In the African-American community, every so often the debate rages about whether those who are representing our community in various facets of corporate and government life are doing so effectively, with the community’s interests at heart.
Because in the Black community there is an unwritten rule that dictates that when you are elevated to a position of influence you must give back to your roots, something that every community that has strived for the right to self-determination in this country has always done.
Given the state that Black America is in today, this debate regarding the relevance of our Black executives and their contributions to the communities that gave birth to them cannot be understated.
So on Monday I went to the 27th floor of the headquarters of General Motors (GM) in the Renaissance Center to sit down with Roderick D. Gillum, outgoing vice president, Corporate Responsibility and Diversity for GM, chairman of the GM Foundation and also head of Motor Enterprises Inc, a subsidiary of GM specializing in providing capital for minority suppliers.
During our almost an hour and a half conversation GM’s top Black executive discussed his role of connecting Detroit and other communities at the highest level of the executive chain of a company that was once heralded as the world’s largest publicly traded company.
But first he explained that his humble beginnings growing up on Dexter and the Boulevard in Detroit always inculcated in him a sense of responsibility and responding to the needs of the community.
“There was quite a distance between Dexter and the Boulevard and the General Motors building. And I think over time that distance shortened a little bit,” Gillum said. “So GM has been a good company and always from my standpoint created opportunities, helped established the African-American middle class in this community. It is a very proud legacy. So I was pleased 30 years ago to become part of it.”
ARMED WITH a law degree from Northeastern University School of Law in Boston, Gillum, a Michigan State University graduate, went to GM in 1979 after a stint as an attorney with the National Labor Relations Board in Detroit, rising through every rank at GM including becoming secretary of the board of directors.