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Rights icon Jesse Jackson questions lack of diversity in Harvard’s donation arm

Reverend Jesse Jackson addresses crowd at the 2000 Democratic Convention at the Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA. Imave via Shutterstock.

Civil rights activist Reverend Jesse Jackson has chided the Ivy League institution for what he said was a lack of diversity among those who manage the university’s US$36 billion endowment, the Boston Globe reports.

During a Black History Month event called “Threads of Diversity” on Tuesday, Jackson spoke on a number of issues, from the history of minorities in the U.S. to education access for all.

Preaching unity, Jackson also led the audience to repeat “My goal is equal, high quality, public education for all children.”

But the two-time presidential candidate and president of Rainbow PUSH Coalition, a non-profit organisation pursuing social justice, returned to the stinging issue of Harvard‘s lack of diversity several times.

At one point, Jackson even asked the university for the number of “blacks and browns” that are managing their billion dollar endowment arm.

“Harvard had a little bump in the road with it’s endowment a few weeks ago. They named a business center after Reggie Lewis,” he said to a crowd of 200 seated before him at Longfellow Hall, Jackson said. The American civil rights activist was referring to Reginald Lewis, the late African-American billionaire businessman.

“Father Reggie’s strength was getting some pension money, but who in the lineage of Reggie Lewis is managing any of that endowment pension money?” Jackson asked at the Graduate School of Education event.

“There’s some real money in Harvard, Princeton, and Yale off the sale of our people,” said Jackson.

“So we are not at the bottom, we are the foundation. The bottom is where you end up and the foundation is where you started,” he added.

Jackson advised those in attendance to go to the next endowment meeting to voice their opinions on how the money should be managed.

More love needed for people of colour at Harvary University. Image via Reuters/Brian Snyder.

Jackson’s talk prompted students who attended to probe further on the issue of diversity in all levels of the university.

Alicia English, a 30-year-old master’s degree student said she was initially unaware of the lack of diversity among the university’s money managers.

“I didn’t know and I do think It’s a big deal,” said English.

Whereas for Shaniqua McClendon, a public policy student at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, what Jackson said raised questions about diversity on areas that went beyond the institution’s endowment arm.

“We don’t have a lot of African American’s in some classes at the Kennedy School,” the 29-year-old student said.

“I don’t know if that falls on the admission staff, but I do think that if we had more diversity at the decision making table, It would trickle down to everything else,” McClendon added.

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