Civil rights icon Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr., the founder and president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, one of the world’s leading civil rights organizations, said today that he has received an invitation from influential ministers in Cleveland to visit the northeast Ohio city within the next week to meet with ministers and leaders of Black organizations who are advocating for diversity, equity and inclusion surrounding the construction of The Sherwin-Williams Company’s new global headquarters.
Rev. Jackson, who is 80 and the most senior of the leaders heading large, traditional civil rights organizations in the U.S., has been conferencing with leaders in Cleveland and across the nation over the past two weeks since he announced his support for the campaign for economic parity in Cleveland, which is being led by the Black Contractors Group (BCG) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s (SCLC) Cleveland chapter.
His announcement follows support from other global social justice leaders—Dr. Charles Steele, Jr., president of the national SCLC, the Atlanta-based organization co-founded and first led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Martin Luther King III, the eldest son of the late Dr. King, former U.S. Ambassador Andrew Young, who was a top aide to Dr. King, and Rev. Al Sharpton, who heads the National Action Network in New York City.
The campaign calls for the 155-year-old Sherwin-Williams, ranked 162 on the Fortune list of companies, to name a Black-owned firm as a key partner on the $600 million-plus project.
But the need for his appearance in Cleveland has intensified over the past week following a joint press release by Sherwin-Williams and the Urban League of Greater Cleveland, which hints at a split amongst the Black leadership in terms of the approach to achieving the overall goals for Blacks surrounding the project.
The Urban League and Sherwin Williams have partnered to develop and launch an innovative new Construction Accelerator Program with the goal of driving long-term growth and success for minority-owned businesses in Northeast Ohio. Companies that enter and complete the program will be eligible for a working capital loan.
But the BCG and the SCLC say the program, while promising, does not achieve the immediate goal of economic parity with a Black firm at the top.
In September 2020, Sherwin-Williams named nine White partners to build its new corporate tower in downtown Cleveland. The BCG and the SCLC say it is unacceptable that Sherwin-Williams failed to name a Black-owned firm as a key partner with major managerial responsibility when $300 million in tax breaks and incentives are being used to support the development. They called for a meeting with Sherwin-Williams to address their concerns. The global paint and coating giant met with the leaders and both sides agreed on a Black-owned firm to serve as a partner. But talks broke off and Sherwin-Williams has refused to return to the negotiating table. As a result, the BCG and the SCLC have launched protests that have led to Sherwin-Williams awarding some contracts to minority-owned firms, but the SCLC and BCG said their protests will continue until Sherwin-Williams’ meets with them and names a Black-owned firm as a key partner.
“Cleveland is the nation’s poorest big city, and it is 51 percent Black, and it is very important that our leadership collectively keeps their eyes on the prize, which is to make sure we have representation from the very top to the bottom,” Rev. Jackson said.
“It is clear from the invitation that our leaders have similar goals, but they have different approaches to achieving the goals. There is a willingness, however, to come together for the benefit of all of Cleveland. No construction companies or community organizations should be left behind. When we work together, we all win. My role is to support the pastors, The SCLC, the Urban League and others by helping us to reach the finish line. We will achieve Dr. King’s dream this time in Cleveland.”
Dr. Charles Steele, Jr., who has been leading the campaign for economic parity in Cleveland, said he welcomes Rev. Jackson’s wisdom and counsel in addressing this delicate matter.
“This is a watershed moment in the civil rights movement,” Dr. Steele said.
“We are accustomed to meeting annually in Selma to protect voting rights, but Cleveland will become the epicenter for economic parity. We will be victorious in Cleveland, and we can thank Rev. Jackson and all the great leaders who have joined the campaign for bringing us all together.”