PUSH has the goal of making "corporations stop the formula of targeting us for consumption and then boycotting us," in the words of Mr. Jackson. The coalition's Wall Street Project works to open opportunities in the financial sector, with similar efforts in the telecommunications field and among the high-tech firms of Silicon Valley.
Chee Chee Williams, director of the Wall Street Project in New York, says she is interested in working with Hispanic CEOs for the International Trade Bureau, a group of minority business owners and staffers who push for trade agreements with corporations and fairness in government contracting procedures. Rainbow/PUSH's main economic goals include more minorities on the payrolls, in the boardrooms, and on the supplier lists of major corporations.
After his involvement in Martin Luther King Jr.'s civil rights movement, Mr. Jackson started PUSH (an acronym for People United to Save Humanity) in 1971 to advocate for economic and educational opportunities. In 1984, he founded the National Rainbow Coalition to deal with political empowerment and public policy issues. The two organizations merged in 1996. Mr. Jackson's involvement with the Hispanic community ranges from his support of Cesar Chavez's union-organizing efforts to agreements between his organizations and LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens) and the National Council of La Raza.
HISPANIC BUSINESS Senior Editor Joel Russell spoke with Mr. Jackson via his cellular telephone as he traveled from New York to Philadelphia in the heat of a hectic political year.
HB: Tell us the background on the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition's 10-point plan for multiculturalism.
JJ: I think historically, African Americans and Hispanics, and to a lesser extent women, have been locked out of America's corporate growth. Of course, those locked out were limited in their growth. And for those that did the locking out, it limited their growth, too. Because African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, other minorities, and women represent money, talent, resources, and access. So by keeping them out, the corporations lost something. With Hispanics, the limits were done under the guise of language; with blacks, skin color; with women, gender stereotypes. The point is this: Whenever the lines have come down, tremendous growth has occurred. Baseball, prior to Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente, was a lesser game. Since the color barrier came down, the major leagues have gone from 13 teams to 32 teams; baseball itself has grown from a national pastime to an international sport. The game has gotten bigger and better, because inclusion is value-added. It leads to growth. And that would be as true in every level of the entrepreneurial culture as it is on the athletic field.
HB: Beyond joining the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, how can Hispanic entrepreneurs participate in the plan?
JJ: Indicate a desire to participate. We reach out to markets, private and government. We write letters or make visits to officials. We hold seminars to teach entrepreneurs about those markets. And so the number of Hispanics and blacks in business as trading partners has increased. They met each other at our seminars. We have Hispanics involved in these efforts – Tom Castro [CEO of El Dorado Communications], Dennis Rivera [president of the National Health and Human Service Employees Union], and Leo Guzman [CEO of brokerage Guzman & Co.] in the Wall Street Project. In every bureau of our organization, we have intentionally involved blacks and Hispanics together.
HB: Hispanic CEOs are probably most familiar with the chamber of commerce model of nonprofit organization. Rainbow/PUSH has a national profile, but you also have local bureau offices. How do these function?
JJ: All national and international companies have local outlets. In telecommunications, for example, the companies are everywhere. Like any entrepreneur, we meet them on the level they function.
HB: But how does your organization help members on the local level? Does it organize events or rallies at that level?
JJ: On the national level, we have a meeting every Saturday morning at Rainbow/PUSH headquarters in Chicago to discuss our agenda. But let me give you an example. As a businessperson, you may be working on, say, a water project. Some of our members might call, saying, "We have made a presentation to the water board, we have followed the procedures, we have done our due diligence. But we can't get through. We're getting rejected." We would mobilize and call the water district or other involved parties. We would give that service boost for that ally. Now, we wouldn't know of the situation if that member hadn't called. In that sense, more members make for more inclusion.
HB: Concerning the Silicon Valley Project and the Media and Telecom Project, why have you targeted those specific industries?
JJ: African Americans and Hispanics are such heavy users of telecommunications, and they [the companies in the industry] have to go before the FCC. By law, they have to include us. We try to get our allies involved in those [telecom] deals – spin-offs, or suppliers, or ancillary deals. In those industries, we find qualified persons who were never included. Given the amount of these services we consume, we want access. As for Silicon Valley, it is the engine of growth in our economy right now. We did a study on the top 50 corporations in Silicon Valley. It identified only three people of color on their boards. At the time, Apple Computer had a big ad campaign showing photos of Jackie Robinson, Cesar Chavez, and Miles Davis. So you'd think, well, they're going after minorities, right? The directors were all white. I thought, "This apple has a worm in it!" The situation in that industry merits our attention.
HB: Anything else you'd like to add, Reverend Jackson?
JJ: Years ago, we did a joint deal with LULAC [League of United Latin American Citizens] and Southland Corp. We got a certain number of 7-11 franchises and divided them between black and Hispanic entrepreneurs. We have tried to involve Hispanics in our bureaus. Dennis Rivera serves [as co-chair] on our board, and that's not by accident. We mean to keep building coalitions.
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