Rev. Jesse Jackson and Black Leaders Discuss The Wealth Gap at the Wall Street Project Economic Summit

The Rainbow PUSH Coalition and Citizenship Education Fund’s 22nd Annual Wall Street Project Economic Summit kicked off with a bang on Wednesday, with moving speeches and remarks from a host of dynamic leaders. Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., the founder of the Rainbow PUSH Wall Street Project, opened the three-day conference by addressing this year’s conference theme, “400 Years Later: Closing the Wealth Gap, Expanding Opportunity.” Although slavery was abolished 150 years ago, a stark disparity in wealth between black and white households continues to persist.

“African Americans have journeyed through four stages of a 400-year struggle,” said the civil rights leader. “Stage one – ending slavery after 246 years in bondage; Stage two – ending the Jim Crow era with its mass lynchings and terror campaigns; Stage three – securing the right to vote; and currently, Stage four – securing access to capital, industry, technology and deal flow in the U.S. economy.”

Closing The Gap

Day one of the summit commenced with the “400 Year Journey Roundtable” discussion, where Jackson was joined by Dr. Johnnetta Betsch Coles, Ph.D., the president of the National Council of Negro Women, and Dr. Ron Daniels, Ph.D., the president of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century, for a conversation on the progress of black Americans since Africans were first brought to the country as slaves.

Eugene Mitchell, Marc Morial, and Rev. Jesse Jackson (Photo credit: Gerald Peart)

After that session, Marc H. Morial, the president and CEO of the National Urban League, opened the “Wealth Gap Panel” with a brief history lesson on the origins of the wealth gap, which is rooted in U.S. laws and policies that created systemic barriers that prevented people of color from accumulating wealth. Morial went on to address the controversy around the #ADOS movement, a fringe group that stands for American Descendants of Slaves and advocates for reparations and reform policies that solely benefit African Americans. Some critics reportedly believe that Russian trolls have infiltrated the group and are using their philosophy to cause division among black voters.

“The internet is being used as a tool of manipulation,” Morial cautioned. “Our ability to impact the racial wealth gap depends on our ability to exercise and maximize our political power. We need to maximize our political power if we are going to address the racial gap.”

Alfred Edmond, Jr., SVP, Executive Editor-At-Large at Black Enterprise (Photo credit: Gerald Peart)

Morial’s comments were followed by a panel discussion between BLACK ENTERPRISE’s SVP/ Executive Editor-at-Large Alfred A. Edmond Jr. and Eugene Mitchell, the founder of the E. Mitchell Consulting Group and the author of The 7 Untold Rules for Creating Black Wealth: Let’s Come Together and Close the Wealth Gap!, moderated by Janice L. Mathis, the executive director of the National Council of Negro Women. Each panelist discussed tangible solutions to close the gap.

“Spend less than you make—whatever you make—and bank the difference,” said Edmond. “We must get into a situation where we are incrementally and steadily accumulating assets in the form of savings. And right now, when we make more money, we spend more money.”

Edmond, the host of the “Your Money, Your Life” personal finance podcast, also stressed the importance of using debt with the purpose of driving wealth. “We need to create wealth out of any career. Your net worth is what you own minus what you owe. Debt is only good if you are going to take that resource to make more money.”

Mitchell, a former corporate vice president at New York Life Insurance Co., discussed the importance of life insurance and estate planning as vehicles to create generational wealth in the black community. “We’re not doing what it takes to create wealth, to keep wealth, and to sustain wealth in the way of having proper estate planning,” he said.

Mathis also emphasized the intersection between political power and economic strength in the black community. “If we’re going to defeat these wealth gaps, we will do it by using the power of our votes because these systems are entrenched like barnacles onto capitalism that needs to be moderated by democratic principles and ideals.”

Other notable speakers scheduled to appear at the conference include Rep. Maxine Waters, Susan L. Taylor, Rev. Al Sharpton, hip-hop mogul Percy “Master P” Miller, and John W. Rogers Jr., CEO of Ariel Investments.