Rainbow/PUSH began its 36th annual convention on June 2 with a keynote address by the 42nd U.S. President William J. Clinton. Opening day special guests included: Congressman John Conyers (D-MI), Congressman Danny Davis (D-IL), Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL), Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Congressman Charles Rangel (D-NY), Congressman Bobby Rush (D-IL), Mayor Shirley Franklin (Atlanta), State Rep. Constance Howard (34th dist.), Jonathan Jackson, radio personality Sandi Jackson and sister Jacqueline Jackson.
The first day of the convention also celebrated reunion day. Opening day is when old “Breadbasket” members come out and reminisce with veterans of the civil rights movement. Rainbow/PUSH’s backyard is the setting for lots of food and great conversations. Holding court with several friends was Mrs. Jacqueline Jackson, who has always been a favorite of civil rights leaders. Mrs. Jackson always makes a point of recognizing and/or hugging old friends of the civil rights movement. She was in long conversations with friends like Hazel and Richard Thomas, St. Clair Booker, Eunice Wigfall, Vance Henry, Michael Knighten and George O’Hare.
In introducing the master of ceremony, vice president of Rainbow/PUSH Janice Mathis said, “He is always somebody you can look to with pride and joy because he always conducts himself like a gentlemen and scholar and a judge. He is the judge of Push Excel, our very own Judge Greg Mathis.”
Always lively in his remarks in thanking Janice Mathis, Greg Mathis said, “Although we are not related-that I know of-perhaps we had the same slave master in our family. Don’t be ashamed be proud that we were able to overcome that. Now we’re heading toward the White House; now we are secretary of states; now we’re solving the crises of the black male and indeed all the young males of America. That’s a long way to come from.”
The afternoon session began with addressing the “Crisis of Young Black Males.” Panel discussions with college students, politicians, activists and audience members were held. As stated by Judge Mathis, “We know that one-third of all black males are touched by the criminal justice systems in one way or another at some particular time in America, whether they are on probation, parole or indeed incarcerated. We know that American school systems have failed them consistently. The school system fails our young people and as a result they are unable to compete in society for the jobs and the training programs that are available.”
Leading off the panel discussion was Congressman Bobby Scott (D-Va) and Congressman Danny Davis.
In his introduction of President Clinton, Rev. Jackson said, “There is a sense of hope from Hope, Arkansas.” After a rousing welcome, President Clinton began by saying, “Thanks very much Rev. Jackson, Mrs. Jackson, Congressman Jackson, all of the Jacksons. Is Yusef here? We call him GQ Jackson. Congressman Davis, Congressman Scott it is a great honor for me to be here. I do want to acknowledge that fine lady who came up to sit with Jesse and me. Mrs. [Annette] Holt is a fine lady who also lost her son about 10 days ago and we thank her for her presence and courage for showing up here today in determination to honor the memory of her son who gave his life trying to save another girl’s life with a shooting on a bus. Violence is going up again in our cities against our children and we have got to do more to protect these kids.” Clinton then gave Mrs. Holt a hug.
“When I was president I worked with Rev. Jackson and the Rainbow Coalition, we have been friends a long time. I can still remember when we were both young and thought we could eat french fries all night in the governor’s mansion in Arkansas. I am grateful for 36 years of working on this the Rainbow Coalition.
“When I was president, we were determined to turn around what was then two decades of stagnant wages among average working people and growing inequality, which has led us to higher crime rates and led us to all kinds of other social problems in our city and it seems to be getting worst.”
Clinton talked about during his administration they raised the minimum wage, tripled the SBA loans to women, African-Americans and Hispanics, and he said, “We enforced something called the Community Reinvestment Act, which said banks have to loan money to the people in the neighborhoods where they get their deposits. In the last five years I was there, we finally got inequality down for the first time in 20 years. Employment went up, wages were rising, America was growing together. We have 50 percent more jobs than in the previous 12 years. But we moved a hundred times as many people from poverty to the middle class. Not accidentally crime went down eight years in a row.
“I come here today at a time when things have gone haywire again. We got broke, inequality and people are losing ground. Let’s look what has happen. We are now in the sixth year of what we’re told is a economic recovery. It’s been great for rich people like me-I was the poorest guy ever elected president. I never had a nickel to my name until I got out of the White House.
“We have had, after six years of growth, a 4 percent increase in the number of people working full time falling into poverty, while working full time. And a 4 percent increase in the families of full-time workers losing their health insurance. Over half of the bankruptcies filed in the last five have been filed because of health care crises in the family.”
After Clinton’s speech, people battled to get photos, and during a quick press conference outside, President Clinton said about politics, “As a citizen and person that loves the political process, I love this election because, in this election I don’t have to be against anybody. I like them all.”
Rev. Jackson likewise said he would not actively campaign for or against anybody. Pres. Clinton once again teased Rev. Jackson about his growing family dynasty. He pointed out Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., and newly elected Alderman Sandi Jackson, wife of the congressman, and Rev. Jackson’s daughter-in-law.
The Rainbow/PUSH Conference continued through June 6 at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare. This year’s theme was “A More Perfect Union: Greenlining Redlined America.”