Roy Innis’s Message to Wall Street on MLK, Jr. Day

Today is the 25th Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the U.S. national holiday marking the birth of the great civil-rights leader.  Last Friday, I had the honor of talking about this special anniversary with Roy Innis, the longtime national chairman and CEO of the Congress of Racial Equality.  He was at New York Stock Exchange to ring the Opening Bell in advance of the holiday and CORE’s annual national celebration dinner tonight.

Mr.  Innis called the establishment of the King holiday “a seminal moment” in the history of civil rights.   

“People don’t always see the progress we’ve made -- how far we’ve come, and how fast,” he said.  When I remarked that the civil-rights movement was now a half century old, he replied, “In the course of human history, that’s only a brief period of time.  And all of this progress, without a bloody revolution.”

Mr. Innis has seen and participated in much of that history.  He joined CORE’s Harlem chapter in 1963 and quickly became a local leader, before being elected national director in 1968.  He has led countless CORE initiatives, including promoting economic development in inner cities; strengthening ties between America and African nations; serving as an advocate for the rights of all races in the criminal-justice system; cleaning up crime from urban streets; reducing dependence on welfare; and many, many more.

Today, the movement is about more than just equality, he said – “It’s about building bridges” between different races, peoples and communities.  “We’ve just begun to see what we can accomplish together.”

His message to the financial community?  “We need you to go out and educate, to help people understand finance and the economy.  That way they can become responsible for themselves, and they’ll know how to hold our leaders accountable.”  

A message with which Dr. King surely would have agreed.  And a way for Wall Street to meaningfully celebrate Dr. King’s birthday and keep his dream alive.

Photo:  Roy Innis talks on the trading floor with NYSE member James J. Maguire. Photo by Valerie Caviness, NYSE Euronext