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New Rainbow PUSH Coalition president steps down after only three months

Avery Bleichfeld
New Rainbow PUSH Coalition president steps down after only three months

The Rainbow PUSH Coalition, the Chicago-based civil rights organization founded by the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, went through its second major leadership change in a year as the Texas pastor tapped to succeed Jackson stepped down from the role.

Rev. Frederick Haynes III, a pastor and civil rights advocate from Dallas, was named as Jackson’s successor last summer and officially entered the role of president and CEO in February.

“I remain committed to honoring the rich history of [the Rainbow PUSH Coalition] and the legacy of its esteemed leader, the incomparable Reverend Jesse L. Jackson Sr., and, most significantly, to the calling and pursuit of social justice,” Haynes said in a statement to Chicago’s ABC7, at the time of his resignation in April.

He said he made the choice after “continual prayer and deliberation.”

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Haynes’ resignation took the financially challenged Rainbow PUSH leadership by surprise, but Jackson issued a statement that the coalition accepted Haynes’ resignation and that they would remain “partners in the fight for peace, civil rights and economic justice,” according to the Associated Press.

Jackson had been looking to shift to a role as president emeritus after decades leading the group and in light of health challenges, including a Parkinson’s disease diagnosis.

The coalition has long roots. Jackson founded the group initially as two separate organizations. Operation PUSH — People United to Serve Humanity — was an 1970s offshoot of his work with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s Operation Breadbasket, a group dedicated to work around the economic conditions for Black communities in the United States.

The National Rainbow Coalition was organized out of Jackson’s 1984 presidential campaign — the first of two bids for the White House — with a mission centered around social programs, voting rights and affirmative action for minority groups.

The two organizations were merged in 1996.

When Haynes took over the organization in February, he did so remotely from Dallas, with the intention to continue serving as senior pastor at Friendship-West Baptist Church, which has over 13,000 members, according to the church.

According to reporting by WTTW, Chicago’s Public Broadcasting Service member station, when his selection was announced in July, Haynes had envisioned Dallas serving as a Rainbow PUSH hub, while Chicago would have remained the headquarters.

Taking over from Jackson was widely recognized to be a large role to fill.

Jerry Thomas, a former adviser and strategist for Jackson at Rainbow PUSH, called it “the most difficult job in Black America,” in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times.

According to records filed with the IRS, the group has faced financial difficulties in recent years. In 2022, the Citizenship Education Fund, a tax-exempt organization affiliated with the coalition, had an operating loss of over $620,000.

The same year, PUSH for Excellence, another tax-exempt affiliate of the coalition, reported a net profit of only $5,000, down from over $187,000 the year before.

Even Haynes, when his taking the helm was announced, said Jackson’s act was a tough one to follow, calling the coalition’s founder someone “who has literally changed the world,” according to WTTW.

“When I say I’m standing on his shoulders, it’s because I have too much sense to stand in his shoes. The shoes are much too large,” said Haynes.

Haynes said he stood by the coalition’s work. When his appointment was announced, he said the group’s mission and vision are needed as much now as when it was founded. Even with his departure, he said, his dedication to those goals is lasting, he said.

“I extend my heartfelt gratitude to all who have expressed their support since my appointment in July of last year,” Haynes said, in a statement to Chicago’s ABC7. “Rest assured that my work in the fight for liberation and freedom continues.”

Rainbow PUSH Coalition, Rev. Frederick Haynes III, Rev. Jesse L. Jackson