The Wall Street Project: What Does It Mean For You?

How Jesse Jackson's focus on the financial markets could make a difference

Jesse Jackson has one of the most distinctive voices in the world. No doubt about it. His deep resonance and Southern drawl combine with an eloquent, almost acrobatic flicker of tongue to turn the most ordinary phrase into verse. You’ve heard him speak so often, in so many different venues, that you’re dead certain you could pull a whisper the man utters out of a crowded auditorium.

So of course you’re that much more embarrassed when you call his home one early morning in August to discuss the Wall Street Project. A voice, still gruff from sleep, answers the phone. You identify yourself, ask to speak to Jackson, and you’re asked to hold for a moment. A few minutes pass and suddenly you’re worried that your interview–delayed once already–is about to go down in flames again. The same voice returns to the phone. You identify yourself again and ask if Jackson is ready for your interview.

“This is the Rev. Jackson. How you doin’ man?”

So yes you’re embarrassed for a moment, and then a bit surprised. The usual fervor and strength from Jackson’s voice is notably absent. Perhaps it’s the early hour. Or more likely, Jackson sounds so mellow bemuse he’s still recovering from a serious bout with bronchial asthma. The ailment left him on the verge of respiratory failure and hospitalized for four days. And even worse for him, Jackson was under doctor’s orders not to leave the city of Chicago until he received a green light from his physician.

Or maybe the man is just tired. Jackson may be accustomed to a frenetic pace, but the last eight months have been a whirlwind of activity even for someone used to being on the go.

Jackson kicked off 1998 with a bang when, in January, he convened a three-day conference sponsored by the Wall Street Project. The objectives of his latest initiative are lofty. With a combination of “persuasion and pressure,” the Wall Street Project lobbies companies to hire and promote more minorities, name more minorities to corporate boards and award more business to minority companies.

One year earlier Jackson had opened up shop at 40 Wall Street to have an immediate presence in the heart of the financial district. But January’s reception marked the Wall Street Project’s true coming-out celebration and brought out the biggest heavy-hitters in the world of finance. Attendees included President Clinton, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan, Secretary of the U.S. Treasury Department Robert Rubin, New York Stock Exchange Chairman Richard Grasso, New York State Comptroller H. Carl McCall, Travelers Group Chairman and CEO Sanford I. Weill and Donald Trump. The gala reception, held on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, took place on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

Jackson followed up that inaugural meeting with “The Trillion-Dollar Roundtable” in July. Working in conjunction with Weill, this one-day powwow focused on creating new vehicles to increase investment in inner-city and rural communities and in minority-and women-owned businesses. Participants included NationsBank CEO Hugh McColl, Fannie Mae CEO

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