The Rev. Jesse Jackson visited Detroit for the 22nd Annual Rainbow Push Global Automotive Summit where Detroiters also celebrated his 80th birthday. (Photo by Olivia Lewis)

One of America’s leading civil rights voices encouraged automotive executives Wednesday to push for racial equality in a changing industry—through education, job opportunities and investments.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson visited Detroit for the 22nd Annual Rainbow Push Global Automotive Summit on Tuesday and Wednesday at MotorCity Casino Hotel and Convention Center. Across two days of events, the civil rights icon discussed the importance of the automotive industry’s ability and need to support opportunity for people of color and to become racially diversified as it shifts toward electrical advancements. His organization released an automotive diversity scorecard Wednesday, rating the world’s leading automotive companies on ethnic diversity within six criteria: employment, advertising, marketing, procurement, dealers and philanthropy.

The organization’s scorecard ranked automotive companies across the six criteria by giving them a score of red, yellow, or green. Red indicated initiatives and investments were nonexistent, yellow indicated that some work was being done, and green signified that the company was following best practices and developing goals and initiatives.

General Motors received more green marks than any other company, followed by Toyota, Ford and Stellantis. Toyota and Hyundai were the only companies to receive green marks for employment practices.

The conference theme, Expanding Minority Opportunities During Electrification, is a timely conversation in Detroit. Business leaders and local politicians have discussed the need for more job-training and educational programs to employ Detroiters whose salaries lag far behind employees who live outside of the city.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson pushed automotive industry executives to support racial diversity during a stop at the MotorCity Hotel and Convention Center on Wednesday. (Photo by Olivia Lewis)

Local leaders like Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn), Detroit Deputy Mayor Conrad Mallett and Detroit Public Schools Community District School Board President Angelique Peterson-Mayberry were also in attendance. Mallett told conference attendees during Wednesday’s luncheon that he had spoken to SEIU Local union members who held a rally downtown Detroit that morning about employment practices.

“The idea that people at the lowest bottom of our economic sphere, people who provide food service, people who provide security service, people who work in nursing homes, want to have a voice in the quality of the life that they lead, is directly tied to the conversations that you all are going to have at this particular conference,” Mallett said. “Creating entrepreneurial opportunity inside the African-American community is as important now as it has ever been.”  

Jackson told reporters during a press conference on Wednesday morning that education is a vital part of diversifying the industry and getting ahead of the electrical curve. He said the value of Historically Black Colleges and Universities and community colleges has been overlooked, but they can provide affordable training programs for students who want to enter the industry.

Nine of the 12 automotive companies on the scorecard received green marks for their philanthropic work, which included STEM-related college scholarships for Black students. Jackson said that when the Rainbow Push Automotive Project began over 20 years ago, companies were offering up to $5,000 in scholarships. Now, they offer up to $25,000, and Jackson encouraged the executives to continue to use their dollars to expand opportunities for students of color.

He also pushed executives to consider how the automotive industry could make a difference across communities—specifically within redistricting. Michigan, which historically has been one of the more gerrymandered states in the country, is undergoing a citizen-led redistricting process.

“We spend money quickly, sometimes foolishly,” he said. “But when we leverage our dollars, we leverage our votes.”

Detroiters also celebrated Jackson’s 80th birthday during a welcome reception Tuesday evening at MotorCity Casino. The reverend was recently in the hospital after falling during a student-protest at Howard University. However, Jackson, who was using a walker to get around, told the crowd he was feeling better.

“I don’t want no wheelchair, I want a mountain,” Jackson said. “Equality in the industry, that’s a mountain.”

Olivia Lewis is a reporter for BridgeDetroit. She was formerly a reporter for the Battle Creek Enquirer and the Indianapolis Star. She has also worked in philanthropy for the Kresge Foundation, the Council...

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