Why Longtime Civil Rights Leader Rev. Jesse Jackson Is Interested In Tech Startups

Written by Dana Sanchez

In case you missed the recent 500 Startups Unity and Inclusion Summit (Atlanta) at TechSquare Labs, we’ve got you covered. Moguldom.com was in Atlanta for the event, which provided a forum for some of the newest ideas around reversing inequality in tech. Silicon Valley-based 500 Startups is an early-stage venture capital fund and seed accelerator. This is the fourth in a series of Moguldom videos from 500 Startups Unity and Inclusion Summit (Atlanta), June 10, 2017.

Everyone knows that the Rev. Jesse Jackson stands for social justice, civil rights and political activism. These days, that activism often takes the form of involvement and investment in economic equity — including buying stocks in Fortune 1000 companies.

Clavin Vismale works for Rev. Jackson as executive director of the Rainbow PUSH Citizenship Education Fund Peachtree Project. Rainbow PUSH deals with economic equity issues, including profiling Fortune 1000 companies from the boardroom through middle management for inclusion and diversity.

Jackson founded Rainbow PUSH as a nonprofit through a 1996 merger of Operation PUSH (People United to Save Humanity) and the National Rainbow Coalition. The combined organization is based in Chicago with branches in Washington, D.C., New York City, Los Angeles, Detroit, Houston, Atlanta, Silicon Valley, New Orleans and Boston.

So why would Vismale attend the 500 Startups Unity and Inclusion Summit in Atlanta?

“Because we know the interconnectedness and the relationship between money that these organizations and corporations invest and spend, and the ecosystems that support new wealth creation by way of entrepreneurship and startup businesses,” Vismale told Moguldom.com on the sidelines of the summit.

Jackson’s organization looks at Fortune 1000 suppliers and vendors, service providers, lawyers, investment bankers and asset managers “relative to their marketplace or some other demographic they may serve,” Vismale told Moguldom.com. “We’re looking at the equity and balance in how their money is being spent (and invested).

“To that end we also buy stock in those companies that we feel could use some help or that we feel we need to reward.”

Rainbow PUSH also attends shareholder meetings and advocates for more inclusion and diversity “to make the company more sustainable and economically viable over time,” Vismale said.

For the last two years, Jackson and Rainbow PUSH have made a concerted effort to pressure Facebook, Uber, Amazon and other Silicon Valley companies to disclose data on hiring practices, workforce compositions and to hire more women and minority workers and executives.

Prior to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s ouster, Jackson urged the tech giant to disclose the racial and gender composition of the Uber workforce. Nearly two years after other tech companies started releasing diversity reports, the ride-hailing giant still hadn’t done so, according to Fortune:

“Silicon Valley and the tech industry, at your best, can be a tremendously positive change agent for the world,” Jackson told Kalanick in a letter obtained by USA TODAY in January. “At your worst, you can institutionalize old patterns of exclusion and de facto segregation.”

Uber has since released a diversity report.

Jackson criticized Facebook within the past month over the lack of diversity on its board of directors, Business Insider reported.

Speaking at the company’s annual shareholder meeting, Jackson noted that he’d addressed Facebook’s board on the same subject at the same meeting two years ago. The makeup of Facebook’s board hasn’t changed since then. As he noted, Facebook still doesn’t have any blacks, Latinos or Asians on its board. That’s a stark contradiction with what the company is supposed to stand for, he said.

“I hope you’re as disappointed in that lack of progress,” Jackson said.

Facebook’s overall workforce is 4 percent Hispanic and 2 percent black, according to its most recent diversity report, released in July 2016. Its tech workers are 3 percent Hispanic and 1 percent black. The company’s senior leadership is 3 percent Hispanics and blacks each. Women comprise 33 percent of Facebook’s overall workforce.

Vismale said he came to the 500 Startups summit because it’s a place where entrepreneurs can come to receive mentorship. They can interact with others in the ecosystem, understand how to position themselves and how to package good ideas so capital can find them:

“Money circles the globe 24-7-365 looking for a good idea,” Vismale said. “Money will accrue to a well-packaged bad idea but it’s looking for a good idea. The challenge is to appropriately package those good ideas so capital can find it. And that’s what the efforts of 500 Startups does.”

The Rainbow PUSH Atlanta Citizenship Education Fund established the Peachtree Street Project in Atlanta in 1999 to conduct research and educate the public on equal opportunity in the Southeast. Modeled after the Wall Street Project in New York, the Peachtree Street Project is a charity chartered in Ohio and governed by an independent board of directors.

It reviews corporate social responsibility with an emphasis on gender, ethnicity and racial inclusion practiced by publicly-traded corporations based in the Southeastern U.S. It has studied the number of blacks, minorities and women on corporate boards of directors, and reviewed anecdotal evidence regarding diversity and inclusion.

In reviewing diversity rankings published by Fortune, Diversity. Inc. and others, Rainbow PUSH found that relatively few firms based in the Southeast were placing significant emphasis on diversity or inclusion. It also found that robust programs to accomplish equal opportunity were rare among companies based in the region.

 

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About Dana Sanchez
Dana Sanchez is the editor of Moguldom.com and AFKInsider.com. She has worked in digital and print news media as a business writer and news editor. She has a master's degree in mass communications from the University of South Florida. Prior to working in news, Dana worked in advertising.

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