DAYTON, Ohio – Blacks who have succeeded in the corporate world must not turn their backs on the civil-rights activists and groups who helped open the doors for them, the Rev. Al Sharpton said Monday.
"They are the results of us," Sharpton said during a panel discussion at the annual convention of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. "When people think they are in the suites as an alternative to the streets, they will soon be back in the streets with us in a short matter of time."
Sharpton, Martin Luther King III, and SCLC President Charles Steele were among those who took part in the panel discussion, titled "A Changing Movement: From the Streets to the Suites."
King echoed those comments, saying only some blacks have been blessed enough to become corporate leaders.
"The masses of people in our communities are unfortunately — even in 2006 — still in the streets," King said. "I believe this organization will always be an activist organization, which means that we must never ever abandon the streets."
Earlier Steele said the group has opened conflict resolution centers in Dayton and Israel and has plans for more around the world. The centers are designed to train citizens, police, teachers and community leaders how to solve disputes without violence.
"We have a plan for the Middle East we're going to be talking about," he said in advance of the civil rights group's annual convention, which runs through Wednesday.
The Atlanta-based organization — which the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and two associates found in 1957 — helped organize some of the defining moments of the civil rights era, including the march on Washington in 1963 and the Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march two years later.
Steele took over the presidency in November 2004 at the board's request after squabbling and questionable management left the group bankruptcy. The power struggle led to the resignations of Claud Young as board chairman and the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth of Cincinnati as president.
"We had serious problems," Steele recalled. "The lights were off. The phone was off. We couldn't meet payroll."
The SCLC is now on solid financial footing and has raised $2 million for a new headquarters in Atlanta it plans to begin building Aug. 31, he said.