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Bankole: Jackson remains an inclusion force in auto industry

Bankole Thompson

What is underreported in the media and underappreciated in our public discourse is the immense role the Rev. Jesse Jackson has played in guaranteeing the success of African-American automotive businesses. Aside from making the moral case for diversity and inclusion on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley, Jackson, has been a potent force in the Detroit automotive industry by pushing automakers to open wide the gates of opportunities for black suppliers and dealers.

For example, successful local black automotive dealers and suppliers like William Pickard, CEO of VITEC, Greg Jackson, CEO of Prestige Automotive Group, Leon Richardson, CEO of The Chemico Group and John A. James, CEO of James Group International, whose son John James is running as the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate, all owe their entrepreneurial success largely to Jackson’s advocacy on their behalf.

In fact, I recall several years ago at the Charles Wright Museum of African American History Jackson held a press conference with some of these entrepreneurs standing behind him. At that press briefing, the civil rights leader leveled a searing critique of the auto industry and the sometimes callous disregard toward black businesses. The result of that particular press conference and many others over the years was the auto industry opening the door to inclusion.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson hugs a union member in the crowd in front of Dearborn City Hall at a Made in the U.S.A. rally in 2014.

  Photos by Charles V. Tines, The Detroit News.

The success stories of William Pickard, Greg Jackson, Leon Richardson, John A. James and others are incomplete without the pivotal Jesse Jackson chapter. On the eve of Aretha Franklin’s funeral, Jackson, invited me to ride with him for dinner at Beans and Cornbread restaurant. There we sat as I listened to the behind-the-scenes efforts to make America a more perfect union. That inclusion still remains a dream to be realized, and tolerance continues to be a virtue we are struggling to uphold in light of the recent massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue.

To ensure that diversity remains front and center of the automotive industry business, Jackson two decades ago, created the annual Rainbow PUSH/CEF Global Automotive Summit. It has since become the main stage where industry captains meet to publicly explain what their companies are doing to advance minority growth. For example, General Motors CEO Mary Barra and Ford Motor Company CEO Jim Hackett have all appeared as speakers in the past. 

This year’s summit, now in its 19th year, is themed, “Defining a Critical Path for Ethnic Minority Growth,” and will be held Thursday and Friday at the Motor City Casino Hotel and Conference Center. A diversity scorecard will be released at the gathering to show which companies are aggressive about diversity and the ones that don’t care. That information is important because blacks are major consumers of the car market.

“In the spirit of transparency over the next three years, we will share the diversity scorecard with consumers,” Jackson said. “We are at the stage where we must draw a line in the sand as it relates to diversity and inclusion. Automakers must improve their record over the next three years. Minority suppliers and dealers are still recovering from the 2008 economic tsunami.”

He added, “If the automotive industry has strategic goals and timetables for minority consumption and product launches, they must include African-American businesses in their growth strategy. These plans must mirror inclusion of minority suppliers, dealers and other vendors. An economic demarcation currently exists within those opportunities for minority business. The automotive industry must maintain a reciprocal relationship with its minority consumers.”

But this year’s conference according to Jackson, is also going to launch the Automotive Mobility Collaborative Partnership between Rainbow PUSH and Wayne County Community College District. A Silicon Valley group AIZA Inc., has been identified to partner with WCCCD’s existing workforce intermediate partner, the Detroit Talent Hub, to create a career pipeline for students seeking to enter the mobility workforce.

“We now have the opportunity to strengthen our regional leadership role in providing additional resources to support this mobility transformation journey. Towards that end, we are excited to be able to partner with Rainbow PUSH,” said WCCCD Chancellor Curtis L, Ivery. 

Jackson said the partnership with the college is in line with the summit’s vision.

“We value this partnership with WCCCD in Detroit, the automotive epicenter. We will work with our automotive partners to provide programming that will lead to career paths for people of color through the advent of mobility and related technologies,” Jackson said.

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

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