From employment to empowerment, why what you drive matters


— Ever since Henry Ford declared he’d pay $5 a day to workers in his factories, African Americans have had a love affair with the automotive industry in the United States. “The Great Migration” of Blacks from the South to the North was largely due to the demand for factory labor. In 1910, fewer than 600 autoworkers were African American. By 1929, that number grew to more than 25,000. Unfortunately from then until now, the love we’ve had for the auto industry has gone largely unreturned. Making sure there is equity in our relationships with the auto industry drives my work on the Rainbow PUSH Automotive Project, the annual Global Automotive Summit and the Automotive Diversity Scorecard.

According to IHS Polk, all people of color purchase 27 of every 100 new vehicles and represent 150% more growth than non-ethnic markets. Additionally, African Americans lead the industry in brand loyalty with more than half returning to the same brand. Simply put, without ethnic purchases many automakers would go out of business.

After 40-plus years of diversity talks, meetings and summits, it’s time to advance our agenda. We are trading partners. Our goal is to have equitable trade relationships that benefits all parties – our communities and automakers. With all the labor, money and expertise we have invested in the success of automakers, we should expect a reasonable return.

What would our return look like? Well, here’s my take:

• Employment with leadership roles to direct and allocate resources (dollars and people)

• Appointing people of color to corporate boards

• Fair representation of ethnic dealers and suppliers

• Advertising spending with ethnic media, ethnic agencies and vendors in line with ethnic sales

• Philanthropic resources to offset the lack of investment in communities of color

What does this mean to you and me? It means having a dealer nearby that is part of the community. It means getting a fair deal and reasonable auto loan rates because you’ll see that salesperson in church on Sunday. It means more employment for our youth when they graduate. It means entrepreneurs can have healthy businesses and hire our neighbors, because they have profitable contracts. It means creative professionals of color can develop advertising for ethnic media outlets. It means rewarding automakers that behave like trading partners. In short, it means equity and justice.

Before we can claim equity and justice, we have to fully understand the scope of the issues. The automotive Diversity Scorecard is our first step towards identifying the issues important to us. It serves as a way to make sure that what auto companies promise in the boardroom actually happens on the streets. While the scorecard is a great tool for us to encourage positive change, we know there is more to the story. The rest of the story relates to ownership and decision making, whether as a dealer, a supplier, a vendor or as a person buying a new vehicle.

You can make a difference! As you shop for your next vehicle, consider the information in the scorecard and the power you have in voting with your wallet. As you shop, ask the dealers where they advertise and if they have ads in local ethnic newspapers, radio, TV or magazines. You have a right to know how their business actions impact your community. If you are financing, get at least one quote from your local credit union or bank to compare with the dealer’s financing. Last, tell your family and friends about the scorecard. Refer them to so they can do their own research.

By sharing this information, we intend to start a conversation that leads to more empowerment within our communities and greater transparency from those automotive companies that value our dollars and want to establish an equitable trading relationship.

Glenda Gill is the Executive Director of the Rainbow PUSH Automotive Project. More information can be found at