Leaders say blacks who succeed should not turn backs on others

Published 5:57 pm Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Blacks who have succeeded in the corporate world must not turn their backs on the civil-rights activists and groups who helped open the doors for them, the Rev. Al Sharpton said Monday.

“They are the results of us,” Sharpton said during a panel discussion at the annual convention of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. “When people think they are in the suites as an alternative to the streets, they will soon be back in the streets with us in a short matter of time.”

Sharpton, Martin Luther King III, and SCLC President Charles Steele were among those who took part in the panel discussion, titled “A Changing Movement: From the Streets to the Suites.”

Sharpton lashed out at the notion that blacks in high corporate positions represent the new black power, saying the SCLC and other civil-rights groups paved the way for their success by fighting in the streets for freedom and equality.

“You won’t last long if we stay out of the streets,” he said.

King echoed those comments, saying only some blacks have been blessed enough to become corporate leaders.

“The masses of people in our communities are unfortunately — even in 2006 — still in the streets,” King said. “I believe this organization will always be an activist organization, which means that we must never ever abandon the streets.”

The SCLC, which was nearly crippled by infighting less than two years ago, has opened conflict-resolution centers in Dayton and Israel and has plans for more around the world. The centers are designed to train citizens, police, teachers and community leaders how to solve disputes without violence.

“We’re going to saturate the world with conflict-resolution centers,” Steele said Monday.

Steele also called on blacks to keep up the fight for equality and urged them not to forget their heritage of slavery.

“You can’t expect a system that enslaved you to save you. This is the same system,” he said. “You have to fight for your rights on a daily basis.”

The Atlanta-based civil rights organization, which Martin Luther King Jr. helped found in 1957 to fight segregation, helped organize some of the defining moments of the civil rights era, including the march on Washington in 1963 and the Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march two years later.

Steele took over the presidency in November 2004 at the board’s request after squabbling and questionable management left the SCLC near bankruptcy. The power struggle led to the resignation of Claud Young as board chairman and the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth of Cincinnati as president.

“We had serious problems,” Steele recalled. “The lights were off. The phone was off. We couldn’t meet payroll.”

He said the SCLC is now on solid financial footing and has raised $2 million for a new headquarters in Atlanta it plans to begin building Aug. 31.

“We have outstanding partnerships and support from the corporate world,” he said. “We’ve been selling our programs. We’ve been selling our vision.”

John Powell, executive director of the Kirwan Institute of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University, said the SCLC was at its peak of influence when King Jr. was alive but is working to regain some of that influence.

Powell said the group’s efforts to recruit young members and to get involved in international conflict resolution are moves in the right direction.

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