The mood was both festive and businesslike at this year's Wall Street Project Economic Summit, hosted by the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, in New York City.
"For the first time," former U.S. President Bill Clinton opined during his speech last Thursday afternoon, "(minorities) are in a position to persuasively argue that the economic inequality, which exists in America today, is a severe strain on the economic future of all Americans."
Clinton was among a plethora of luminaries, politicians, and businessmen who gathered for the Rev. Jesse Jackson's three-day summit, which ran at the Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan from Jan. 30 through Feb 1.
Those in attendance, a veritable Who's-Who of the African-American corps d'elite, included former New York Gov. David Paterson, Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter, the Rev. Al Sharpton, fund manager John W. Rogers Jr., real estate mogul R. Donahue Peebles, Motown founder Berry Gordy, and attorney Willie E. Gary.
To edify those unfamiliar with the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, the group is the brainchild of Jackson who merged two of his foundations, Operation PUSH (People United to Serve Humanity) and the National Rainbow Coalition, in 1996 with a mission to, "protect, defend, and gain civil rights by leveling the economic and educational playing fields, and to promote peace and justice around the world."
This year's summit, the Coalition's 16th since inception, aimed to discuss numerous, serious economic issues that face minority communities today. Discussions ranged from the importance of computer science education, a topic President Clinton specifically voiced concern about at considerable length, to the impact that Hip-Hop music is likely to continue to have on the economy.
Despite the jam-packed agenda, the summit did take the time to celebrate the accomplishments of successful African-Americans such as Berry Gordy, who was honored at a gala Thursday night. On the eve of Black History Month, Jackson expressed a debt of gratitude owed to the Motown visionary by sharing a story about how Gordy, on several occasions, personally funded the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s payroll when times were tough.
"But," Jackson assured the audience, "Motown gave us more than money. It gave us an art form and a culture that lifted us beyond the boundaries and limits of the South...We've (now) won the White House twice...but before there was a politician on the stage, there were musicians (who)...color-crossed and (broke down) walls."