Activists protesting outside billionaire Harvard graduate Bill Ackman’s office on Thursday overwhelmingly voiced support for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives and former Harvard President Claudine Gay.
Rev. Al Sharpton’s civil rights activist group, National Action Network, picketed outside Ackman’s New York City office in protest of the influential alum’s pressure campaign to oust Gay and his criticism of DEI.
“President Gay’s resignation is about more than a person or a single incident,” Sharpton, who is also a MSNBC host, said in a press release ahead of the picket. “This is an attack on every Black woman in this country who’s put a crack in the glass ceiling. It’s an assault on the health, strength, and future of diversity, equity, and inclusion – at a time when Corporate America is trying to back out of billions of dollars in commitments. Most of all, this was the result of Bill Ackman’s relentless campaign against President Gay, not because of her leadership or credentials but because he felt she was a DEI hire.”
He said at the protest that Ackman’s successful campaign against Gay was just the “canary in the coal mine,” claiming the Harvard alum’s “campaign against DEI will only pick up steam.”
The picket in Hell’s Kitchen was attended by about 50 people, including Sharpton, his senior adviser Carra Wallace and activist Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, who was killed when a New York Police Department officer used a prohibited chokehold during his arrest in 2014.
Wallace told Fox News Digital she believes the fight for DEI is “bigger” than Ackman, suggesting he is a “boogeyman” misrepresenting the cause as something other than a fight to remove inequities and injustices affecting underserved communities.
“DEI is just about leveling the playing field. It’s not about doing anything extra; it’s not about racism or anything like that,” she said.
She also claimed that these communities do not have the money to pay for Harvard and other prestigious universities because of the disadvantages brought about by redlining and a lack of racial integration in school systems in years prior.
Wallace then spoke about the controversy surrounding Gay, calling her a “talented Black woman” who should still be president of Harvard today.
Gay stepped down Tuesday after months of criticism over Harvard’s handling of antisemitism on campus and amid mounting allegations of plagiarism in her scholarly work.
Ackman, a Harvard megadonor, spearheaded a campaign calling for Gay, University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill and MIT President Sally Kornbluth to “resign in disgrace” following their controversial appearances at a House committee hearing on the rise of antisemitism on college campuses on Dec. 5
Wallace claimed Gay’s comments before Congress were “taken out of context,” and people did not truly understand her or give Gay a chance to give a proper explanation. She also suggested that in the age of “cancel culture” people are not getting to the “truths, hearts and values” to figure people out correctly.
“I applaud her because she had courage and courage is something that we’re all going to need right now,” Wallace added.
Carr also spoke highly of Gay and claimed Ackman had “no reason” to “blackball” a person like her.
“We have had people who did much worse things and nothing is being done about it. So, why target her? It’s just because of the position that she’s in and they wanted to replace her with someone else,” Carr said.
Ackman suggested in a social media post that Gay had landed her job due to Harvard’s DEI policies and criticized the practice of narrowing candidate pools by refusing to consider some applicants based on criteria like race and gender.
When asked what she would say to those critical of Gay and DEI initiatives, Carr said that all Americans are “entitled” to equality and people are acting like some are not entitled to those same rights.
“We all should get fair treatment. We should all get the same treatment, and we know that is not happening. So, this is why we have to be out here. This is why we fight. And we are going to keep on fighting until they hear us,” she added.
Ahead of the protest, Ackman wrote on X that he was out of the country, but “I would be delighted to sit with Mr. Sharpton and discuss any concerns he might have about anything I have said or done in connection with @Harvard and Claudine Gay. I encourage anyone who knows Mr. Sharpton to ask him to reach out to me directly.”
In a statement to Fox News Digital, Sharpton said, “I’m not averse to sitting down with [Ackman] and other civil rights leaders.”
Ackman’s company, Pershing Square Holdings, Ltd. told Fox News Digital they did not have any comment regarding Thursday’s protest or Sharpton’s comments.