On February 15, the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. will enter the 20th anniversary of the Rainbow PUSH Wall Street Project Economic Summit. The conference will take place at the Grand Hyatt New York through February 17.
“It’s a struggle for economic equality,” Jackson, founder and president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, told NewsOne last week. “We’re free, but not equal.”
The Wall Street Project, founded in 1996 by Rev. Jackson and the Citizenship Education Fund, “challenges Corporate America to end the multi-billion dollar trade deficit with minority vendors and consumers, while working to ensure equal opportunities for culturally diverse employees, entrepreneurs and consumers,” according to its website. It officially launched on Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday in 1997.
The theme of this year’s conference is “Celebrating 20 Years: Strengthening and Redefining Inclusion and Equality in the Corporate Marketplace.”
The conference will feature “a whole range of business people who have learned to negotiate deals on Wall Street,” Jackson says, and will focus on technology, finance, sports, and generational diversity.
“I am impressed with the fact that we’re also bringing in young college students from HBCUs,” Jackson added. “We need to get them prepared for the science of this age, because those are the jobs and contracts and creativity of our future.”
NewsOne sat down with the Rev. Jackson last week at Interactive One headquarters in New York City’s Financial District to discuss this year’s summit. He also provided encouraging words for those fearful about the Trump administration:
NEWSONE: How do you hope this initiative aids minorities in Trump’s America?
The REV. JESSE JACKSON SR.: Well, I’m not sure this is America. He’s the president. He’s the captain of the ship. The wind determines which way the sails go, where the ship floats. We represent the wind of change, the wind of hope.
NO: The other day, President Trump sent out a tweet regarding the shootings in Chicago and mentioned “sending in the Feds.” You later sent out a tweet saying, “We need a plan, not a threat. We need jobs, not jails.” Can you elaborate on that?
JJ: Yeah, we do need [a plan]. Last year, 4,000 were shot,  were killed. We closed public housing. We closed 50 public schools and [lost about 5,000] teachers [in recent years]. We need federal housing, federal health care, federal job training, federal capital — not federal troops to address the issue of joblessness. We need investment, not military.
NO: You’ve obviously been a prominent figure in social justice and activism. There are a lot of people who are scared right now, especially young people who may not have experienced this sort of struggle and are unsure of what to expect in these next four years. Is fear legitimate?
JJ: Fear is legitimate, but then don’t let fear paralyze you. Turn fear into hope by fighting back. [Many joined] the big march on the 21st afraid women would lose the right to make a choice about their bodies. Others fear they might lose their right to a job or their right to vote might be in jeopardy. All that’s true, but turn that fear into massive power and go forward. The wind of change is not being held back by any one pilot.
NO: What advice do you have for those who may want to make a difference in their communities and exercise resistance, but aren’t sure where to start?
JJ: Number one, remember deep water does not drown you; you drown when you stop kicking. Don’t surrender. Study diligently. Strong minds break strong chains. And don’t give up hope. Don’t stop trying. Your best may not be my best, but your best is enough to keep you moving, and there will be massive clamoring. Every now and then we fight individually just to survive, but then collectively we fight to change things. We will outlast Trump. Keep the hope alive. We’ve been here before. We will survive this.
NO: What similarities or differences do you see between the 1960s Civil Rights Movement and today’s social movements like Black Lives Matter?
JJ: Well, in the ’60s we were down [but] had a sense of up, and there were those who were up, who had a sense of down. The day Dr. King spoke in Washington, from Texas across farther to Maryland, we couldn’t use the same public toilet. Black soldiers had to sit behind Nazi prisoners on American military bases. We couldn’t drink water at the fountain. We couldn’t use the toilet facilities, yet we were so determined. We had a sense that we were gonna make it somehow, and those who had been charged felt that we were coming. They fell down, we fell up.
We may be out, but we are not really out. We’re fighting back. As long as you fight with that hope and that determination, nothing can stop you. Suffering breeds character, character breeds faith, and in the end, faith will prevail.
Learn more about the 20th anniversary of the Rainbow PUSH Wall Street Project Economic Summit at rainbowpushwallstreetproject.org.