Rev. Jesse Jackson and Top Leaders Address the State of Civil Rights at Rainbow PUSH Coalition 39th Annual Conference
CHICAGO (June 17, 2010) – The state of civil rights was the focus the 39th annual conference of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition and Citizen Education Fund which was held June 12-June 16 at the Hyatt McCormick Place in Chicago. The conference, themed “A More Perfect Union – The State of Civil Rights”, focused on leveling the playing field for women, minorities and the underserved through the enforcement of civil rights laws, economic justice, and diversity and inclusion.
The event included Obama administration members U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin and Deputy Undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Education Robert Shireman. Other participants included: Illinois States Attorney Lisa Madigan; Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA); Illinois Senator Roland Burris; Congressman Bobby Rush (D-IL); NAACP President Ben Jealous; Judge Greg Mathis; Rev. Otis Moss; Dr. Diane Ravitch; Dr. Julianne Malveaux, president, Bennett College for Women; and athletes such as NBA Hall of Fame member Isaiah Thomas and Spencer Haywood.
The conference began with Rev. Jackson, NAACP President Ben Jealous and elected officials weighing in on the state of civil rights in urban America.
“We are no longing facing horizontal inequality, where blacks and white are not able to share the same drinking fountains and lunch counters,” said Rev. Jackson. “Today we are seeing vertical inequality. We see disparities in healthcare and the attack on urban centers. Today we are freer but still unequal.”
"We're fighting two battles right now . . . to rescue main street and rebuild back street. Most of our cities were already in a state of recession before the recession," Jealous said. "The federal government must be forced to make a decision publicly on whether or not [budget] deficits are more destructive than massive joblessness."
Students rallied for student loan debt relief at a town hall meeting during day two of the annual conference. Students and panelists raised questions and shared ideas about making college more affordable and more accessible.
Keynote speaker Deputy Undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Education Robert Shireman answered questions and explained the Obama administration’s recent changes to the student aid process and student loan repayment policies.
“We have four points of concern,” said Bradley Akuburio, a junior from Northwestern University. “We need the interest rates on students loans reduced. We need protection from tuition hikes. We need protection from the effects of state budget cuts and we need jobs after we graduate so we are able to repay our student loans.”
The president of Bennett College for Women, Dr. Julianne Malveaux, said higher education is in a state of emergency.
“We have to combat the current mindset of our nation,” she said. “We have bailed out the banks but our students have not seen that same kind of relief. It is time to invest in education again like we did when were competing with the Russians during the “Sputnik era”.
On June 14, KFC announced a renewed commitment to diversity. KFC President Roger Eaton shared the company’s new commitment and outlined plans to grow the number of minority franchisees, employees and suppliers in its system and plans to increase marketing dollars spent with minority-owned agencies.
“At KFC, we are very proud of our diversity track record and the progress we’ve made over the years, but we realize there is more we can do,” Eaton said.
Specifically, the company has committed to the following:
- Hiring a diversity director whose sole responsibility will be to ensure the new targets are met
- Creating more business and employment opportunities for minorities by increasing the number of franchise minority-owned restaurants by 33% by the year 2016
- Establishing a minority capital program that will facilitate access to capital and recruit and aid prospective minority franchisees, with a particular emphasis on African American and Hispanic business owners
- Growing employee diversity by increasing minority representation at the director level and above by 25% by the year 2016
- Partnering with minority-owned marketing firms to develop marketing plans to best reach minority customers and to commit up to 10% of KFC’s national media funds
- Achieving 10% minority and women supplier purchasing by the end of this year and increase that to 12.5% over the next five years.
Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) was present for the announcement and connected the lack of access to capital for women and minorities to huge wealth disparities between races.
“An Institute on Assets and Social Policy study found that middle-income white families hold many more assets (stocks, bonds, business interests, real estate other than primary residence) than do high-income black families and that many black families hold more debt than assets, and at least 25 percent of black families have no assets to turn to in times of economic hardship,” she stated. “It is time for us to renew our efforts to bring about opportunities for women and minorities. Over the past 10 years we have dropped the ball. We need to be making announcements similar to this one once or twice a week. I am pleased with KFC and Roger Eaton because he has set specific targets that can make a difference.”
During the annual scholarship gala, Rev. Jackson and other members of the Greensville 8, the Greensboro 4 and Earnest Green, the first to graduate from the Little Rock 9, were honored for their courage in the fight for integration that lead to the Civil Rights Movement. Also being honored were Congressman John Lewis, Dr. Julian Bond and Dr. Julius Garvey and Marcus Garvey Jr., sons of Pan-Africanist, Marcus Garvey. Rev. Jackson was jailed 50 years-ago as a college freshman for trying to use a public library as a student in his hometown of Greenville, SC.
“Our courage and convictions ran deep,” said Franklin McCain explaining why he and three friends decided to sit a whites-only lunch counter in North Carolina. “We were angry. Our parents faced segregation, now we were facing segregation and it was time we stood up for something that mattered. We were just ordinary people but this was about dignity and respect.”
Also during the conference Rev. Jackson announced a trip to New Orleans, Louisiana as he stood with fishermen from the Gulf Coast whose businesses have been devastated by the Gulf Coast oil spill
“As residents of the Golf Coast, many of us have not fully recovered from Hurricane Katrina and other storms,” said Byron Encalade, president the Louisiana Oystermen Association. “Since the BP drilling disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, people in the fishing and maritime communities across the Gulf Coast from Florida to Texas have received misleading, factually inaccurate, and sometimes deceptive information.”
Commercial fishermen, seafood works and residents of maritime communities in the Gulf are demanding that BP be held responsible and accountable; proper oversight from the President and Congress; immediate compensation; forbearance of loan repayments; a renewed priority on local communities; and for all information and document to be translated for multicultural maritime communities.
The conference, which drew several thousand attendees to its numerous events, is a time of reunion for many activists and Rainbow PUSH Coalition supporters. One special moment occurred during the women’s luncheon when Rev. Jackson honored the little known civil rights pioneer Claudette Colvin. She resisted Alabaman bus segregation by refusing to move from her seat nine months before Rosa Parks made her historic stand, but Colvin’s case was not taken on by black leaders because of her image as a lower-class, dark-skinned, unmarried, pregnant woman.
When Claudette Colvin stepped up to the podium to receive her award, she said, “I feel like James Brown’s song, I Feel Good!”
Ms. Colvin credited her parents and teachers for giving her the understanding to fight against Jim Crow. She said she studied Negro history and she was taught in an unorthodox way since they had no books. The incident on the bus occurred when she was already frustrated about some of the discriminatory atrocities, including a family member who was on death row. “I just said they picked the wrong day to pick on me.”
When asked by a reporter why she did not get up, she said she told her, “I couldn’t move because history had me glued to the seat.” She said it was like Sojourner Truth was on one side and Harriett Tubman was on the other pushing her back down in her seat when she thought about getting up.”
She concluded by saying,” I am so proud that God has left me here long enough to tell the story. … I don’t know what to say, “Hallelujah!” I am just happy to say to African American children, you are somebody and not inferior.”
The Rainbow PUSH Coalition is a progressive organization devoted to protecting, defending and expanding civil rights to improve economic and educational opportunity.