Rainbow PUSH Global Automotive Summit 2023 Scores High Marks For The Automotive Industry

By Lori Lee and Steven N. Larkin

In Detroit in 1998, Rainbow PUSH launched its Automotive Project. The purpose today remains the same as over two decades ago: to work with automotive manufacturing companies to ensure African Americans and other people of color have access to opportunities at every level of the industry.

It needs to be recognized that even while this year’s conference was taking place, the founder of the summit, freedom fighter, Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr., was in the hospital in Chicago. Nevertheless, the global automotive industry showed up in full force!  It speaks volumes when you have prayers in the bank and your vision continues! It speaks volumes when they continue to help Black Americans working in the automotive industry!

The automotive sector recently returned to Detroit Nov. 14-15 for the Rainbow PUSH 24th Annual Summit. This year’s theme, “Affirming Diversity in the EV Sector,” focused on the inclusive landscape of African American and minority involvement in the EV sector. The concept is critical to the future sustainability of the industry. Over 300 auto executives, entrepreneurs, suppliers, dealers, manufacturers, consumers, and government officials attended.

It most be noted that due to the union strike at Motor City Cassino the conference was moved to Wayne County Community College Northwest Campus. The Rainbow Push Global Automotive Project stated they are very appreciative of the college’s hospitality and kindness to allow the conference to use their facilities.  Rev. Jackson, Chairman Frederick Haynes and Chairman John Graves stand strong with the worker’s protest. They want people treated fairly, regardless of color.

The bottom-line of the summit, according to Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr., is to level the playing field for Black people working with and in the automotive industry. This year’s summit focused on the automotive industry building on the future and the impact of electric vehicles (EV) on society.

One of the most significant highlights of the summit was the release of the Rainbow PUSH Diversity Scorecard, which sums up scores for employment, advertising, marketing, procurement, philanthropy, and African American dealership ownership. The Scorecard also gives Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) an opportunity to self-evaluate relative to diversity.  The impact of the Scorecard raises the bar for the industry.

Rev. Jackson in his unique way put the question to industry executives many years ago. If the automotive industry takes for granted how you do business with Black America, then all Black America needs to be aware of it. One can only think back to the days of Rosa Parks. If we can’t ride in the front or can’t be treated fairly, then we may need to stop spending our hard-earned dollars. If we can’t work where we shop or be included, it may be time to stop.

Drastic improvements have been made since the rating began in 2012. Toyota, Stellantis, GM and Nissan scored green in almost every category this year. Further, not a single company has scored red for the past two years. 

The industry has taken notice and has become vested in the Diversity Scorecard project. Companies have bought into the aspect of accountability, which helps them see how they are doing and find holes in their efforts. The scorecard tells this story, and it is working to strengthen equity across the board. 

As many you may be aware, Rev. Frederick D. Haynes III, has recently taken the reins as Chairman of the Rainbow Push Coalition He is well known throughout the US and a phenomenal leader. He along with Chairman John Graves, who is intelligently brilliant of the Rainbow Push Automotive Project, have not only continued Rev. Jackson’s vision of leveling the playing field in the industry but are successfully engaging corporate executives to work even more with Black America. We applaud their determination and work.

It should not be overlooked that the automotive industry is listening and working diligently to improve its place in Black America.

During the press conference to release the results of the Diversity Scorecard, Rev. Haynes quoted Dr. Martin Luther King. To paraphrase, “We must be headlights, not taillights in the automotive industry. Each auto company must serve as headlights, leading the industry from the front, in doing so, they will become the guiding light for economic parity.”

John Graves went on to share, “Rainbow PUSH and the automotive industry have worked collectively to achieve advances in diversity, equity and inclusion. The Diversity Equity and Inclusion Office was non-existent when we began our journey, but currently all auto companies have heads of diversity, equity and inclusion. Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr. challenged the auto industry to submit confidential surveys that were utilized to create a Diversity Scorecard, as a result, companies have implemented intentional programs.”

CEOs from Ford, Jim Farley, General Motors, Mary Barra, and Toyota, Ted Ogawa, were at the forefront of leading automakers to improve their relationship with the Global Automotive Summit.  

The two-day conference was a very busy nonstop event, which included many panel discussions. Chief Diversity Officers Erica Bolden, Mercedes Benz, Kelechi Ikemefuna, Volkswagen of America and Chandra Vasser, Nissan Americas were on point. They led a lively discussion interacting with the attendees regarding ways their companies are listening and working to improve employment for minorities along with other options people can learn about. 

Chief Diversity Officers continued a healthy discussion the following day with Ernest Adams, Ford, Lottie Holland, Stallantis and Yvette Hunsicker of Honda. They continued to engage with the audiences who anxiously awaited to learn new ways that African American Suppliers can be a part of the workforce. 

The marketing and advertising panel was indeed very interesting. It consisted of Kim Adams House, Head of Multicultural Marketing and Advertising for Stallantis NA, Meliza Humphrey, Senior Manager Accura Marketing, and Tarshena Armstrong, Director of Diversity Marketing and Development for GM. They discussed the importance and impact of the electric vehicle (EV) with the opportunities it will have on Black Suppliers. They went on to detail the various ways that Black entrepreneurs need to connect with their respective companies and the requirements needed to do business.

Each year, The Rainbow Push Global Automotive Summit honors African Americans who have done outstanding work in the auto industry. Emerging Leaders recipients: Yvette Hunsicker, Vice-President Corporate Social Responsibility, Inclusion and Diversity, American Honda Motor Co., Inc. Living Legend recipients: Jimmie Comer, founder Comer Holdings LLS, Andra Rush, The Rush Group. Automotive Pioneers: Dave Bing, founder of the Bing Group, automotive supply corporation and Atty. Elliot Hall, retired Vice President of Dealer Development, Ford Motor Corporation.

“Honda’s relationship with RPC began in 1996, when Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr. called for a boycott of Japanese automakers to promote diversity in employment and dealerships,” said Yvette Hunsicker, Honda’s Vice President and Division Lead of Corporate Social Responsibility and Inclusion & Diversity in America and winner of the RPC’s Emerging Leader Award. 

“That was a call to action for us, and we agreed to take concrete steps toward advancing our commitment to diversity.” Honda has continued to uphold that agreement for the past 25 years, she said, and our commitment has only strengthened. 

“For me, being honored as an Emerging Leader was a great acknowledgement of the growth that we’ve seen since then, and it speaks to the future we will have when we continue to raise diverse experiences in the automotive industry,” she said.

The final day summit culminated with the Business and Education Luncheon. Senior Vice-Presidents Bob Young of Toyota Motor North America, Mike Lapham of Honda, and Jeffrey Morrison of GM had a candid discussion about the improvements their companies have made and are implementing in the field of supplier diversity and inclusion. It was one of the most meaningful panels of the conference, moderated by Ralf G. Moore. 

Afterwards, President and CEO of Rainbow PUSH Coalition, Dr. Frederick D. Haynes, III, announced this year’s scholarship awards. Dr. Haynes joined the organization’s struggle for equality and justice this summer, following Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr.’s fifty-year-plus journey with the organization. Dr. Haynes honored the deserving students’ hard work with a total of $500,000 in scholarships dedicated by the automotive industry. The funds will ease the increasing costs of achieving an education and a better life. Companies contributing to the scholarship fund are CVS, Toyota, General Motors, Nissan, Stallantis, Ford Motor Company, Hyundai Motor North America American Honda, Volkswagen, Kia America and Subaru.

More information about the Rainbow PUSH Automotive Project and the Diversity Scorecard can be found at Automotive Project.org. 

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