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Rainbow PUSH Wall Street Project Economic Summit wraps up on a Hopeful yet Cautious Note

January 17, 2009

During the 12th annual Wall Street Project Economic Summit, hosted by the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. emphasized that those receiving student loans should be entitled to the same 1% interest rate the Federal Reserve has made available to banks.

"If you give banks 1 percent, why can't you give the students 1 percent?" Rev. Jackson asked last week after concluding the annual Wall Street Conference. "Interest rates ranging from 7 – 20% put a real burden on students, and parents who cannot get a loan because of poor credit are borrowing money on credit cards and paying 25 percent or more to help their children pay for college."

Rev. Jackson's call for reduced interest rates comes at a time when an increasing number of high school students are unable to attend college because of limited finances. Those who do manage to attend college are seeing the disappearance of need-based grants and a shift to student loans.

The ramification of this shift means the wealthy will make up the largest share of college students, threatening a return to the days when money--not academic skills or intellect–determined who would enroll in college.

The average annual cost of attending an in-state public university is $17,336. The figure for private universities is $35,374 per year. Joseph Saunders, executive chairman and CEO of Visa, said at the conference that Visa has teamed with Teach for America to place recent college graduates in underserved rural and urban classrooms.

"Our work with young people will continue, but given the size of the challenge we face today, we have decided to broaden it," Saunders said. “That's why we launched America's largest employer-based financial literacy initiative ever together with McDonald's. This program will provide practical money skills to more than 500,000 McDonald's employees at no charge, empowering them to make informed financial decisions."

This complements the commitment we made last spring at the Clinton Global Initiative mid-year meeting, where we unveiled our program to combat global poverty through support for microfinance, the introduction of new technologies for the "unbanked", and financial education programs.

Saunders and Ben Wells, CFO of Burger King, were presented with the Trading Partners Award on Friday at the summit. The men were honored for their inclusion of minority managers in their financial deals.

The three-day summit concluded Friday at the Sheraton New York Hotel & Towers in New York City. Held amid the worst economic decline since the Great Depression, the summit brought together business, government and religious leaders. Its theme was, "Fallout from the Bailout: A New Day in Washington."

Among the activities were a panel discussion of the ongoing economic crisis by senior- level executives; a breakfast discussion on access to capital; a workshop on "Wall Street and Main Street: Solutions to the Foreclosure Tsunami"; a luncheon session on "Activating Consumer Power for Change," and a youth seminar.

Speakers were optimistic about the impending inauguration of the nation's first black president but cautioned that the hard work is jut beginning.

"On Tuesday [when Barack Obama is sworn into office], we will not have achieved the dream, but we will have the dream team," said Rev. Al Sharpton. "But having the dream team doesn't mean that you've won the championship."

Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, citing such problems as home foreclosures and closed factories, likened those who place too much emphasis on the inauguration to a couple that thinks all the hard work ends on their wedding day. "We must prepare not just for the wedding but for the marriage, because the marriage is beginning in uncertainty," he said.

Rev. Jackson, founder and president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, said that the economic downturn has been "double trouble" for African Americans, who already were at the bottom of many economic categories.

Participants discussed solutions, such as expanding access to capital, placing more attention on consumer protection, and supporting initiatives such as One Thousand Churches Connected, an effort of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition designed to bring the message of economic responsibility to families through churches across the country.

Despite the sobering task ahead, many participants left encouraged; for example, Sonja Price, one of the leaders of the PUSH EXCEL Youth Seminar, a day-long session held Wednesday to inspire and challenge youth and strengthen their skills. More than 180 students, aged 13 to 17, participated in the seminar.

"The youth were fantastic," Price said. "You could feel their excitement and hear how they had been enlightened. James Lee of the NAACP spoke to the young people. He energized and revived their sense of pride and accomplishment and demonstrated that young minorities can prepare themselves now to become leaders of the future."

Besides Saunders and Wells, summit participants included Peter J. Bensen, Executive Vice President and CFO, McDonald's Corporation; Congressman Gregory W. Meeks (D-New York); Deborah Bailey, Deputy Director Division of Banking Supervision and Regulation, Federal Reserve Board; Larry Hattix, Ombudsman, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency; Sheila C. Bair, Chairwoman, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC); Dr. Juanita Bynum, Minister and Entrepreneur; H.E. Raila Odinga, Prime Minister, The Republic of Kenya; H.E. Abdoulaye Wade, President, the Republic of Senegal; and Kevin J. Martin, Chairman, Federal Communications Commission.

For more information about the summit, visit www.wallstreetproject2009. For more about RainbowPUSH, visit www.rainbowpush.org.

The Rainbow PUSH Coalition is a progressive organization protecting, defending and expanding civil rights to improve economic and educational opportunity For more information about the conference, please visit the organization's website www.wallstreetproject2009.org or call (212) 425-7874. To interview Rev. Jackson, please contact the media office at (773) 256-2714.

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