By Yussuf J. Simmonds, Special to the NNPA from the Sentinel –
Called the epicenter of this era’s economic challenge, it was appropriate that Detroit was chosen as the site for the 11th Annual Global Automotive Summit (GAS) – an economic summit. Rev. Jesse Jackson, founder and president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition (RPC), summoned the Big Three – Chrysler, Ford and General Motors [GM] – and challenged them to help lead the way out of the economic morass in which the country, and indeed the world, have found itself.
In collaboration with GM and arranging a tour of GM’s Hamtramck assembly plant, RPC allowed the Black press to see and understand the economic impact the auto industry has on the nation’s economy. Furthermore, if President Barack Obama did not have the vision to foresee the effects of a collapsed automotive industry, the country would have been in a much deeper economic hole.
The assembly plant, a miniscule look at GM’s total operation, consists of 3.4 million square feet of floor space; 28 miles of conveyor operation; produces 290 cars (Cadillacs and Buicks) per day; has more than 1000 employees; and presently employs only one shift. The GM tour host, Jerome Huddleston, material director, who has been with the company for more than 26 years, stress’ the company’s safety, record on diversity, and opportunities for all who apply themselves - the theme of the Rainbow PUSH global summit. He said, “GM puts its money where its mouth is in people relationship; in addition, it rivals any vehicle in the automobile industry: gas mileage is as good or better and technology is superior.” GM also announced it will begin manufacturing the new plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt at the plant in 2010. A sample of the Volt was on display during the tour.
Rev. Jackson’s economic vision, as displayed throughout the GAS, showcased a massive master plan for urban revitalization beginning with Detroit, which he referred to as ground zero for an urban renewal policy – in housing, education, and employment that will result in tremendous economic growth.
The Citizenship Education Fund (CEF) is a vital component in Rev. Jackson’s urban policy because an educated citizenry is an informed one; and informed citizens add to the welfare of the community. They become gainfully employed, raise strong families; buy houses and cars; vote and pay taxes. He talked about how students are saddled with tremendous debt via student loans when they graduate, and how burdensome the credit scoring system has become. After all, Rev. Jackson said, “The banks didn’t have a perfect credit score when they got bailouts.”
Partnering with Rev. Jackson and present at the summit were Mark Reuss, president of GM; Kevin Williams, president of GM Canada and recipient of the trailblazer award; Danny J. Bakewell Sr., chair of NNPA; Ambassador Sidney Williams; Carol Williams of Williams Advertising; Rev. David Bullock RPC state chapter chairperson; Glenda Gill and Alfreda Weathers of the RPC Michigan staff; and movie maker, Spike Lee (who was absent).
In speaking to the summit attendees and the press, Rev. Jackson elaborated on reference to zones of depression that require emergency attention; and he laid the economic groundwork for a way out. “Detroit has 90,000 foreclosed homes,” he said, adding “those boarded up homes is a treasure trove for the unemployed.” He went on to say that therein lies employment in the landscape industry, plumbers, electricians, painters and the building industry as a whole – with proper training as skilled craftsmen and women.
The end result will be less crime, less homelessness, more taxpayers for the city who will buy more homes and more (GM) cars; and the banks will be able to make more ‘defaultless’ loans – a win-win for society. If adopted, the GAS can be used as a model to cure many of the country’s economic (and other) ills.
In lauding Rev. Jackson’s economic vision, Reuss said, “I recently met Rev. Jackson and was impressed by his work in the community.” He also stated some of the community work GM does that goes unreported and remains unknown because the company does not seek the limelight in those areas. “GM’s business is making cars.”
Bakewell thanked Rev. Jackson for his tireless efforts on behalf of the nation’s powerless and on behalf of the NNPA’s 200 newspaper publishers. He said that GM’s work in the community will no longer go unreported.
The highlight of the day was GM’s award of $100,000 to Rainbow PUSH/CEF for scholarships for 11 college bound recipients (nine of whom were present). It was a testament of the focus of the summit, and tangible hope for the future. The presence of the president of GM of Canada receiving the trailblazer award was a solid remainder of what-could-be: a future with possibilities in the person of Williams.
In reference to diversity in Canada, Williams said, “I live in Toronto and it is known to be one of the most diverse multi-cultural cities in the world, and from that perspective, Canada is becoming more diversed. Today immigrants come from as far away as China, India, Africa, and the Caribbean. It is growing in diversity and it is projected to have more minorities than the general population in the future. Toronto is not a melting pot; it is a mosaic.” Canada has the domestic Big Three and from Williams’ vantage point, he hopes that the Canadians will be buying GM cars.
Finally, addressing foreclosures, Rev. Jackson also shed some light on the absence of Black automobile dealerships in Detroit; the absence of any supermarket chain store, forcing the community to shop outside of the city limits, which compounds the economic malaise. But the upside of the situation was illustrated by the numerous possibilities through future revenue generating ventures with the neighborhood banks (urban renewal policy), the NNPA affiliates, minority suppliers, dealers, advertisers, and a rise in employment in general.
Also participating in the summit were Chrysler, Honda, Volkswagen, Subaru, Toyota and Hyundai.
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