First of all, allow me to apologize for not making day one of Rev. Jackson's stellar Annual Wall Street Project, however, I was in Philadelphia celebrating the Eagle's first ever Superbowl victory. Now, I know there are among you who say, " I thought we were boycotting the NFL," and my response is, "Yes, I boycotted. I did not watch the game - but that did not stop me from wishing victory for the Eagles. And they definitely did win! And the celebration shut the whole city down as three million people converged on Philadelphia to join in the ceremony - no bus, train, tax, Uber, Lyft - and walking??? - fuggeddaboudit!!! Banks, schools and City Hall closed for the day! People started showing up as early as 2:00AM to get key positions along the parade route, and did not disperse until well after 6:30PM!
Again, Kudos and congrats to the Philadelphia Eagles!! - FLY EAGLES FLY!!
So, my usual two day coverage is somewhat truncated. Somewhat truncated just means that there was still so much stuff to cover, so much vital information to relate that I literally need to do it in two parts to get all the salient information out in a meaningful way.
As usual, Jesse Jackson's 21st Annual Wall Street Project was full of information and opportunities; and those who attended have benefited greatly from the participation and interaction from people from all over the diaspora, as well as business and industry moguls who lent their time and talent to providing them with essential information and resources. This year's theme of the Wall Street Project Economic Summit was: “50 Years After the Assassination of Dr. King: The Struggle Continues for Freedom, Equity, and Inclusion in Corporate America
The two-day event was held at the Sheraton New York Times Square and began with Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr. declaring African-Americans are in the fourth stage of the Civil Rights Movement when it comes to diversity and inclusion on corporate boards. “The struggle continues. Blacks are still in need of achieving true economic parity and inclusion,” stated Rev. Jackson. "We need greater access to capital, credit, formal education and higher wages because many Blacks are the working poor," he stated quietly, as he opened the session to participants from all points of the diaspora.
I was happy to be there, front and center, early Friday, February 9, to honor and support this iconic brother, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr, who has not flinched, faltered nor failed in his efforts to wake us up and keep us informed. Rev. Jackson has maintained that posture and policy over the span of more than 50 years, despite the ignorance on our own parts about the role we need to play in controlling and being involved in Wall Street; despite their efforts to prevent us from getting our just due. Rather than making the Bull of Wall Street a sacred cow, Rev. Jackson has consistently taken it by the horns and laid it open to us. Most Black people don't realize that the early purpose of the "stock market" was not in selling paper stock; but selling us as stock, much as they used it for selling cattle. To that end, the Stock Market, and Wall Street owes as us as much as they own their current shareholders.
This year's event was so well attended the rooms were nearly standing room only - with diplomats from Africa in one seminar; Black Board members of Fortune 500 companies in another; Women's forum in another, and multimillion dollar Black investors in yet another. A testament to the efficacy of what Rev. Jackson is trying to do, even in the age of T-rump.
Black Enterprise partnered with Rev. Jackson's Wall Street Summit to present a panel on "Progress, Potential and the Power of Minoriities on Corporate Boards." In this session, a panel of distinguished corporate executives and corporate board members featured panelists Charisse Lillie, Founder and CEO, CRLConsulting, John Rogers, CEO and Chief Investment Officer, Ariel Investments, and Christopher J. Williams, Chair, CEO and Founder of the Williams Capital Group, LP. The session Moderator was Derek Dingle, Senior Vice President and Editor-in-Chief, Black Enterprise.
|L-R:Derek Dingle, Dr.Julianne Malveaux, Dr. Charisse Lillie, John Rogers, Rev.Jesse Jackson, Sr., Christopher Williams|
Moderator, Derek Dingle stated, "We have to make sure that we remind each other of the responsibilities that we have, because I'm pretty sure that it's up to us. It's not just going to magically change unless we fight for each other once we're there. It also helps to create some role modeling to remind each other that we're doing the right things and you guys recognize it, and openly encourage others who come along to do the right thing in their roles – and show they can be successful and do the right thing at same. So Cherisse/Chris, to John and Reverend Jackson's point, how do we make that happen? And after the point how do we measure the impact of their participation on board. And then, having said that what specifically have you been able to do in your capacity for African Americans for greater participation on those boards that you've been a part of? You know we've had a poll for looking at African Americans to represent us on these boards and look for an impact of an African American on that board make a difference when looking at the metrics that count. The access to the C-Suite roles and roles that count by gaining access to power. We've always talked about having African Americans on board, but the right African Americans on board. How do we go about making sure that we have the right African Americans representing us on these boards?"
Dingle continued, "We have to make sure that we remind each other of why we're there. When we do the right thing and are rewarded, it reminds each other of what happens we do the right thing. They are recognized for being successful and are also recognized for speaking out. How do we measure the impact of African American participation on boards? And then having said that, what specifically have you been able to do in your role to change the equation for African Americans, either in terms of managerial positions, diversity or greater community partnerships (because it's reciprocal trade) on behalf of the companies that you have served on the boards of?"
Cherisse Lilly responded, "I think that in terms of measurable impact are the things that you are talking about - is this company a company that does business with diversifiers? Is this company in terms of its community development investing in the local and national organizations that are focused on diversity. And then, also, looking at the board governance issue, do you see that there are more African Americans that are on that board? And I have been on all the boards to which I belong, very vocal. I am serving on the conversation committee – been very vocal about making sure there is diversity in terms of talents of people who are considered for senior positions; we are also talking about making sure that the recruiting company we are using know that we care about diversity and are acting in line with our goals and wishes. And also asking those questions when it comes to statistics, because statistcs can be confusing if you focus only on diversity, and not looking at what's happening in terms of what is happening in terms of African American community, what is happening in terms of Latinos, what's happening in terms of women? You can get statistcs that sound like the company is doing a really good job; from where you're coming from, but not really measure up. When you go below the surface it's another thing. Additionally, when you are sitting in a board room you have to make sure that you're looking at the slicing and dicing and they are really giving you the true stats in terms of what's going on in the community."
|DR. CHARISSE LILLIE AND DR. JULIANNE MALVEAUX|
John Rogers, "I've been on the Urban League board in Chicago for about 35 years; and it literally took me 25 years to start to ask, when we went to our governance committee meetings, when we put some new African American on the board, what's their history of fighting for us in their prior jobs? What's the history of the company they're representing? Do they work with minority owned businesses, and do they have minority executives? In the past we had put people on the board who had written a check, or had made some contribution, but never thought to ask does that company, or that individual have a history of fighting of us? So now, if I'm on a governance committee of a board, and we're going to hire an executive recruiter to go out and search for diverse board members, I am going tell that executive recruiter to look at the history of those individuals you're looking at to see whether they care about us or not. Not just put them on because they've got a Black face - it doesn't make any sense. It's actually kind of crazy, because when you put someone on the board whose gotten along, gotten ahead by excluding us - not thinking about us, not fighting for us - they're going to make things actually worse for our people once they're on the board. (Audience applauded). The CEO is thinking, hey everything's great - they've got a Black board member, they're not pushing for anything; they don't have a tough agenda, we must be A-OK in all the things that we do, and so you're just a cover for things to stay the same."
Derek Dingle responded, "So you've got to insist to the guys that things can't stay the same. You've got to put the right people in these boards. Those who are going to stand in harm's way to ensure that there are opportunities for African Americans. We actually made a list, and we have 300 of the most powerful African Americans in corporate America. And you pull the achievement of those African Americans, but that's after going through what is considered the Fortune 1000, S&P 500, top priority companies; so the C-Suite, in terms of African Americans, is very, very thin. And, in terms of looking at line positions, it's virtually non-existent.
Christopher Williams: "You can't insure that - again, these boards will hire people that they either know, or are presented to them in some way. You have to make sure that you support and present those individuals who do have a history, or track record of at least showing a social responsibility and consciousness for the community. When I am on a board with a company, I make it clear that I would like to engage with the African American members of management. And I reach out to African American members of management to make sure they know that you are to serve as a sounding board, and also to serve as someone that they want to discuss a problem with that exists in the company, and make them feel comfortable. That makes the company better; and from my perspective I think it makes the company feel better and, I don't think it puts me in harm's way. If it put me in harm's way, that's a company I don't want to be associated with." Williams went on to say there is a need to look externally to supplier diversity. Where are the products and services coming from; and how are the contracts let out. You have to develop communication to see how they are reaching out to these companies so that you can make recommendations about them to the board. And once in a while you have one person who is just not going to do it. Since you're dealing with pensions, you have to make sure you do it in a thoughtful way. You have to reach into the organization to make sure you identify where there is going to be blockage points; so you can either build relationships or make sure you find a way to go around it."
Dingle postured that perhaps there are mid-level management that are not as committed to the process as those at the top. Insuring that there are consequences, or skin in the game to make sure that they are more prone to comply than to block progress.
Williams responded that it sometimes takes some kind of consequence or court order to make sure they are in compliance, or there can also be incentives or some sort of compensation to make it happen. "Look, all I care is that they make it happen. I can work with them and let them know that by being more inclusive, they are avoiding the appearance of a problem - it's better to have a record - internally or externally - to show that you are inclusive and the quality company that we know you are.
Dingle asked Charisse Lillie what she saw as the opportunity for a pipeline for African American board members leading possibly to the C-Suites. What can you use for your influence to bear on making that change within the corporation?
Charisse Lillie: "From a compensation standpoint, if you are on a board committee, where you are looking at what kind of succession planning and what kind of pipeline of opportunity has been created, there's a lot of information that the HR committee, and your executive committee are going to receive that will give you an indicator of whether or not that middle level of employees are getting opportunity. Sometimes, if you don't have the middle level, which exists in the company, the board can also be a pressure point of creating opportunities for external leadership - not always the best way. You have to exert leadership and have to be relentless. This is not a one time conversation; not a one time effort. You have to be consistent. This is a constant conversation that has to occur between you and the board members, as well as the CEO of the company."
Lillie concluded, "The fact that there are so few African Americans serving on board of major companies and corporations - and out of those who do, there are even fewer who are willing to take a stand for African Americans means there must be much more in the way the corporations plan for the future. The access to the C-Suite is important now more than ever as more and more Black Americans begin to take their place in the corporate realm. If we don't speak out and insist that it change, it's never going to change. We have the leverage to do it! If we Rev. Jackson or Rev. Sharpton took 100 people to a particular problem place like the MOMA, and told them we weren't going to stand for discrimination, it would stop right now!!!
One of the special presenters was none other than New York City Comptroller, Scott Stringer, who brought us up to speed on the many wonderful things he has accomplished during his tenure. He's always been devoted to the city as a whole, so it's no surprise that he's taken steps of departure from his predecessors. I've personally worked in the field with Mr. Stringer identifying and counting abandoned houses in Harlem and surrounding areas; and it's always interesting to see how enthused he becomes when he's tackling a project that can have a positive impact for the future of the city, or a community. He shared so much light on the future of New York City, the audience did not want to let him go. Rev. Jackson literally urged him to drop his afternoon agenda to remain and continue to enlighten us.
|New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer|
In 2014, NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer and the NYC Pension Funds called on the boards of 151 U.S. companies to disclose the race and gender of their directors, along with board members’ skills, to facilitate a dialogue regarding their board’s “refreshment” process. The goal is to increase transparency and accountability across the market and to increase diversity amongst boards. In this session, hear from the NYC Comptroller who will discuss boardroom accountability and all diversity platforms, including city spending on minority- and women-owned businesses.
Stringer: "It is such an honor to be here today at Rainbow/PUSH Let me say here today that I'm a lifelong New Yorker; I've been involved with government politics most of my life. One of the most interesting moments had was when then-state senator David Paterson (later Governor of New York) invited me to the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus in Albany, NY for a weekend. And I went. And he hooked me up, because I spent the whole week end. And this is what he did. He got me front row tickets to hear the Rev. Jesse Jackson; and I didn't sit down for the whole speech. It wasn't a short speech, but I didn't sit for the whole speech. And, so I have always been influenced by Rev. Jackson, never knowing that I would serve as comptroller. And, when Rainbow/PUSH went to Wall Street many years ago, and started to hold Wall Street accountable - that was before anybody knew to do that - I don't think people realize how controversial that was. It was not easy. He was criticized; people said, 'how dare you!' 'you don't go down where the bull is!" - and you don't talk about these issues, they stay below ground."
In focusing on diversity, Stringer stated, "It's not just a moral effort, it's actually a business imperative. The truth is that when you have diverse boards, the companies are stronger. As someone who invests $200 Million in pension funds, the problem with our boards today is that there are more who look like me; which is not a problem. But if everyone looks like me, and everyone went to private schools in Connecticut - which by the way is not me - grew up in Washington Heights; then there is something very wrong with that. For someone who represents 700thousand retirees - teachers, firefighters, policemen, doctors, nurses - we want them to win."
|Rev.Jackson with New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer Rev. Jackson is holding a copy of Stringer U Brochure - a Technical Training Program designed by the Comptroller to assist MWBEs|
He continued, enthusiastically, "There is a second reason for talking about corporate diversity is, because what we're seeing now is that there's a disconnect between the corporate board and the people who will come after them. Think about a person of color - a young woman - going to the best school, graduating at the top of her class, and comes to a financial institution with all of the hope in the world - right? The young woman goes up, climbs higher, reaches success - and suddenly the elevator gets stuck around the 10th floor. The ascendency to the C-Suite and the Corporate board is a dream. The reason they get stuck at the elevator, there is nobody at the top to open the door. And that has to change - and that is why we have, through the efforts of proxy access, demanded the right to run independent directors at companies around the country. Companies with all male "stales" force. What we have done in four years is we started with 6 companies to 450 - and we have put that marker in. And the way we are going to change corporate America is by taking this direct action. We have been supported by public pension funds around the country - from leaders like John Rogers to leaders like Rev. Jackson and Rev. Sharpton, we have built truly a national coalition."
Stringer continued by showing how New York City has set the example and tone in shifting their public pension funds, and started a new procurement protocol as well. Currently the City of New York boasts an $85 Billon budget, "we hire everybody!" he stated; but of that procurement spent, 4.9% goes to women and minorities - MWBEs. Stringer has developed a grading level to see how businesses are doing in their commitment and compliance. They are graded on the amount of spend they do with MWBEs, "and we have fundamentally changed the way the City of New York is working to better include the vendors and level the playing field." The grading system has been very successful, but just to stay on the up and up, the $100 million dollar agency has graded themselves to see how they measured up. "They first year I graded myself, I got a C - so we went to work. We had to rethink the way we thought about MWBEs." When he demanded that they get him from a C to a B to an A, they gave the same routine excuses, "It's hard. It's hard to find MWBEs."
Stringer wasn't buying it, "I've been in New York all my life, and see Black businesses all around - everywhere. Surely, in a city of 8 million people, somebody can do this work. We moved up to a B, and we're working to move up to an A, and we have demanded that the City of New York appoint a chief diversity officer - not just in City Hall reporting to the mayor; but a chief diversity officer for every single agency. We're talking about billions of dollars that we can create wealth in all of our communities. We've also pushed the city to use MWBE brokers for 25% of our trades now, and have invested more than $13 Billion in women and minority businesses."
Stringer then outlined his Diversity 2.0 Plan: "We have announced the next phase of our initiative to start planning to change the rules of the game. We sent letters to 150 companies to start squaring out who sits on the board, what their backgrounds are, and how they select board members. WE are the first pension fund in the nation to demand investment managers disclose diversity data. If they don't disclose it, NO MORE BUSINESS." (Audience - WOW!! Followed by applause) - No more business, it's over! Because we need the data and we need diversity plans to truly make our company worthy of giving them money to build our pension portfolios. This is about creating wealth in our communities. The reason some communities are able to fund big universities and charities is because they came through the financial industry. Financial industry is about wealth creation; and it seems to me that it's fair that every group of people, regardless of where they come from, regardless of what they look like, regardless of gender, should have the same opportunity to create their own wealth - because when you create your own wealth, most people end up giving back - making sure that where you come from is where you give back to. And that is true. And for me, when someone says grow Washington Heights, that's my pulpit, that's where I'm from. I want people to see that I've come back from where I started. And I want everybody to be able to give back to where they got their start, and be an example to those who live there. That's what this is about. That's what Rev. Jackson said 30 years ago, and that's why I'm here today. I will tell you that my next few years as comptroller was to get us to the highest level possible. It's not easy to break the mindset; it is very tough; it's very controversial, and we need a lot of work and to do it together."
|Joe Gonzalez and Roy Breckenridge who regularly attend and participate in the Annual Wall Street Summit|
One audience member asked whether or not they were concerned about being sued for demanding compliance, and Stringer responded, "It's been a tough and challenging year; but we are the first pension fund in the country to divest itself of the private prison investments." (Audience standing ovation). Additionally, he stated that there were three major city run agencies that have not come up to compliance in their levels of diversity, including Transit and Sanitation. They make up 60% of the City's employees, and their noncompliance has pulled the city's grade level down to a C. The focus is to get them into compliance within the upcoming year. According to Stringer, the next divestiture will be fossil fuels.
While some may call him an activist, Stringer considers himself a Fiduciary - a fiduciary has a person in a position of trust - "to fiduciate is being active - so when you see potential harm to that fund to that teacher, that senior citizen - whether it's climate change, or why we're investing in private prisons for no value, where we're helping make other people rich on other people's pain, I'm not afraid to tackle it. Here, I've come to this - and I mean this - Blessed are the civil rights activists. My role is different from Rev. Jackson - I'm a fiduciary. So if I know and I believe that corporate diversity makes a company stronger, and I don't see that diversity, we've talked about it, and that diversity's not helping, and I do nothing - am I a fiduciary?" [Audience: NO. ] I'm saying it, because it's been the same way for the past 50 or 60 years - and I do nothing to change it, then I'm not a fiduciary. We have taken a more aggressive approach; but for the last four years we've returned more than 13%."
Query: "Have you noticed any other comptrollers trying to follow in your lead? Blackrock said they were going to begin evaluating other countries according to their diversity and efforts; and how that relates to proxy season."
Stringer responded, "We went from 6 companies to 450 companies. We have also participated in hearings at the UN about these same issues. But what impresses me most is that the questions they are beginning to ask started years ago when the Rainbow/PUSH organization began asking them. It's taken this long for the rest of the world to catch up. We've just modernized it; built on it, but it's happening."
Stringer outlined some of the programs the City has in place to help MWBEs in procurement process and qualifying for contracts: "We have so improved this process over the last four years - we sit with you personally and go over your business. We have started Comptroller University, which is a university for minority and women owned businesses. We have MWBE University - not to be confused with T-rump University - this is free - we want no money, we're just here to help you (he distributed flyers called "Stringer University" - got no fees."
Query from audience member, "Are you going to take your model and try to connect with other comptrollers to try to create a critical mass throughout the nation?"
Stringer pulled out the "gray book" which had all the grade levels of the different agencies - primarily C's and D's. "We just publish the truth - the actual dollars spent - breaking down by structure, construction, and other services; we break it down by race and age - you could look at Black owned, Latino, Asian - it's all here for the world to see. And this is how we prod the agencies, because before everybody hid behind it. This is what we did with this guidebook - we sent out a mid-term report that the agencies could use. We give fair warning and analysis so that the agencies can see where they stand. And, yes, we think t should be a national model because there's procurement everywhere; but this is important. This is wealth creation - this is how it's done by spending with firms who hire locally."
|Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr.|
Rev. Jackson stated, "What made Montgomery especially meaningful was it raised up the scale to ride in the front of the bus everywhere. If it didn't, and you could only ride in Montgomery, but not n Birmingham, or any place else in Alabama, it wouldn't have had significance anywhere. What I'm concerned about is that we need you to help us raise up the scale. Once they saw what's possible, what's behind the wall, they couldn't hold them back. What I am trying to say that you are on point - you are on the point of what I'm trying to say. We need you to help convene as many comptrollers as possible. WE need you!"
[NOTE: As I listened to Stringer's speech, I couldn't help but think that this effort could not have happened under Bloomberg, who shifted all the wealth to his cronies. Whether or not they realize it, having Bill De Blasio as mayor has given Stringer the lefty he needed to try to reverse some of the economic bloodletting the city suffered under Bloomie - pushed a lot of people out of homes, jobs, communities - glad to see the effort is being made to reverse some of the damage.]
Some key take aways from the sessions:
“We have stalled with Black wealth because of public policy and downright old evil racism,” said Dr. Julianne Malveaux, President and Founder of Economic Education and J & M Malveaux Enterprises. Malveaux is also President of the Rainbow PUSH Excel, the education arm of the organization (and a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc - just had to interject that FYI).
“We have to stop looking outside our community for the support that’s inside our communities,” said Ron Busby, President and CEO, US Black Chambers.
Rev. Frederick D. Haynes, Senior Pastor, Friendship-West Church in Dallas, Texas stated, “Rainbow PUSH is saying to Wall Street: we are going to dismantle the structure and rebuild it again until all of us are included. The reason America is tilting is due to the fact that we (African Americans) have been left out of the structure for way too long.”
David Wilson, President, Morgan State University said, "I found my purpose at Morgan and what I enjoy most about the presidency is that every single day, every hour, I know that the work we are doing at Morgan is leading to a transformation, the true transformation, of a kid's destiny.” Morgan State has one of the most renowned technological design and development centers of any college or University in the US, and was noted by the BEYA awards for the high number of students graduating with engineering degrees.“I encourage the women in this room to be talking, if you start a business talk about it. If you think you might have some capital, start thinking about investing that capital because that’s what the access to opportunity is,” said Ita Ekpoudom, founder and CEO, Tigress Ventures.
"Don’t be afraid to ask for capital. In the Black community, we have a bad practice of not discussing money with each other,” said Michael Lythcott, entrepreneur and investor, Uplift Equity Partners.
"Don’t be afraid to ask for capital. In the Black community, we have a bad practice of not discussing money with each other,” said Michael Lythcott, entrepreneur and investor, Uplift Equity Partners.
NOTE: This is part one of the coverage - as indicated earlier, Part II will follow shortly
"There are no short cuts or sound bytes to real knowledge" - GDW
Stay Blessed &