Economic investment in Black communities is critical to opening up the middle class to more Black Americans, U.S. Representative Bobby Rush (D-III) said during a speech at the Law School on Saturday.
Rush, a founding member of the Illinois Black Panther Party, said Blacks must work for "the elimination of certain barriers to the enjoyment of American middle class life."
The Illinois representative, who is also a former member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), spoke before an audience of about 250 at the Clyde Ferguson Luncheon, sponsored by the Lotus Development Corporation.
The luncheon was part of a weekend conference at the Law School called "Many Paths, One Goal," in honor of the late Justice Thurgood Marshall.
Rush discussed proposed legislation that would set up Community Development Financial Institutions to provide a capital base for rebuilding the inner cities.
"Black power must be expressed from an institutional base in our community," he said.
Rush also said there are "too few viable institutions that provide economic, social, political and cultural safety to us."
Rush said the district he represents has a large Black population but only one Black-owned savings and loan institution.
"We don't have the vehicles, the engines to transfer what is potentially there back to the neighborhoods," he said.
Some Black law students should look beyond working for large companies and law firms to consider forming banks and small businesses in the cities, the Illinois representative said.
Rush also talked about his past as a founding member of the Illinois Black Panther party.
Stressing the need to ask the right questions in formulating a strategy, Rush said, "We made critical miscalculations."
Still, he said, he Black Panthers gave Blacks a chance "to take charge of their destiny and the destiny of their communities."
Ronald S. Sullivan, Jr., the outgoing president of the Black Law Students Association, also spoke at the luncheon, expressing outrage at the conviction of only two Los Angeles police officers in the Rodney King trial.
Sullivan said, "Unless we as lawyers and future lawyers do something to reform the crippled justice system in America," similar verdicts and riots will occur.
Other speakers at the weekend conference included Benjamin L. Hooks, outgoing executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and Doug McHenry, producer and director of the film "New Jack City."