CAMBRIDGE — The Rev. Jesse Jackson criticized Harvard University for a lack of diversity for those who manage of the university’s $36 billion endowment during a Black History Month event on Tuesday.
“Harvard has a $36 billion endowment, that’s a large sum of money but how many blacks and browns are managing any of that money?” Jackson said, speaking to a crowd of about 200 seated before him at Longfellow Hall.
“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, 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 said.
A Harvard University spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Jackson, founder and president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition and two-time presidential candidate, was invited to Harvard to speak at “Threads of Diversity,” a Black History Month program at the Graduate School of Education.
For about an hour, Jackson touched on a number of topics, ranging from a history of minorities in the US, to the significance of the Atlanta Falcons making the Super Bowl last month representing a city closely tied to African American history.
He also preached unity, leading the audience to repeat “My goal is equal, high quality, public education for all children.”
But he returned to the issue of the management of Harvard’s endowment several times.
“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 advised everyone in attendance with concerns to go to the next endowment meeting to voice their opinion on how the money should be allocated.
Some students who attended said they were 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 Alicia English, 30, a master’s degree candidate. “What does it look like as a student to push people of color into those kind of positions?”
Shaniqua McClendon, a 29-year-old public policy student at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government , said Jackson raised questions about diversity that reflect larger issues than the university’s endowment.
“We don’t have a lot of African American’s in some classes at the Kennedy School,” She 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.”