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African American history month; honoring our past; building the future

Dr. King, Cirilo McSween and a $50 billion initiative

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The 1963 rally called for economic and civil rights for African Americans and was where Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his unforgettable “I Have a Dream” speech.

This year’s National African American History Month commemorates both the march and the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. As President Barack Obama wrote in this year’s proclamation, “Let us honor those who came before by striving toward their example, and let us follow in their footsteps toward the better future that is ours to claim.”

As a company, we are proud to follow the president’s example by honoring our Agents who made a difference and led by example, including our first African American Agent, Cirilo McSween, who worked closely with Dr. King.

In addition, we have created a special initiative to create $50 billion in future income that will help to change the financial landscape for African Americans, honoring both Dr. King’s dream and Cirilo McSween’s legacy.

McSween grew up in a one-room apartment in Panama City, Panama, in the late 1920s. He realized early in life that education would be the key to his success and was inspired when a teacher told him, “If I had all that you have to offer, there would be no world I couldn’t conquer.”

So conquer he did. In 1951, he attended the University of Illinois on a track scholarship and studied economics, finance and political science. Following graduation, he decided to enter the field of insurance. However, a professor advised him that major life insurance companies were not hiring African Americans.

McSween was undeterred. He hitchhiked – in December – from Chicago to New York in hopes of becoming a New York Life Agent. We hired him in 1957. He became the first African American hired by a major insurance company and the first to sell $1 million of insurance in one calendar year. He went on to qualify for the industry’s Million Dollar Round Table every year during his 26-year career.

He also became involved with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference where he worked closely with Dr. King and the Rev. Jesse Jackson. He marched during the 1960s with Dr. King and the two formed a strong bond and friendship, and he became the treasurer for the SCLC. He also served as a pallbearer after King’s assassination.

McSween died in 2008 and more than 400 people attended his three funeral services, including former U.S. ambassador Andrew Young, the president of Panama and John Rogers, the founder of a mutual fund firm.

Today, New York Life honors McSween’s legacy with the annual Cirilo McSween Scholarship Award. Since 2004, 47 African American college students have received scholarships totaling more than $250,000. To apply for a scholarship, visit

The company’s $50 Billion Empowerment Plan, which began in 2011, is an agent-driven initiative committed to touching the lives of 200,000 African American families to demonstrate how purchasing at least $250,000 of life insurance will individually and collectively empower future generations.

The formula is a simple one: 200,000 (families) x $250,000 (life insurance) = $50 billion (future income). As of February 8, 2013 more than 65,000 lives have been protected, and more than $14 billion has been placed toward creating financial stability, economic opportunity and multigenerational wealth. More information can be obtained at

As President Obama said in the African American History Month proclamation, “In America, we share a dream that lies at the heart of our founding: that no matter who you are, no matter what you look like, no matter how modest your beginnings or the circumstances of your birth, you can make it if you try.”

Cirilo McSween did just that. And we want others to follow in his footsteps.