I met with Reverend Jackson yesterday in Chicago. He has been a friend of the Edelman family for nearly 50 years. He has been a constant presence in my life at times of grief and joy, speaking at my father’s funeral and presiding over my wedding to Claudia.
He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2017. Gradually the condition has spread through his body, first affecting his speech, and more recently robbing him of his ability to walk. The Reverend is indomitable; as he left the Shirley Ryan Center in September 2022, his comment to the media was a classic, “I just need to get back to work.”
Yesterday we covered a broad range of topics from personal to issues in the U.S. and abroad. He wants to meet with Vladimir Putin to persuade him to end the war in Ukraine. He is deeply concerned about the merger of Albertson’s and Kroger causing the closure of Jewel grocery stores in Chicago. He told me about his work with SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment; a character at their Sesame Place amusement park in Pennsylvania snubbed two young black children this past June, prompting a lawsuit and threatening boycott of the park. He will continue to put pressure on the technology community to hire and promote more Black employees, notably to put Black executives on their boards of directors.
He has been the invaluable man on labor disputes and freeing Americans jailed by authoritarian regimes. Even in his twilight years, he was the person called upon to broker a deal between the teachers and board of education in Chicago. He went to Syria to free a downed American pilot and won the release of three American soldiers from Serbia during the Kosovo conflict. He persuaded Fidel Castro to release 49 political prisoners in the mid-80s.
He has created a model for sustainable economic growth in his Wall Street project, launched in 1997. In his words, “We want the same from Corporate America that Corporate America seeks in foreign markets, balance of trade and uninhibited access.” His long legacy of advocacy from Wall Street to the Board Room helped create paths for the growth of investment and management firms such as Ariel Investments and Loop Capital, and the progress of Black business leaders to the CEO position at investment banks.
He initiated the PUSH Excel Scholarship Program to enable qualified Black students to attend college. Toyota is the lead donor for this project, offering up to $25,000 to each student applicant. The student must demonstrate strong academic ability, a record of community service and be willing to work with Toyota upon graduation.
I have not always agreed with Rev. Jackson on issues, and at times over the years Edelman has been on the other side in his disputes with corporations and brands. But he is an unstoppable force of nature, with an irrepressible smile and dogged determination to solve problems. In his dogged pursuit of his beliefs, he is running to the end, with an important mission that needs to be supported and continued by others. He asked for my help in seeking support from the corporate community in paying down the $1.7 million debt incurred by the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, established by Rev. Jackson in 1971, during the COVID-19 pandemic, as his organization offered food and health care to the thousands in Chicago. His life’s work in pursuit of justice around the world must continue. If this blog post inspires you, please consider donating to his organization.
Richard Edelman is CEO.