Yesterday Rev. Jesse Jackson officially handed over the reins of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition to Rev. Frederick Douglass Haynes III, a Dallas-based pastor who has been a long-time student of Jackson and supporter of the Chicago-based organization. Rev. Jackson’s work will continue, and he’ll be involved in projects such as the training of religious leaders to fight for social justice. He will need to limit his travel given the inexorable progress of his Parkinson’s Disease. 

The leadership change was announced at the annual convention, which was headlined by Vice President Kamala Harris. She and President Biden paid tribute to Rev. Jackson as a pathfinder whose work in civil rights and non-violence moved the country to implement the necessary changes in voting rights, participation in business, access to quality housing, financial resources and services, and more. 

It is important to remember that Rev. Jackson won seven states in Democratic primaries in 1988, paving the way 20 years later for former President Barack Obama. He also worked to ensure fair lending practices for Black people seeking financing. It is important to understand that he has been the one pushing for more Black executives to be included on corporate boards of directors (only close to 12 percent of total corporate board seats are held by Black people today). His impact extends beyond the U.S. to reach the globe. He was the one who negotiated the release of an American prisoner in Syria in 1983 and has led numerous peace talks between other countries. 

The Edelman team, led by our global chief diversity & inclusion officer and client counselor, Trisch Smith, played a vital role in the announcement. Our work prompted widespread media coverage, which reiterated the strength of the organization, the deep experience and qualifications of Rev. Haynes, and the stunning achievements and impact of Rev. Jackson.

We have worked closely with Rev. Jackson for the past four decades, including on a pro-bono basis for the Rainbow PUSH Coalition. On a personal note, Rev. Jackson delivered the eulogy for my father at the memorial service in Chicago and he presided at my wedding to Claudia six years ago. 

Claudia and I held a dinner for Rev. Jackson at our apartment just prior to the pandemic. We debuted a film on his life. We saw him visiting with Nelson Mandela and other world leaders. We heard his speech to the Democratic Convention in 1984. Then he stood up and spoke. Time disappeared for five minutes as he rallied us to the cause of inequality, economic participation, and opportunity for all. It was a stunning recognition of our connection to greatness and our individual and collective obligation to carry the torch forward.

When I visited the Rainbow PUSH headquarters in April, we finished the meeting and he asked to escort me to the door. He was in his wheelchair. I asked for a picture of the two of us. He insisted that his aide help him to his feet. We posed together as we had in times past. This profile in courage and strength gives you a sense of this incredible man’s drive and dignity. I feel privileged to have assisted in some small way to support his life’s work. I thank all my Edelman and Zeno colleagues for their efforts on his and Rainbow PUSH’s behalf. In a larger sense, this relationship is the best of what communications firms can do in their pro-bono and community outreach efforts.  

Richard Edelman is CEO. 

Banner photo by Resource Database on Unsplash