Money Talks

The time has come to adapt the old civil rights agenda to a new economic power strategy. The NAACP and the National Action Network are leading the charge.

Under his direction both Hitchcock and Witherspoon Haithcox are guiding a rededicated initiative to monitor some of the nation’s leading billion-dollar industries. Their goal: to hold corporate America accountable for its actions or inaction toward minority employment, vending and executive management.

In sharp contrast to the NAACP, Sharpton has never been accused of being demure or, heaven forbid, holding his tongue. He made a name for himself in the 1980s by condemning New York City police attacks on African Americans. Though often chided by his detractors, Sharpton gained national attention and added credibility to his portfolio when he ran for the Democratic nomination in the New York mayoral primary against strong opposition. Though unsuccessful, he garnered a respectable percentage of the vote. Perhaps more important, he showed himself to be a player in New York politics with a healthy number of vocal supporters.

Sharpton will need that support now as his latest efforts have planted him squarely in the path of some of the nation’s largest advertising agencies. In between daily protests in front of One Police Plaza to condemn the cop-shooting death of unarmed African immigrant Amadou Diallo, Sharpton took part in the Board of Economists meeting to provide insight on his latest target: Madison Avenue. What started out with a racist memo from an advertising agency vice president condemning African American consumers as "suspects, not prospects" has since broadened into a deeper investigation revealing a long-entrenched practice of advertisers not paying equal advertising dollars to black-owned media outlets. Thanks in large part to Sharpton’s vocal ire, Vice President Al Gore, the Federal Communications Commission and several national advertising consortia are now looking into the issue.

"You would be shocked, given the demographics of New York [City], at the makeup of these advertising agencies," says Sharpton. "I’m used to going to corporations where they can at least bring out some blacks for you to see on the way in as you visit the CEO. But they don’t even have showcase blacks at these agencies on Madison Avenue. The advertising agencies are like the Rocky Mountains — the higher up you go, the whiter it gets." Adds Sharpton, "There’s no one of color at the top of these agencies and that’s the real problem."

To the casual outsider, it might appear that each organization is carrying out its respective battle in isolation, without heed for the other. Not true. As each group presses ahead against separate foes, it remains cognizant of the fact that while its cohort might have different aims for the moment, they have a common objective — increasing the economic clout of African Americans.

"Alliances between African American organizations with common purposes [are] critical to the economic empowerment of the overall African American community," says Hitchcock. "Each organization has different strengths. One might be strong on business development issues and another on enhancing equity ownership. We rely heavily on other organizations, so we are extremely pleased that Rev. Sharpton’s group

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